Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame selects Abby Cole as top female student-athlete of the year
by Ken Stevens
May 24, 2013
MUSKEGON, MI -- Abby Cole vividly recalls what she considers the worst moment of her prep sports career.
It was during her sophomore year, and her Grand Haven volleyball team was playing a match at Hudsonville with University of Michigan head coach Mark Rosen in attendance.
“I played my worst match ever,” Cole said. “It was horrible. I thought I blew my chance to play at Michigan.”
Cole’s mom, Dawn, remembers driving home and getting a call from her distraught daughter, unable to understand much of what Cole was trying to say through the tears on the bus-ride home.
The Cole family was able to briefly relive that moment and laugh about it when Rosen made a home visit recently.
Rosen, apparently, remembers that day a little differently.
“He laughed and said he didn’t think I played that badly,” Cole said. “He said they look at more than just how a player plays in one match. They also look at how you treat your teammates, how you react in certain situations and how you warm up. They don’t want just good athletes at Michigan, they want genuine people.”
With those criteria in mind, Cole was never in jeopardy of missing out on playing volleyball at Michigan, which she will do starting this fall.
Cole is by far the most decorated athlete to come out of Grand Haven, yet she gives younger kids in the Buccaneer program many more reasons to look up to her than just being 6-5 and a really good athlete. Her coaches will all tell you she’s an even better person and teammate than a player, and that’s saying something considering she nearly brought home honors as the top senior athlete in the state in both basketball and volleyball.
For her excellence on the court and her ability to make her teammates better, Cole was chosen as the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame’s female student-athlete of the year. She is the second athlete from Grand Haven to win the honor, joining 2004 honoree Maggie Dwyer.
“I was shocked and excited,” Cole said of the honor. “It’s quite an honor be named the top student-athlete in the area.”
Cole and male winner Reed Hrynewich of Mona Shores will be honored, along with the Hall’s 2013 induction class, at a banquet June 8 at Muskegon Country Club.
The other female finalists included Western Michigan Christian’s Rachel Bruinsma, Hart’s Macayla Greiner, Mona Shores’ Morgan Smith and Oakridge’s Keyara Wiard.
Cole is a 3.7 student who was active in student senate and National Honor Society at Grand Haven.
Cole’s accomplishments on the court are staggering. She was runner-up in the Miss Volleyball voting and third in the Miss Basketball voting, but just as easily could have won both awards. She was named Class A player of the year in basketball.
In basketball, Cole helped the Bucs to the Breslin Center three straight seasons, including back-to-back state titles in her junior and senior seasons. They went 81-2 in Cole’s three years on varsity.
What Grand Haven basketball coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer will remember most about Cole though is the way she handled herself in practice and in pressure situations like the state finals.
“Abby’s always so humble, she’s a great teammate and leader, and she’s got the ability to make everyone around her better,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She’s so positive and encouraging. In the state finals in the huddle she’s got her arms wrapped around her teammates, encouraging them and saying ‘We can do this’. She earned the respect of her teammates.
“It doesn’t get much better than Abby Cole. She’s certainly made her mark in girls basketball and has left quite the legacy here. She’s a game changer. I was lucky to coach her.”
Cole easily holds the school record for blocks in a career with 535 and in a season with 234. She’s fourth in the state in career blocks in just three years, and is third in the state in blocks in a season.
In volleyball Cole helped the Bucs to their first trip to the state semifinals her senior year as an all-around player and huge front row presence.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better career,” Cole said. “I’ve had amazing teammates and great coaches. The programs here are top notch. I couldn’t have asked for any better ending in basketball, and in volleyball we made history and had a great run.”
Cole describes herself as a mellow person with a lot of intensity once she hits the courts.
Even when she’s in the midst of intense competition, Cole, who says she laughs at anything, can be found smiling.
“People who don’t know her off the court are always surprised when they find her goofing around or showing her good sense of humor,” Dawn Cole said. “They expect her to be serious all the time.”
Cole showed athletic promise at a young age. She started playing tennis when she was four, and played the sport competitively through her freshman year as the No. 3 singles player at Grand Haven.
The 17-year-old senior gave it up though to pursue excellence in volleyball, a sport which plays its AAU club seasons in the spring at the same time as girls tennis at the prep level.
