09-17-2020 Tri-City Area Sports

Coloma Press Box By Dave Vollrath


Coloma head football coach Joe Stephens

Last week was the first of a two part column in taking a closer look at Coloma Comet head football coach Joe Stephens, and his thoughts on what the future of the 2020-21 football season might look like, what the effect might be if this season was moved to the spring, and who had the most impact on him in becoming a football coach. This week is the wrap up of the interview with Coach Stephens, finding out a little bit about his personal and professional life.

Tri-City Record asked Coach Stephens to talk a little about his personal, and family life, and how they have been getting through the COVID lockdown. The coach responded, “I am originally from Maple Rapids, Michigan, which is about 30 minutes north of Lansing. I graduated from Fulton High School, and grew up in a sports crazy family. My dad Jeff just retired from coaching high school basketball this past March. His coaching career spanned five decades, beginning back in the 80s. Although I’m not a basketball guy like him, I think a lot of my coaching style, and the way I treat our players, comes directly from watching him and being coached by him when I was growing up. My younger brothers, Jeremy and Matt, and I played sports and competed constantly as we grew up. We all played baseball, basketball, and football in high school, and we all went on to play baseball in college. My brothers also both played some college football, but they were 6’3”, and very athletic, and I was not. My mom Sarah was probably the toughest of us all, as she had to break up probably over 1,000 backyard fights over our games. My wife Stephanie and I have been married for 10 years this year. We met at Alma College where we were both in the education program, and she was also on the swim team. We are now beginning to see the same backyard competitions that I had growing up break out between our three kids, Brennan, Colton, and Adalyn. Most summers we are normally very active, but this summer we are getting a little stir crazy, as we hang out closer to home and have taken a break from that active lifestyle. Because of the COVID virus, we are sticking closer to our house in Coloma, to try and make sure we stay healthy and able to take care of the kids in our classrooms and their families this coming fall.”

TCR asked Coach Stephens about his coaching experience. The coach went on to tell, “The upcoming fall will be my 18th season coaching varsity football. I spent six years as assistant at Fulton, and this will be my 12th season at Coloma. I spent six years here in Coloma as an assistant under Coach Mark Eddy, and this will be my 6th year as the Comet head coach. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of playoff games, both at Fulton and Coloma. I have a lot of stories I could tell and memories that I have made, but the most rewarding part of coaching at both places is the way the players play for their schools. I am constantly hearing from the guys that come back to visit a practice, or shoot me a text. It reminds me every day that even though football is just a game and a small part of life it is still important and makes a huge impact on those who participate in it.”

Coach Stephens wraps up by saying, “I’m lucky to be a part of a game and profession that is a vehicle for making a difference in a wide range of people.”

Comets lose outstanding coaches, looking for replacements for girls basketball and girls bowling

Coloma girls head basketball coach Kim Swisher has decided that coaching two varsity sports, which pretty much keeps her busy year round, has become more of a burden than she cares to handle at this time and has decided to step down as the varsity basketball coach. Coach Swisher will continue to lead the Coloma varsity volleyball team, and that team is already preparing for the upcoming season.

Coach Swisher says that she is very grateful for the four years that Coloma allowed her to coach both teams. She felt that now is the right time to focus on one sport. She plans to spend more time with her family, and leaves the possibility open to someday return to coaching basketball in the future. She claims that she truly had an amazing four years working with the girls, and had a lot of great players. As of this date, Coloma was still searching for her replacement.

Carley Burrell has also decided that this is the right time for her to step away from coaching the Comet girls bowling team, and states that family is one of the primary reasons for her departure.

Carley has been Coloma’s coach for seven seasons, and has had a tremendous record with the lady Comet bowlers which include a division 3 state championship.  She has consistently led the Coloma keglers deep into the state tournament.

Coach Burrell says that having two young children at home, ages 6 and 2, and going back to school will require her to concentrate on those obligations, and would not leave her the time for coaching at the present time. Carley states, “Coaching has been an enormous part of my life. I’m so grateful to all the kids I’ve coached and to the Coloma administration for their support the past seven seasons that have helped shape me into the coach I’ve become.”

Coloma is also still searching for Carley’s replacement.

As the Coloma Press Box reported recently, Coloma has found their new coach to lead the boys varsity soccer team. The new coach is Joe Schmidt, and readers will find out all about Coloma’s most recent athletic hire right here next week.

