Tales of Teams, Trophies & Trinkets

March 30, 2016

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

High school athletics leaves behind an amazing array of treasures – although while buried in a keepsake box, or trophy case, the awards stand silent. 

For many, their meaning and worth only continues to grow in value. Yet, in other cases, time can be cruel. For some trophies and trinkets, their worth diminishes as the stories contained within are lost behind retirements, neglect, administration decisions and death.

Following are a few tales that live on from more than a century of Michigan high school sports.

  1909

Muskegon High School

Track Trophy

The search continues for the oldest state title trophy presented to a high school in the state of Michigan. This beauty, on display at Muskegon High School within the school’s storied trophy cases, currently leads the pack.  In 1909, Muskegon coach Robert Zuppke’s team tallied 43½ points to win the fourth annual Michigan Agricultural College Interscholastic meet in Lansing. The total was the largest sum in the history of the meet, exceeding Detroit University School’s total of 27½ points and Detroit Central’s third-place total of 25 points.

Dominant in the field events, Muskegon was led by George Shaw, who set a new record in the pole vault at 11 feet, 2 inches, and by George Cowley, whose 4:47 time in the mile also set a new mark. Cowley’s time in the mile ranked among the top in the middle west.

Zuppke moved on a year later to coach at Oak Park, Ill., then to the University of Illinois where he became known as one of the great coaching minds in the history of college football. Shaw would school at Northwestern University while Cowley spent some time at the University of Chicago following graduation.

1923

Dollar Bay

2nd U.P. Class B Tournament  

Someone within the Dollar Bay roster was once the proud owner of this silver basketball fob, given to team members by Northern Michigan Normal College for finishing second in the 6th annual Class B High School Basketball Tournament hosted at Northern State Normal College. According to documentation on the event, six sessions were held, and during presentation of the awards, only seven fobs were awarded to each of the top three teams. As was quite common at the time, only last names of players were mentioned in the game program and newspaper coverage. I guess back in the day, everyone who needed to know already knew the player’s first name.

Purchased on Etsy, perhaps this medal was owned by Stevens, who played one of the guard spots and served as team captain. He was responsible for all nine of the team’s points in the Class B championship game.  Perhaps it belonged to Penphrase or Mattson, who each scored four points in the semifinal round, where Dollar Bay trounced Stambaugh 21-12. Munising defeated Newberry 15-10 in the semifinal, setting the stage for the title game. Munising won the Saturday evening contest, 17-9, and earned the right to play the Class A winner for the “supremacy of the Upper Peninsula." One week later at the Normal Gym, Munising topped Escanaba, winner of the Class A tournament, for the honor.

  1927

J. Perry Austin

Three Oaks

4:57.3

Along with his brother Phil, Joseph Perry Austin was one of 20 graduates in the class of 1927 at Three Oaks High School (Today known as Three Oaks River Valley). The most famous of the group was perhaps Joe Savoldi, who would star at Notre Dame.

The Austin boys moved to Three Oaks from Waukegan, Ill, when they reached high school age. There, Perry, as he was known among family and friends, would excel athletically and academically, winning the Class C MHSAA state championship in the mile and serving as valedictorian of his class. Phil was salutatorian. This medal, presented at Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science (now Michigan State University) was found on Ebay.

Following graduation, Perry attended the University of Michigan, where he was crowned Big Ten Champion in the two mile in 1931. That same year, Austin was honored by the Big Ten with the conference’s prestigious Medal of Honor, awarded one per sport, for athletic and academic achievement in Track & Field. He would remain at Michigan, earning a doctorate in chemistry in 1935.

After graduation, he worked for Abbot Labs in Chicago. In the 1940s, Austin joined the seminary and became an Episcopalian priest, serving parishes in Wisconsin, Texas and Michigan. Ultimately, he returned to education, teaching high school chemistry in Toledo, Ohio. He passed away in 1991.

His brother Phil would ultimately become an internationally renowned watercolorist and a member of the exclusive American Water Color Society. 

1940

Merrill Vandals scoreboard

Castle Museum, Saginaw

As the story goes, Merrill High School students built this scoreboard in shop class sometime during the late 1930s for use in their high school gymnasium. The board served the district for approximately the next 50 years. “It was always an honor to be selected as one of the kids to operate the scoreboard,” recalled Keith Clark, a former Merrill student who in later years served as a coach, then administrator in the district. “One kid would operate the home side and the other would operate the away side.”

When the new high school opened in 1956, the scoreboard remained in place at the building where it served junior high school teams until the 1980s. It was ultimately presented to Walt Krause, a longtime employee of the Merrill school district. Thanks to the efforts of Clark, and the kindness of the Krause family, the board eventually made its way to the Saginaw Sports Hall of Fame with a single stipulation – that the score displayed should always show Merrill leading.