Cole’s parents, Scott and Dawn Cole, knew their daughter was good at volleyball, but they didn’t really understand how good until she was playing for Michigan Volleyball Academy as a sophomore.
“We always attributed her success to being a little bit taller than everyone else,” Dawn Cole said. “But recruiting really started to heat up he sophomore year, especially when she went to nationals with her club team. There were dozens of coaches watching her and other players at matches, and that’s something we didn’t expect.
“It’s been exciting. I’m amazed at how well she’s handled it. She works very hard obviously. She’s her own worst critic. She wants to be better and work harder. It’s been fun watching her grow.”
Cole’s shown the willingness to work hard in volleyball for a number of years.
She started out by hitting from the right side as a freshman, moved to the middle her sophomore and junior seasons and then from everywhere on the court as a senior.
Her hard work on serving and passing made her an even bigger threat in her senior season as an all-around player. Her service game proved to be tough on opponents in the postseason.
“Abby’s a student of game, and she’s never satisfied,” Bucs volleyball coach Aaron Smaka said. She’s always looking to add elements to her game. She accepted the challenge to work on new things, and her willingness to try those things was huge for her and for us.
She was a huge in our postseason run. She was our best player but she’s the one staying late asking to get more balls hit to her so she could practice her passing. That attitude affected everyone.”
Smaka added that no one had a bigger impact on a match than Cole did her senior year. She racked up a Grand Haven career record 1,809 kills and 641 blocks.
As her game evolved Cole was recognized as the No. 3 player in the nation by Senior Aces. As her stock soared, so did the pressure to perform. She never let it affect her though.
“I wanted to prove that I belonged up there, and that stresses you out,” Cole said. “As an athlete though you strive to be the best, and I wanted to prove to people that I could play with the best. You want to make a name for yourself, so you just focus on playing your game.”
Cole’s ultimate dream is to play in the Olympics. She also would like to play professionally, perhaps even on the beach.
Cole tried out for the U.S. Women's Junior National Volleyball Team in late February. She was invited to play on a junior national team playing in Venice this year, but turned it down to complete her season with her MVA club team.
Cole, who hesitated to try out for the junior nationals because she would have to miss a basketball game, has always shown a commitment to her team.
She hopes her legacy at Grand Haven is more than just being a good athlete.
“I’m most proud of the person she is,” Dawn Cole said. “Athletics is awesome, but it could be taken from her tomorrow. As much as she loves athletics, it doesn’t define who she is. She’s got a big heart and a heart for people. She’s gotten a lot of attention, but she always hopes it doesn’t take away from her team and her teammates.”
compiled by Ron Rop | Local Sports Journal
SCHOOL: Western Michigan Christian
SPORTS: Soccer, 1 year; Volleyball, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years; Track, 2 years; Tennis, 1 year.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Small group leader, volunteer at elementary school, church volunteer.
NOTABLE: Will play volleyball at Valparaiso on a full-ride scholarship.
SPORTS: Volleyball, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years; Soccer, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Student Council, National Honor Society; Leadership team; Freshman mentor; SADD, TOPPC, Recreation basketball referee; Soccer referee; Food basketballs for community; Hart High School blood drive.
NOTABLE: Will attend Alma College to study pre-med and play soccer.
SCHOOL: Mona Shores
SPORTS: Basketball, 4 years; Soccer, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Mona Shores youth camps; Antioch youth group at St. Francis de Sales.
NOTABLE: Will attend Oakland University.
SPORTS: Basketball, 4 years; Soccer, 4 years; Volleyball, 2 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Middle school basketball coach; Junior Hoopsters Basketball Program; Student Council.
NOTABLE: Will attend Grand Valley State University and play basketball.
SCHOOL: Spring Lake
SPORTS: Track, 4 years; Cross country, 3 years; Basketball, 4 years
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Vacation Bible school; Gleaners food truck; Volunteer at Little Red House Adult Daycare Center.
SPORTS: Volleyball, 4 years; Soccer, 4 years; Swimming, 2 years; Competitive Cheer, 1 year.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Unity Christian Music Festival; Saturday Morning Breakfast; Student Leadership Council; Link Crew; National Honors Society; blood drive; Children’s ministry; Alzheimer’s dodgeball tournament; International Thespian Society; Masque Club.
