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08-13-2020 Tri-City Area Sports

CARTWRIGHT STRETCHES FOR THE OUT… Coloma Grinder Brice Cartwright stretches for the throw at second base, and gets the force out. The Grinders, a 10U baseball team made up of Coloma players, were competing in Muskegon, Mona Shores on August 8-9. (TCR photo by Dave Vollrath)

Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant

Middle School soccer

The most successful high school sports programs are built upon a good youth program. We have long had youth soccer programs in the area but only recently have we had a program within Watervliet Schools. Before we had a boys varsity team we had a middle school club team, and that team is alive and doing well. In fact, they’re looking for players.

What happens when we resume youth sports

This is a true story of a local travel softball team last weekend. The team traveled upstate to participate in a tournament with a dozen middle school level teams. It’s far enough away that families get hotel rooms and plan to spend the weekend. By all accounts these are fun activities for the families and siblings of the players and in the absence of a regular season for school and local recreation council sports the travel teams are the only game in town.

The families make the drive to the tournament area and get settled in for the weekend. The team has three games scheduled for Saturday and more on Sunday depending on their wins and losses. In their first game the team is winning in the late innings, only to give up the lead and lose at the end. It’s more heartbreak in the next two games as the team suffers the same fate, winning well into the game against seemingly lesser teams only to give up the lead late and lose twice more due to a series of errors. For anyone who has ever coached youth sports knows that sinking feeling when the team just seems to fall apart and can’t catch anything or throw the ball to a teammate cleanly.

After the three losses it’s back to the hotel to get cleaned up, rest, eat, socialize, and prepare for a game or two on Sunday. But then the bottom drops out: an email message from the tournament director changes everything. At this point the team is hoping their opponent had some ineligible players, maybe a couple are really 19 years old. But no, it turns out that one of the players on an unidentified team, one they probably didn’t play against, has a player who was in direct contact with a family member who just found out they tested positive for COVID-19.

First comes the easy part as the tournament is immediately canceled. This isn’t too bad, not any different than a big line of storms coming in the morning to wash out the fields for the day. But there’s more in 2020. Now a parent has their own athlete who may have had contact with another player who definitely had contact with someone carrying the coronavirus. Or maybe not direct contact, but their kid used the same dugouts and the same restrooms and may have slid into the same dirt at second base.

Each entire family is in brief two-day quarantine, waiting to hear if the other player or her family tests positive. If not, then life can resume normally on Tuesday or Wednesday. But if that player or another immediate family member tests positive then all the families involved are looking at getting their entire family tested and remaining in quarantine for some undetermined amount of time. Hopefully the adults have the ability to work from home, because if not then they miss days at work, and the problems just snowball from there if the virus spreads further. Don’t forget that baseball and softball are just moderate-contact sports.

As this is being written the college football world is contemplating canceling their entire season. Local superintendents and school boards are facing tough decisions too, primarily whether in-person classes are a wise idea. The MHSAA is expected to announce the status of fall sports in a week or so. There are reports of schools already opening and promptly closing or switching to online classes as one kid infects an entire class. No one knows yet whether the virus spread past that class.

This is painful to write: It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see where Watervliet and all other Michigan schools are probably headed with high school sports next month. All of us need to cross our fingers!

Ladies Monday Night Happy Hour Golf League

Aug. 10 Golf Report from the Paw Paw Lake Golf Club: Weekly Event, Longest Drive on #13 – Michelle Metz; Low Gross – Cheryl Hutchins with 49; Low Net – Charlene Durfee with 37; Low Putts – Katherine Rodriguez, Sue Pantaleo, Cheryl Hutchins, Charlene Durfee and Colleen McKeown with 17; Pars – Kathy Osborne on #14, Judy Lynch on #13, Cheryl Hutchins on #14, Michelle Metz on #12 and #14, Charlene Durfee on #18 and Maureen Pavletic on #13 and #14; Chip-Ins – Kathy Osborne on #16 and #17; Birdie – Kathy Osborne on #18.

Hartford Prress Box By Jerrod Birmele

Official fall sports practices begin – but will the season start on time?

I know, we know, everybody knows – the coronavirus pandemic over the last five months have dominated the landscape, not only locally, statewide and nationally, but worldwide. People reading the Tri-City Record sports columns are yearning to read some good news, and most importantly, read some up-to-date high school sports columns. We have some good news to report this week, but along with everything else, it comes with a caveat.

This week, teams all across the state of Michigan will begin practicing for what has been has been described as a “normal” fall sports season. But this fall will be anything but normal. In the immediate term, all of the health and social distancing aspects will still have to be followed, like they were this summer. Temperature checks and screening questions will also become a part of the equation for the foreseeable future.