1947

Brethren Dickson

Basketball Team

A scan of a photo cherished by the son of one of the team members, this team picture would likely go unnoticed mixed in with a stack of others. Yet, standing in the back row, wearing number 27, is an individual with a likeness, and most certainly a voice, that would be recognized by tens of millions. The Brethren Dickson basketball team of 1947 was eliminated early in the tournament. The 1932 team finished the year as runner-up to Portage for the Lower Peninsula’s Class D title. In 1963, Brethren lost in the state semifinals to eventual Class D state champion Britton.

Using his full given name, one can argue that James Earl Jones ranks with Earvin “Magic” Johnson as the state’s most famous basketball player, though his fame is for something entirely different than his ability to shoot a basketball.

1967

Ann Arbor University High School

Track Trophy

Found at a thrift store in Ann Arbor, it was purchased for $2.12, tax included. Showing its age, the trophy was earned by Ann Arbor University High’s track team that finished second to Detroit St. Charles.

Ann Arbor University High was a demonstration school operated by the University of Michigan’s School of Education. In 1922, the State of Michigan legislature approved $525,000 for the construction and furnishing of the building near the campus of the university. In the fall of 1924, the school was opened with 123 students in grades 7-12. In 1930, an elementary school was added. According to U-M’s Bentley Historical Library, “the school was used as a demonstration center for educators in the newer practices of educating children.”

University High’s athletic teams were nicknamed the Cubs, an obvious nod to the University of Michigan’s Wolverines. University High continued to operate into the 1960s, when a decision was made by U-M’s School of Education to close the school.

The 1967 team, led by Dave Shipman, finished second to Detroit St. Charles in point total, 64 to 47. Shipman, an individual winner in both the 100 and 220-yard events, also ran on University’s victorious 880 relay team. A year later, the final senior class graduated from the school.

1984

Brimley High School

Volleyball

This medal dates to the days when champions were crowned in volleyball in both upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. (In the year 2000, the tournament was unified.) This is another Ebay find.

Between 1980 and 1990 the U.P. staged a single open tournament for all schools north of the Mackinac Bridge. Despite competing against schools with much larger enrollment, the Brimley Bays captured seven titles during those 11 years of competition. Located just off I-75, coach Charles Compo’s team traveled extensively into the Lower Peninsula to gain experience. The time and travel paid dividends as the team captured five straight titles between 1981 and 1985. The 1984 title came with 15-3, 15-11 wins over Bessemer. That season, Compo was named U.P. Coach of the Year.

“Compo retired in 1990 with an amazing record of 408 victories and only 74 losses,” notes the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame, recognizing the achievements of those squads. “Seventeen of Compo's players would earn all-state honors, a total of 32 times.”

  2009

Allison Pall

East Grand Rapids

1:50:09

“When the boys on the football team got whiny about practice, their coach would bring them to one of our practices,” remembered Allison Pall, discussing the hours spent training before earning this medal as a member of the East Grand Rapids 200 medley relay team. Those practices were run by legendary swimming coach Milton “Butch” Briggs, Jr. Since taking on the task in fall of 1975, Briggs has led the girls to 19 MHSAA championships and the boys to 10 titles.

Pall, along with schoolmates Ally Bremer, Molly Lundquist, and Karly Surman won the 200 medley relay with an MHSAA Finals time of 1:50.09 at Eastern Michigan. A year later Pall, Bremer, Emily Lundquist and Katie Lachance again won the 200 medley relay, at 1:48.82 at Holland Aquatic Center. The girls clocked a 1:48:75 in the prelims the day prior, establishing a then-school record.

A late beginner in the sport, Pall took up competitive swimming in seventh grade. Following high school graduation, Pall headed to Ann Arbor to enroll at the University of Michigan, where she left behind her swimming career. Her height, an advantage in swimming, meant she was recruited to join the University Rowing team. She stayed for a season, deciding to dedicate herself to studies. Today, Allison is in pursuit of her Master’s degree in Public Health. Her medals will not be found for sale online. They still mean the world to her.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at peschstats@comcast.net with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTO: George Shaw prepares for the pole vault for Muskegon High in 1909. (Photos gathered by Ron Pesch.)

Decade After Title Trips, 'Coach K' Just as Driven to Coach Up Grand Haven Contenders

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

February 1, 2023

Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer has experienced unforgettable highs and nightmarish lows during her 25 years as the girls basketball coach at Grand Haven.

It’s now the 10-year anniversary of an amazing three-year stretch from 2011 to 2013, when “Coach K” guided the Buccaneers to a combined 81-2 record, three consecutive berths in the Class A Semifinals and back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

The lows are harder to pick out, but the way Grand Haven lost at Hudsonville on Jan. 24 certainly qualifies.