KIRSTEN ARLENE GJERTSEN
SPORTS: Softball, 4 years; Volleyball, 3 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: NA
SCHOOL: North Muskegon
SPORTS: Tennis, 4 years; Cross Country, 4 years
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: National Honor Society; Club Fripounet; Interact Club; French Club; Science Journal Club.
SPORTS: Basketball, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Student Council; National Honor Society; Founding member and president of Muskegon Area Interact (Junior rotary); Volunteer work for United Way, Habitat for Humanity and Senator Geoff Hansen.
SCHOOL: Fruitport Calvary Christian
SPORTS: Volleyball, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years; Soccer, 4 years; Track, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Highway cleanup; Beach cleanup; Hope’s Outlet; Tutoring; No More Sidelines; Student government leader.
SPORTS: Soccer, 3 years; Basketball, 4 years; Cross country, 1 year; Track, 1 year.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Student-Athlete Leadership Team; Spanish Club; National Honor Society; Youth group at Kainay Student Ministries.
SPORTS: Basketball, 4 years; Softball, 4 years; Volleyball, 3 years; Cross country, 1 year.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: National Honor Society; Business Club member; Business Club president; Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Peer tutor; Class officer; Our Lady of Fatima youth group; Shelby Recreation Club volunteer; Youth basketball; Shelby High School Community Pride Day.
SCHOOL: Muskegon Catholic Central
SPORTS: Golf, 2 years; Volleyball, 2 years; Basketball, 4 years; Soccer, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: National Honor Society; Habitat for Humanity; West Catholic Charities; Student Council; Wheelchair basketball; No More Sidelines.
SPORTS: Basketball , 3 years; Track, 4 years
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Mission trips.
SPORTS: Volleyball, 4 years; Bowling, 4 years; Softball, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Business Professionals of America; Salvation Army; Support our Troops; cleaning and painting at local parks; New Orleans mission trip; Vacation Bible School; National Honor Society; Youth Advisory Council; Prom Committee; Yearbook; Band; Blood drive volunteer; Senior Citizens lunches.
SCHOOL: Fremont Providence Christian
SPORTS: Volleyball, 4 years; Basketball, 1 year; Soccer, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Choir, National Honor Society, Chapel planning; Youth group; Praise team; Nursery; Children’s worship team.
SPORTS: Track, 4 years; Cross Country, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Student Council treasurer; Senior class president; National Honor Society treasurer; Prom committee; National Honors Society tutor; Red Cross blood drives; Newaygo Kid’s Day volunteer; St. Nick Kick volunteer; National Canoe and Kayak Championship volunteer.
SCHOOL: Orchard View
SPORTS: Soccer, 4 years; Volleyball, 1 year.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: National Honors Society; Summer park programs; In-school projects; United Way.
Muskegon Sports Hall of Fame selects Reed Hrynewich as top male student-athlete of the year
by Ken Stevens
May 24, 2013
MUSKEGON, MI – The best of both worlds would be a good way to sum up the high school experience of Reed Hrynewich.
The senior was a big part of a pair of state-ranked programs at Mona Shores, one that focuses on team play on the hockey rink and the other that puts individual performance at a premium on the golf course.
Add the two together, along with an outstanding academic resume, and it’s not hard to see why Hrynewich was selected as the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame male student-athlete of the year.
Alec Breit of Western Michigan Christian, Adam Clauss of Spring Lake, Jacob Marsh of Montague and Matt Mulcahy of Grand Haven were the other finalists from a pool of nominees submitted by area schools.
Hrynewich was an all-stater in both sports and is a candidate for Mr. Golf, which goes to the state’s top player. In the classroom, he carries a 4.3 grade point average. He is above the 4.0 scale because of the numerous advanced placement courses he has completed.
He has accepted a golf scholarship to attend the University of Michigan and plans to study environmental engineering.
Hrynewich is an analytical thinker and has a personality that is driven and goal-oriented. He is a firm believer in what you put into something is what you get out of it.
This spring, if he’s not at a golf course playing or practicing until dark, then he’s doing homework. It doesn’t leave much time for anything else, but he has big goals in all facets of his life.
“I have a time schedule that I set every Sunday,” he said. “I write a little calendar that says what I’m going to do throughout the week and you have to stay organized with the academics. I’m proud of my academic accolades as well as athletic and that’s one reason I’m going to Michigan for engineering.”