The only real “normal” part of fall sports in 2020 is the staggered practices dates that teams can begin their official practices. This is customary procedure from the MHSAA, and in no way reflects a change simply due to COVID-19.

Football began practice on Monday, Aug. 10, but with many restrictions still in place. In addition to having to follow health, safety and social distancing standards, key restrictions include a “heat acclimatization week” during the first week, as teams must practice with just helmets as they begin. Pads will be allowed beginning Monday, Aug. 17; however, any decision made by the MHSAA in the coming days and week could alter this. Also, due to COVID-19, no scrimmages will take place, which hurts somewhat for game preparation.

Volleyball began practice on Wednesday, Aug. 12, and comes with even greater restrictions in place. Like their football counterparts, they are still following the script from summer conditioning, with even greater restrictions. Due to the current orders from state leadership limiting indoor gatherings to 10-or-less people, they must conduct practices outdoors in the morning for the foreseeable future. And, if things do not change in the coming days, it is hard to envision their being a volleyball season this year.

Soccer began practice on Wednesday, Aug. 12, and the beat of the drum continues here. The men will continue to practice with all of the similar restrictions in place and all of the health and safety protocols from summer still in effect. But, like their football and volleyball counterparts, they are among the teams waiting for guidance on if they will have a season or not. Their first competition date, under normal circumstances, would have been Aug. 21, but with a decision still pending, it’s hard to see matches starting on time, if at all.

Cross-Country began practice on Wednesday, Aug. 12, and it arrives with the loosest of all restrictions as a “low risk” sport. Yes, they must continue to adhere to social distancing, but they do not have to worry about sanitizing equipment or being within six feet of each other, outside of the starting area. The MHSAA, however, did post some restrictions on the amount of participants this fall, limiting each event to a total of 70 runners at any given site. That has forced a change, or complete cancellation, of some big name races this year.

While things appear to be on track for a “normal” start, decisions looming in the next few weeks will either affirm or change the thinking of the MHSAA. Like was mentioned last week in this column, they must get the absolute best data possible, make a stronger health plan, work with all of their member schools and their administrations, work with state and local health officials on the best ways to move forward, and make the best decision possible for the safety of our children. In this time of great confusion, athletes need sports. Sports, however, should only occur if it is proper to do so.

But, there also needs to be a plan to get kids back in school properly, too. A decision on sports should not be ahead of a decision on how school will proceed for the coming year. School must be held as the greater priority over athletics. After all, we are talking about the words student and athlete here.

Still, there are plenty of concerns on the table if you are looking for good news. While there was some good news that the percentage of positive cases in Michigan dropped to 3.4% over the past week, cases still remain in the medium-high risk category. We are continuing to see the repercussions of outbreaks in professional sports, especially baseball, where traveling has led to team outbreaks on at-least two teams.

And, most recently, the news has shined on collegiate athletics, and whether fall sports will actually be delayed or even occurs. The Mid-American Conference has already canceled fall sports this year, and rumors flying around Power 5 Conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and the SEC) are that they are up in the air. If colleges cannot do enough to protect their athletes with their budgets, how could high school sports even occur? It’s a question that will have to be answered another day.

If fall sports occur as scheduled, we will do our very best on short notice to try to preview your favorite teams, and give you the inside look you expect from the Hartford Press Box. But for right now, keep doing what you are doing to protect others – wear masks in public places, observe six feet of distance between each other, and do not go out if you are, or even feel sick. To achieve fall sports and school for our children, we need to do everything we can. Remember, life is a team sport – and this is a time when everyone must work together.

As always, GO INDIANS!

Coloma Press Box By Dave Vollrath

Fall practices begin for Comets, still some restrictions

Even though the MHSAA has allowed the high schools in our state to begin various stages of practices this week, there still seems to be a great deal of doubt as to whether our governor may still step in and end it all with another executive order. This week the cross-country teams could begin their outdoor practices with COVID-19 safety protocols in place, without too many restrictions. Unlike the sports that have the players in close contact with each other – soccer, football, and volleyball – that can begin practice, but without any drills where contact can be made.

It’s just been this kind of year! Comet head football coach Joe Stephens on Monday, Aug. 10 said that because of the severe oncoming storms that evening he was forced to cancel practice for the first time since 9-11-2001. The reason wasn’t so much because of the storms but because they are still not allowed in the school. Because of the virus they would have no place to go to wait out the storms, which did come across the big lake with a bit of anger to them.

Comet volleyball head coach Kim Swisher

Kim Swisher, better known in these parts by her maiden name of Kim Gear, will again lead the Comet volleyball team when they get on the court this month. Kim recently stepped down as the Comet girls head basketball coach, and will now be able to just focus on volleyball.

