By Karissa Niehoff
NFHS Executive Director
Earlier this week, the NFHS recognized more than 700 individuals for their efforts as high school coaches during the 2019-20 school year, including 23 as National Coaches of the Year.
The accomplishments of the national recipients are extraordinary, but comments about their roles as education-based coaches are even more telling as to why they were selected.
Mary Beth Bourgoin, field hockey coach at Winslow High School in Maine, who, although she has won 173 games, said, in an article in the Portland Press-Herald, “It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about relationships and having fun.”
Donna Moir has won three state championships as girls basketball coach at Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, Kentucky, but is known more for her sportsmanship, humility and kindness.
Jerry Petitgoue, basketball coach at Cuba City (Wisconsin) High School, who has won 963 games in 53 years, led his team to an unblemished 25-0 record before the pandemic cancelled the state tournament.
In an article for SWNew4u.com, Petitgoue said, “I’m very proud to receive this recognition for Cuba City High School and the community. I’m happy it comes during these trying times. Every little positive thing is uplifting these days.”
Mary Jo Truesdale, softball coach at Sheldon High School in Sacramento, California, has won 759 games and eight California Interscholastic Federation-Sac Joaquin Section championships, but was unable to coach her team last spring due to the pandemic.
“I worry about the well-being of my players, especially the seniors who don’t have a next season to play in high school,” said Truesdale in an article in the Sacramento Bee. “We know there are more things going on in life that are much bigger than softball, and that’s what we’re all learning.”
Ron Murphy, baseball coach at Rio Rancho (New Mexico) High School, is second all-time in his state with 567 victories but was only able to lead his team to a few wins last spring before the coronavirus shut down the program and ended hopes for a state tournament.
Despite his own success, Murphy was more focused on his players in a recent article in the Albuquerque Journal, noting that, “The thing that gets me most excited about this award is that it brings national attention to Rio Rancho High School baseball.”
Doug Hislop, wrestling coach at Imbler (Oregon) High School, has coached for 50 years and remains active at 73 years of age, continuing to teach kids lessons on and off the mat.
David Halligan, soccer coach at Falmouth (Maine) High School, has led his teams to 12 state titles. In an article in the Portland Press Herald, Halligan said, “I’m proud that we’ve had a lot of good players and good programs for a lot of years. I find a lot of joy in coaching at the high school level. I love seeing how kids develop from freshmen to seniors and how they grow as people.”
These are but a few of the individuals selected for national honors in 2019-20 – all of whom have impacted student-athletes in positive ways for decades.
When it comes to honoring coaches for the 2020-21 school year, we should give a shout-out to every individual involved in high school education-based athletics for their tremendous efforts leading programs through the pandemic. Next to frontline health-care workers, there is no group of individuals to whom we should be more indebted than high school coaches.
Prior to the pandemic, a high school coach’s job was already a next-to-impossible 24-7 mission. In addition to preparing for the daily “Xs and Os,” interscholastic coaches spend countless hours in mentorship capacities with student-athletes off the field or court, answer tough questions from parents, teach classes during the school day and handle a number of never-ending, always-changing daily tasks.
This year, coaches are faced with other tasks related to COVID-19, which, in some cases, involve keeping team members connected and motivated in a virtual setting.
There is pressure on coaches to maintain protocols related to the pandemic and stay on course so the games can continue. The additional daily checklist is endless: sanitize equipment, remind students to wear masks and maintain social distancing, temperature and wellness checks with students, follow an endless list of protocols if a student tests positive, and the list goes on and on.
The tasks of high school coaches seem larger than life this year, and these men and women deserve our utmost respect and appreciation. In addition to parents, and perhaps in lieu of parents in some cases, high school coaches are helping student-athletes survive the pandemic and maintain a healthy outlook on life.
We salute this year’s award recipients – and all high school coaches – for their commitment to keeping our country’s future leaders – high school students – on track during one of the most trying years in our nation’s history.
Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is starting her third year as executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the first female to head the national leadership organization for high school athletics and performing arts activities and the sixth full-time executive director of the NFHS, which celebrated its 100th year of service during the 2018-19 school year. She previously was executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for seven years.
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)