He said it hasn’t been easy, but well worth the sacrifice.
“It’s very difficult. One thing I’m going do is thank is all my teachers for their support and leniency because you have to make up a bunch of stuff,” he said. “Other than that, it takes a lot of discipline and you have to set your priorities straight, which is sports and school. If you don’t have either of those, which is pretty much never, then you can hang out and have fun.”
Reed said his passion to learn more about the game and the success he enjoyed in the junior ranks pushed golf to the top of his list by his freshman year of high school. His long-range goal is to play on the PGA Tour.
His father, Tim, who played for the Muskegon Lumberjacks and in the National Hockey League, said he hasn’t had to push his son. His role has been one of support and encouragement.
“Honestly, it’s something that comes from within him,” he said. “He has goals he wants to achieve and he works as hard as he can for it. … I’m a lucky parent, I guess. He just has that discipline. He wants to be toward top of his class and he takes pride in it.”
Tim said what he and his wife, Susan, have tried to push is a positive attitude to Reed and his twin sister, Hailey, who will attend Ohio University on a golf scholarship.
Their family grew up juggling a sports schedule, so that’s really nothing new.
Reed strapped on ice skates about the same time he could walk and often had a hockey stick or golf club in his hand at an early age. He also was a standout in baseball and soccer and found time to try gymnastics and tennis.
“I was always busy. Growing up, as a kid we didn’t have much homework in elementary school, but I remember having soccer practice after school, then I’d go to baseball and sometimes do three sports in a day,” he said.
Going into high school, he narrowed his choices down to golf and hockey. He played three seasons of varsity hockey and four seasons of varsity golf.
He played for a pair of first-year varsity coaches as a senior, Pat Rabbitt in hockey and Scott Volkmann in golf. Both had followed Hrynewich’s career and were impressed to see him in action firsthand every day.
“I’ve been around athletes and golfers that are very talented and I’ve been around really good students. Never have I been around a combination of the two (like Reed),” Volkmann said. “You’re talking about one of the top five in his class at one of the best high schools around and then you’re talking about a candidate for Mr. Golf. You’re talking upper echelon for both.”
Volkmann said one reason Hyrnewich is so special is his ability to work on his own and yet be coachable at the same time.
Even with his scholarship to U-M locked up, Hrynewich wasn’t afraid to make swing changes prior to his senior season. His spring highlights include medalist honors in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association city meet and the OK Black Conference, all done while wearing a knee brace for an injury suffered during hockey.
“If he doesn’t get every shot out of his round, which us golfers never do, he’s not content and he’ll go work on it,” Volkmann said. “That’s the part I like and what I want others to learn. I have a great deal of respect for that type of demeanor and attitude.”
Rabbitt echoed those thoughts and said he’s seen few like Reed for his mental toughness and ability to handle adversity at such a young age.
After his knee injury that was expected to be season ending, Reed still came to practice every day and strengthened his knee enough to come back and play one final game in the state tournament.
“His talent is way above average, but he’s the hardest worker,” Rabbitt said. “When he did come back and skate, the whole level of practice did increase because he was pushing it.”
Rabbitt said Hrynewich offered to help tutor teammates and followed through with it with study sessions.
Rabbitt also recalled how Hrynewich would take younger players under his wing.
“As long as I’ve known him, he’s been very kind and gracious,” Rabbitt said. “When we’d have tryouts, I remember him telling some of the younger guys who were struggling or weren’t sure of themselves ‘come play with me.’ A lot of guys would want to be with the best players, but not Reed. That showed some real character.”
compiled by Ron Rop | Local Sports Journal
SCHOOL: Western Michigan Christian High School
SPORTS: Golf, 4 years; Soccer, 4 years; Basketball, 3 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVMENT: Student Council,WMC Small Groups leader, band, concert choir, chamber choir, volunteer for International Aid, Rescue Mission, WMC soccer mission trips to Chicago, Youth Group at Harvest Bible Church.
NOTABLE: Will play golf at Hope College.
SCHOOL: Grand Haven
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Wrestling, 4 years; Lacrosse, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVMENT: Member of National Honor Society; Volunteer with “Friends of the Parks” for local parks; Reading program for elementary students.