Hartford Prress Box By Jerrod Birmele


Recreation Cheerleading and Football this year? The decision looms

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many local activities, events and sports had to be postponed, or inevitably, cancelled altogether. In regards to youth-oriented sports, the worst part of the entire ordeal has been that young boys and girls did not have the opportunity to participate in baseball or softball this summer. And, unfortunately, because in-person education was ended in March, many have not seen their friends for many months.

These times have also been tough on local youth sports programs, including the Hartford Council for Recreation, whose sole purpose is to provide the youth of Hartford and surrounding communities with educational, youth-based sports initiatives. The organization was forced to pull the plug in May on spring sports programs, and now awaits up-to-date guidance on the state and federal level to make the best possible decision on fall sports, including cheerleading and football.

With that being said, there are still more questions than answers regarding whether a season will actually occur as scheduled. Data coming in recently has resulted in an increased risk of transmissions. COVID-19 cases are trending upward all over the state, and it is now very likely that the risk levels, currently at medium locally (step 4), will not be changed in the foreseeable future. For there to be any athletic competition, the risk levels would need to be in the step 5 (low risk) or step 6 (post pandemic) levels.

The number one mission of the Hartford Council for Recreation remains the health, safety and well-being of everyone that is associated with it – whether that is coaches and players, their families, its staff, visitors and great fans. The organization does not exist without these groups, so it is essential moving forward that the council makes the best decisions with each of these groups in mind.

The Hartford Council for Recreation’s Interlocal Board of Directors will hold a Zoom meeting on July 22, and will start initializing talks on the future of the upcoming fall season. While a decision will not be made due to the ever-changing nature of the situation, the public is encouraged to join the meeting. A link to join will be posted on the website event calendar (at http://www.hartfordrecreation.org), Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/HartfordRec) and Twitter feed (http://www.twitter.com/IndianPridePark). Due to limitations, only 100 people can join at any one time.

As the chairman of the board and the writer of this column, all I can say is to our youth and their parents: please be patient with us. Please know that we are doing our absolute best to have a season in its normal time slot, but we also have to follow the guidance given to us by local and state officials. The last several months have been difficult on us as well, but we remain committed to our youth. We have been called to serve our community in this unique role, and we always have embraced a challenge. We will all get through this – together.

As always, GO INDIANS!

Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant


Watching Panther Athletics online

One of the newer features in the Watervliet Schools sports world is the ability to watch high school sporting events live from your phone or computer. That’s right, most of what happens in the football stadium and gymnasium is available in a livestreaming format, viewable from anywhere fans have Internet access.

About a year ago the Watervliet Athletic Department invested in a pair of camera systems. One was mounted on the front of the stadium’s press box and the other is up in the rafters of the gymnasium. The cameras follow the sporting action automatically without any production or manual control. Virtually every event taking place in those two areas can be watched remotely. There was even a marching band practice available early in the season when the system was first installed.

The system is useful for sports writers who cannot attend a game but need to get more than just a picture of a scorebook, and it’s especially useful for distant relatives, traveling parents, and far-away friends. It can also be used to watch a game when someone has to attend some other sporting event at the same time. All anyone needs to do is install the app on their phone or they can watch from a computer with their favorite browser.

The automatic part of the broadcast is what makes this system interesting. Several years ago the Panther football games were livestreamed with a regular camera while play-by-play was provided by staff, guests, and sometimes students. Staffing the crew is always a challenge, especially during a busy basketball or volleyball season. With this new system there’s no effort required by the school and staff, other than scheduling the event in the system.

The livestream includes audio from the event and there’s a scoreboard in the corner of the screen so viewers know who’s winning and losing. In addition, viewers can listen to the announcer and the cameras pan left and right to follow the action automatically.

That automatic camera panning isn’t always perfect, especially on a fast break or a long pass to a receiver on a fly route. But it is still better than not being able to watch the event at all. Even better, if someone can’t watch the event live they can watch a recording of it later when they have time.

The system is designed and run by the NFHS Network, a division of the National Federation of High Schools. The service requires a monthly fee or users can buy an annual pass. A monthly pass costs $10 and the yearly pass costs $70. Visit the site at www.nfhsnetwork.com to buy a pass and see what’s available. The pass gives access to every event in the Watervliet stadium and gym, as well as every event being held across the country on the network. For example, most MHSAA football playoff games are broadcast, as well as basketball, volleyball, some soccer games, wrestling, marching band contests and more.