Kim has lived most of her life as a dual sport athlete, playing both basketball and volleyball in high school and college and coaching both sports for Coloma for the past six years. She grew up just down Red Arrow Highway in Watervliet, and not only played two sports but excelled on both the basketball and volleyball courts. She graduated from Watervliet in 2005, and was named that year as the Southwestern Michigan Female Athlete of the year following an outstanding career as a Panther in her two chosen sports.

Swisher then went on to play both basketball and volleyball at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, before finishing her collegiate career at Wayne State University. Kim was named to the All-GLIAC honorable mention teams both years for her work on the volleyball court. She had an outstanding playing career, and is now giving all she has to helping to build a winning tradition in Coloma Schools.

Kim met her husband Scott in high school, although he was three years ahead of her. They have only been married for a little more than a year, and they just bought a home in Coloma last fall. Kim says they survived the lockdown pretty well, while Scott had to continue working through it all. She had the opportunity to relax a little more and spend more time riding her horse. Kim has worked at Countryside Academy as a math interventionist for the last seven years.

Kim names her mom and her brother as having the biggest influences on her career as she was growing up. These are her words, anyone with siblings may understand; she says her brother would beat up on her at home to toughen her up. She also states that her mom has always been her biggest fan, and only missed three games in her entire high school and collegiate career. Her mom still is always nearby, on the bench and assisting her in her coaching duties.

Coach Kim has been in contact with her players all summer, and having conditioning practices for as long as they have been allowed to. As coach she has no problem with the girls enjoying their summers, and having jobs, but holds her practices in the cool of the early morning so they would be able to do other things. She says her girls are extremely responsive in letting her know in advance when they would be unable to participate on any given day.

Coach Swisher believes they can have a volleyball season this year, even without tournaments. But things can certainly change on a dime as has already been seen. She really hopes for the sake of her seniors that they will be able to play.

Coloma 10U Grinders compete in Muskegon Tournament

A team made up of all Coloma boys aged 9-10, competed recently in a tournament up in Muskegon. It was the first actual competition for these young men this year, as the Coloma youth leagues all have been canceled along with most of the tournaments because of COVID-19. Given the circumstances, the Coloma Grinders played up to their name.

Except for giving up an 8-spot in the first inning of their first game, they played very well. Even in that first 8-run inning, they were within one pitch of getting out of the inning with only one run scored. But after a 2-strike blooper single to right field fell in, scoring all three base runners, it just opened the flood gates. The Grinders did come back in this game losing by a final of 12-8, but the game was called in the fifth inning because of a time limit. Their second game which they lost 8-7 was another game where they did not get a final at bat because of the time limit. Their two Saturday losses in the pool play placed them fourth in the seeding and they had to play the number one seed on Sunday, and fell in this game by a score of 7-1.

The COVID-19 virus probably hurt this age group the most, because they are just transitioning to live pitch baseball, and have pretty much lost a year of playing experience that they can never get back. It was a great effort however, and being hot and dusty it was perfectly beautiful baseball weather.

The Grinders team is composed of players, Brody Ashley, Brady Winnell, Eli Veal, Masyn Hess, Ethan Schelling, Carson Coble, Ross Smothers, Jayden Hampton, Brice Cartwright, Logan Wilkins, Matthew Hejduk, and Zachary Nord. The coaches were Kenny Ashley, Mark Coble, and Gordy Cartwright.

Press Box Player of the Week!

By Dave Vollrath

Tri-City Record Press Box Player of the Week for Aug. 13, 2020 is Coloma Comet Jonan Bravo. Jonan has been nominated by head football coach Joe Stephens, and will be a senior at Coloma High School when classes begin in a few short weeks.

Coach Stephens states that he is extremely impressed with the effort that Jonan has put forth, since suffering an injury during his junior season which had him limping through the campaign. Jonan plays primarily on the offensive line, and had shown great improvement a year ago until the injury occurred. Jonan has worked extremely hard since then, dedicating himself to having a great senior year on the football field.

It can be extremely difficult both mentally and physically when rehabbing an injury. Jonan has kept pushing himself, and now is in the best physical shape of his life and ready to lineup and hit his opponents head on. Coach Stephens says that Jonan would very much like to earn all-conference honors when all is said and done, but is also the kind of kid who will step up to any challenge and do whatever is asked of him for the betterment of the team. Jonan has not missed a workout all summer, and the coach has him penciled in to start at offensive tackle.

Young Bravo is also another unique individual who also performs at halftime on Friday nights in the fall, as he is also a member of the Coloma Marching Band. Jonan carries a cumulative GPA of 3.8 in the classroom, and is currently undecided on where his future might lie. However, with his attitude and effort in all that he does Coach Stephens believes that Jonan is capable of accomplishing big things in his future. We wish Jonan the best of luck for the upcoming season, and well beyond.


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