NOTABLE: Will attend Aquinas College to study sports medicine.
SCHOOL: Spring Lake
SPORTS: Soccer, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years; Baseball, 2 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVMENT: HOST program (Helping elementary students).
NOTABLE: Will attend the University of Detroit and play soccer.
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years; Baseball, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVMENT: 4-H for 13 years, FFA member, youth group at New Era Bible Church.
NOTABLE: Will attend Muskegon Community College with intent to transfer to Grand Valley State University for criminal justice.
SCHOOL: Muskegon Catholic Central
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Basketball 4 years; Track, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Musical cast; youth basketball camps; Muskegon Community College volunteer program; YMCA youth camps.
SCHOOL: North Muskegon
SPORTS: Cross country, 4 years; Golf, 3 years; Track, 1 year.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: National Honor Society; Excellence in Ecology Award; Toastmasters International Youth Leadership Program; Lighting for student production; Every 15 Minutes; Mission Trip to Washington D.C.; church youth group.
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years; Baseball, 2 years; Golf, 1 year.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: DECA.
SPORTS: Wrestling, 4 years; Baseball, 4 years; Football, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Student Council; Volunteer at Feeding America food trucks; active in church.
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years; Baseball, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Business Club, SAFE (Students Acting for the Environment), Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Basketball camp; Shelby High School Pride Day; peer tutor; AYF.
SCHOOL: Orchard View
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years; Baseball, 2 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Pioneer Resources volunteer; Rotary Interact; National Honor Society.
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Wrestling, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: None submitted.
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Baseball, 4 years; Basketball, 1 year.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: National Honor Society, Science Olympiad, church youth group.
SCHOOL: Fremont Providence Christian
SPORTS: Cross country, 4 years; Track, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Choir, band, National Honor Society.
SPORTS: Swimming, 2 years; Baseball, 4 years; Bowling, 2 years; Football, 2 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: National Honor Society board member; Link crew leader; NHS Blood Drive; Alzheimer’s dodgeball tournament; Little League coach; tutoring.
SPORTS: Track, 4 years; Football, 4 years; Basketball, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Help with middle school and upper elementary band; honors band; Junior Hoopster Basketball Program
SPORTS: Football, 4 years; Wrestling, 4 years.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Showcase arts nominee; Drama Club; leadership program; camp counselor; church food pantry; youth sports camp counselor; volunteer athletic boosters; Freshman Focus; Volunteer for elementary school repairs.
Muskegon sports hall to honor longtime broadcaster
February 06, 2013
Longtime radio broadcaster Jim Moyes, right, has earned the Distinguished Service Award by the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame. Moyes is pictured with longtime radio partner Gene Young.
MUSKEGON, MI. – Jim Moyes was known for his trademark greeting “Hello, sports fans” during his 43 years of broadcasting local high school football and basketball games.
The next time will come as a member of the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame.
Moyes has been named the 2013 Distinguished Service Award presented annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to sports in the area, but not as an athlete.
Moyes, 71, now lives in Florida, but is still well known in the Muskegon area as a generous supporter of baseball and track, a longtime coach and booster at North Muskegon, a regular emcee at sports-related events, and the longtime radio voice of Muskegon-area sports.
He was the owner of the Bear Lake Tavern in North Muskegon, but spent most of his non-working hours contributing to the betterment of sports in the area. He was a founding member of the West Michigan Track Club, the driving force behind the restoration of the North Muskegon baseball field and a longtime member of the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame’s board of directors before his move to Florida three years ago.
Moyes joins Jim Goorman, Jack Sprague, and Holton’s state championship girls volleyball team of 1994 as this year’s inductees. The high school male and female student-athlete honorees will be announced in May.
The 27th annual class will be formally inducted into the hall at a banquet on Saturday, June 8 at Muskegon Country Club.
Tickets for the banquet are $40 and will be available to the public this spring. For more information, visit the hall’s web site at www.mashf.com.
Muskegon sports hall announces induction class for 2013
December 10, 2012
|Former Western Michigan Christian coach Jim Goorman is a member of the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Class for 2013.
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame induction class for 2013 covers a wide range of sports, but shares a common theme.
Members of the class all reached the pinnacle of their respective sports.