The Bucs led 46-44 with time running out, when Haven was called for a shooting foul with one-tenth of a second remaining on a desperation half-court shot attempt. Hudsonville senior Maddie Peroelje then made all three free throws to pull out an improbable 47-46 win.

“That one was brutal,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who was feeling much better Tuesday, one week later, after Haven downed visiting Zeeland West 44-33 for its third-straight victory.

“I love all of it, the great teams and big wins, but also the struggles and trying to stay strong and figure things out.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, 52, might be in the midst of the best coaching job in her 31-year career, guiding a team with no returning starters to a 10-4 start, including an impressive 5-2 record after the first rotation in the rugged Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.

She is doing it with a team that only goes about six or seven deep, has no one in that group taller than 6-foot and lost its starting point guard, junior Abbey Klumpel, to a season-ending knee injury during the summer.

How is she doing it?

“She teaches a team game of basketball,” explained ninth-year Grand Haven athletic director Scott Robertson, who has been involved in high school sports for 32 years. “She is more invested in her sport, her kids, her program than anyone I have ever seen.”

The defensive leader Tuesday was gritty senior guard Grace Harrison, who held Zeeland West’s top perimeter threat scoreless.

On offense, junior forward Emerson Berndt turned in a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. She scored 14 of those points in the second half to help the Bucs put the game away.

Berndt had the hot hand Tuesday, but in other games this season sophomore guard Gillian Sorrelle or junior forward Maddie Schopf have carried the team from outside. The inside leader is 5-11 senior center Heidi Berkey, who held her own against ZW’s 6-4 senior center Kara Bartels.

Berndt, who leads the Bucs with 12 points and five rebounds per game, said this team has a special bond with its head coach.

“Coach has established such a close relationship with all of us, and she knows how to get us going,” said Berndt, who is one of the five Haven starters who all average at least six points per game. “She’s always joking around, but getting after it at the same time.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. Haven, which is a surprising second in the O-K Red at the halfway point, starts the second half of the slate Friday at first-place and No. 3-ranked Rockford (13-1).

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, a standout player at Caledonia and then Hope College, began her coaching career at the age of 21 when she was still a senior at Hope – coaching the seventh-grade girls team at Caledonia.

She then worked five years at Hastings, including the final three as girls varsity head coach, before taking the job as a physical education teacher and varsity girls basketball coach at Grand Haven in 1997.

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and her husband, Paul, have one son, Drew, a 12-year-old sixth grader at Grand Haven who was just a toddler when the Buccaneers were enjoying their magical three-year run a decade ago.

Haven made its presence known on a statewide level in 2011, when 6-5 sophomore Abby Cole led the Bucs to a 26-1 record, with the only loss coming by a single point to Detroit Renaissance, 39-38, in a Class A Semifinal at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

The Bucs took the final step in 2012, erasing an 18-point, third-quarter deficit as senior guard Shar’Rae Davis drove the length of the court for the game-winning layup with nine seconds remaining in a 54-53 victory over Grosse Pointe South. Haven finished 27-1, with its only loss coming early in the season against O-K Red rival East Kentwood.

GH did it again in 2013 with a perfect 28-0 record, which might have been the most impressive because the only returning starter was Cole, who would go on to an all-Big Ten volleyball career at Michigan. The Bucs committed a staggering 32 turnovers, but made up for it with 22-of-29 shooting (76 percent), in a 60-54 overtime victory over, once again, Grosse Pointe South.

“Those are the glory days, and here we are 10 years later and you realize just how special it was,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who has also coached track at Grand Haven. “We always stayed humble and worked hard.

“Obviously, having someone like Abby Cole as the last line of defense is something special. But she had such great character and leadership, as well. I can still see her out there when things weren’t going well, and she would wrap her long arms around her teammates and tell them it was going to be OK. And it was.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer has amassed 391 victories as a head coach, with six O-K Red titles, eight District and four Regional championships – along with the two Class A Finals wins.

“Those trophies are getting hard to come by – I’m thinking about buying one on eBay,” said Coach K, displaying the quick wit that her fellow coaches, referees and players know very well.

She works hard, but also has plenty of fun and laughs along the way, which is why she doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon – even though this school year marks her 30th year of teaching.

As Kowalczyk-Fulmer was finishing up her media obligations after the Zeeland West victory, her son – a sports junkie who has literally grown up in the Grand Haven bleachers and locker rooms – sat waiting in the hallway.

“I plan to be here until he graduates,” she said with a nod to her only child. “I love it. It’s my passion, and I’m really lucky. Grand Haven is such a great place to live and coach.

“I’m not ready to stop.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at kendra.tom@gmail.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Haven girls basketball coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer talks things over with her team during a game earlier this decade. (Middle) Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. (Top photo courtesy of the Local Sports Journal.)