The Panther Athletic Department is looking for sponsors to help defray the costs for running the system this next school year, so for anyone interested in a sponsorship opportunity contact the Athletic Department directly or reach out to the Watervliet Press Box email address tcrpressbox.whs@gmail.com.

Press box Player of the Week!

By Jerrod Birmele

Tri-City Record Press Box “Player of the Week” for July 16 goes out to the spring sports coaches at Hartford, who were put in a unique role no one has seen before. They handled the situation with the class and professionalism we come to know from the Indian coaching staff.

These coaches were in the beginning process of preparing their teams for games and competitions when the coronavirus arrived in Michigan in earnest around mid-March, and put the kibosh on athletic activities through at-least spring break. During optimism that sports may be able to continue post-break, the dreaded news came soon thereafter of the cancellation of the entire spring sports season.

Despite the cancellation, the coaching staff continued to play a vital role in the months after. Following the cancellation of in-person education for the year, they were tasked to oversee locker clean outs at the middle school and high school. And, at the senior athletic awards night, many of them left messages of encouragement for graduating seniors, reminding them just how the Class of 2020 will truly be remembered.

When the athletic season was canceled, the Hartford spring coaches could have just packed it in. But, in true form, they remained committed to the student-athletes until the end. Very often coaches are truly underappreciated for what they do. Yes, their job is to be proper educators of the sports they coach. But, they also perform a true labor of love by giving their time so student-athletes have the opportunity to participate in these sports. These coaches truly care about their student-athletes, and they often are the first ones to pick their players up when they need them the most – whether in the sport or in life.

So, this week, we say thank you to all of our great Hartford spring coaches. Coaches at the varsity level included Phillip Earls (baseball), Abel Robles (girls soccer), Steve Galvan (softball), Brad Manning (boys track) and Doug Paran (girls track). Also, to their assistant coaches and our coaching staff at the junior varsity and middle school levels, hats off to you as well. You all performed amicably under circumstances that were out of your control.

AQB Lynch ends week 1 on top, tiebreaker earns him the top spot

By Dave Vollrath Rodney Lynch, the Tri-City Record Armchair Quarterback Champion the last three years running, goes right back to the top following the first week of the NFL and collegiate action. Lynch earned his way back to first place by predicting the tiebreaking number of 44, which missed by just six points as the Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears game yielded a total of 50 points. Lynch went 6-2 in picking winners from the weekly selection of games, as did our newest panel member, Taylor Prestidge, and Dan Jones. Taylor jumps right up into second place and Dan third because of their tiebreaking numbers of 31 and 14 respectively. Taylor’s effort was very impressive, given the fact that it was her first attempt at picking games against our other very seasoned panelists. All of our pigskin pickers got tripped up by the Georgia Tech upset over Florida State. Taylor was the only one who correctly selected the Packers over the Vikings. Our panel was evenly split on the Lions vs. Bears game, which was a win handed to Chicago after the Lions blew a 17 point fourth quarter lead once again. The TCR, AQB competition is held weekly from the beginning of the football season in late summer, until it finishes with the playing of the Super Bowl in February. There are six Tri-City area football fans competing against each other to predict the winners of a group of pre-selected games, from the high school, collegiate, and professional ranks. Following the conclusion of the Super Bowl, one winner is crowned champion and will have the honor of wearing the Tri-City Record Armchair Quarterback Championship hat. In the event that two or more ‘backs have the same record for the week, or the yearly total, their place in the standings will be determined by a weekly tiebreaker game. In addition to trying to correctly pick the winners of each week’s games, they try and predict the score from a specially selected game. The AQB who guesses the closest to the total number of points scored by both teams will get the higher spot in the standings. RoxAnn Rodney-Isbrecht had a very respectable week, going 5-3, and moves into the fourth place spot. She is followed by Tim Hildebrand who after tying with Greg Krell at 4-4 won the tie breaker and 5th place. Tim was closest to the tiebreaking number of 50 as he predicted 49, and Greg was the second closest by predicting 47 points. Everyone on our panel of pigskin pickers is excited that we’ll be getting high school football back this week, and our local teams will all be included as part of our package of games. The Big Ten still is sitting idly by while the world of football keeps turning. Be sure and check back next week as our porkskin prognosticators have a go at this selection of games.

Coloma vs. Delton Kellogg Watervliet vs. Galesburg-Augusta Hartford vs. Cassopolis (tiebreaker) USF vs. Notre Dame Miami vs. Louisville N.Y. Giants vs. Chicago Detroit vs. Green Bay New England vs. Seattle

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