Those selected are former Western Michigan Christian boys basketball coach Jim Goorman, who led the Warriors to five state titles, Spring Lake native Jack Sprague, a three-time NASCAR Trucks champion who also raced on the Winston Cup series, and Holton’s girls volleyball team that won a state championship in 1994.
The class, which is the 27th in the history of the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame, will be inducted with a banquet on Saturday, June 8 at Muskegon Country Club.
|Jack Sprague, a three-time NASCAR Trucks champion, is part of the 2013 induction class for the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame.
The class was chosen after a year-long selection process by a vote of the Hall of Fame’s 14-member board of directors. A Distinguished Service Award winner will be announced in January, followed by the high school male and female student-athlete honorees in May.
“My biggest fear is we have room for them all,” Hall of Fame president Gene Young said. “It’s going to be a very popular induction. They will stimulate a lot of interest. They all have quite a following.”
|Holton's volleyball team celebrates after winning a tournament title during the 1994 season. The team went on to win the area's first state championship in volleyball and will be inducted into the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame in June.
Goorman is the winningest basketball coach in Muskegon-area high school history with 510 wins in his 33 years as head coach at Western Michigan Christian. His Warrior teams won five state championships and finished state runners-up three times.
Sprague went all the way from track champion at local Thunderbird Raceway and Winston Speedway. He won NASCAR Truck series overall titles in 1997, 1999 and 2001 and also raced on the Busch and Winston Cup series.
Coached by Ed Bailey, Holton’s girls volleyball team finished Class C runners-up in 1993 and won the area’s first-ever volleyball state championship in 1994.
Tickets for the banquet are $40 and will be available to the public this spring. For more information on the organization, visit the Hall of Fame’s web site at www.mashf.com.
Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame
Holiday Basketball Classic
Lookback: Legendary Muskegon Heights football coach Okie Johnson
September 03, 2012
Muskegon Heights would not win a single football game for the legendary Okie Johnson in 1963, his final year as the Tigers' football coach.
Johnson would retire the following spring after the Tigers stumbled to a 0-8-1 record.
|Not long after this photo was taken, Heights would go 23-3-1 under Okie Johnson from 1955 to 1957. The Tigers already had two Golden Eras under Okie: 1933-1935 when they were 32-0 and won three mythical state titles and 1945-1947 when they were 27-0.
Although the rock-ribbed old taskmaster could claim a moral victory in his final game, a 12-12 tie with archrival Muskegon, it's not likely Okie took much solace in a deadlock with the 2-6-1 Big Reds.
Only 18 years before, the two schools had played what's still considered the greatest high school game ever in the state, Johnson's Tigers winning the battle of unbeaten, state-ranked powerhouses, 7-6, in front of 13,000 fans.
It was surely the sweetest of all Okie's victories and more than softened the bitterness of his first loss as Heights' coach, an 89-0 pasting by the Big Reds in 1927.
In almost four decades at the Heights, Okie faced arguably the two best Big Red coaches of all time in 30 games, emerging with a 9-9-2 record against Leo Redmond and a 6-4 Mark against Harry Potter.
Chronicle sports writer Dick Hedges had this so say about Okie, "You know, the fellows who played for him couldn't stand his guts, but they wouldn't have played for anyone else."
Better than anyone, Chronicle sportswriter Joe Eyler captured the essence of the garrulous old master's coaching methods in his 1964 tribute to the retiring coach: "We'll always remember him as a master psychologist," Eyler wrote. "Like the time we found one of his finest linemen sitting on a tackling dummy with tears of rage in his eyes. 'I'm so mad at that old so-and-so I could kill him!' the young man said.
|Oscar E. "Okie" Johnson, a Cadillac native, attended Western State Teachers College (now Western Michigan University) from 1922-25, earning four letters in basketball and three each in football and track. Johnson played tackle on Bronco grid squads which went 17-2-2, including the 1922 team which was unbeaten and unscored on.
Three days later, as the Heights blanked Muskegon Catholic Central, 10-0, in as fierce a defensive battle as we have ever seen, the lineman in question was a demon on the field."
Frustration often turned to respect and even fondness for Okie in later years. When former Heights standout Sonny Grandelius landed the head-coaching job at the University of Colorado, he called Okie and offered him a job as his defensive coach.
"You mean you want to hire a man almost 60 years old?" an incredulous reporter asked Grandelius. "I don't care if he's a 100; he's still the best defensive coach I've ever seen," Grandelius shot back.
Okie had one more winning streak in him after he retired. Called into action during a 1979 teachers strike, Okie led Baldwin to three victories, extending his lifetime football coaching record to 209-106-28 (including his first job in Mt. Pleasant).
Okie was no one-sport wonder, running up a 408-241 record as a basketball coach, including three Class A state championships at the Heights between 1954 and 1957.
Born on Jan. 8, 1901 in Cadillac, Okie died on Oct. 21, 1991 in Baldwin.
This week 49 years ago...
Legendary Muskegon Heights' Coach Okie Johnson would get one more shot at hated football archrival Muskegon before his career at Muskegon Heights ended the following spring.
On Sept. 2, 1963, The Chronicle said,
The Old Master Rolls into 37th Year
One of the most colorful high school football coaches in the nation will launch his 37th year as head coach at Muskegon Heights High School on Friday, Sept. 13.
Oscar E. Johnson, Michigan's dean of prep school coaches, again will be in charge of the orange and black clad Tigers, hoping to end a losing streak that has blemished a brilliant record in recent years.
|The Tigers' glory days on the gridiron were behind them in the mid-1960s. Heights went 0-8-1 in 1963, Okie's last season as coach. Johnson's football coaching career at Muskegon Heights ended with a 12-12 tie against archrival Muskegon. The Big Reds had beaten him 89-0 in his first game as the Tigers' coach.
During his regime at the Heights, Coach Johnson has amassed a win, loss, and tie record unequalled by any high school in the state.
That's a record that could be envied by high school, college and even pro coaches. Since taking over coaching duties at the Heights in 1927, Johnson has won 198 football games, lost 91 and has 20 ties. Remarkable for a school the size of the Heights...for that matter a school of any size, anywhere.
His teams have won six mythical state football titles as well as having undefeated seasons in 1933, 1934, 1935, 1945, 1946, 1947 and 1957.
The big pilot, himself a powerful athlete, has sent numerous prep football stars on to recognition as great collegians and some of them as outstanding pro gridders. One recalls Milo Sukup, the great running guard for All-American Tom Harmon at Michigan; John Regeczi, who also went on to play for the Wolverines where he was rated as one of the college's greatest punters; Jack Weisenburger, the whirling dervish fullback of Michigan's famed 1947 Rose Bowl and national championship team.
Who can forget speedy Frank Howell of Michigan and Sonny Grandelius, Michigan State's All-American and one time New York Giants back, and in more recent years Osie McCarty, Lloyd Swelnis, Arnold Ochs and Dan Wright only to mention a few.
The past few years haven't been as rewarding to 'Okie', but when it comes to winning streaks, Johnson doesn't take a back seat to any mentor.
|Inducted into Western Michigan University's Hall of Fame in 1976, Okie had three football games left to coach, stepping in during a 1979 teachers strike to guide Baldwin to three wins and extend his football coaching record to 209-106-28.
The first of his two longest streaks began in 1931 when the Tigers downed Grand Haven 20-6 and went on to win 31 games before dropping a 10-0 decision to Lansing Eastern in 1936.
It wasn't until 1945, following a few lean years, that "Lady Luck" was back looking over Johnson' shoulder. That year Okie fielded a team that started another victory skein, this time opening the season with a 9-0 victory over Grand Rapids Creston and racing on to win 27 games before being stopped by Grand Rapids Catholic Central 7-0 in 1948. The last undefeated season the Tigers enjoyed was in 1957 when they closed out the year with an 8-0 record.
Since then, new schools have cropped up in the area. Muskegon Catholic Central hit the Heights first, taking many prospective athletes. Now, with the addition of Mona Shores High, the pickings are certain to be slimmer.
Come this opening of another football season, Coach Johnson once again will be at Phillips Field working out a new crop of eager youngsters to get across the basic fundamentals of the game.
And the outcome for the Tigers this year will depend on how much of their coach's knowledge rubs off on them – or how much desire they have to win.
But, win or lose, you can bet the name of "Okie" Johnson will always be prominent when the talk gets around to Muskegon Heights High School sports.