Last year, to commemorate my first year as the sports reporter and photographer for the TCR, I put together a list of the top five moments in our local sports. Whether it is the game itself, the athletes that participated, or a sensitive subject, a list was born. It highlighted the people who made an impact on me, the game, or their fellow players. I reread last year’s column, and it’s funny how perspective can change in one year. Last year, I was getting to know your kids. I started putting faces to names. I began knowing the athletes’ strengths and weaknesses. This year, I watched seniors – who were juniors when I started – graduate. I saw them stand on the gym floor with their parents for Senior Night. I saw them win Senior Athlete awards at their respective high schools. I saw their determination to qualify one last time for state competition. This year, I knew your athlete even when they didn’t have their jersey on. I knew they worked at Hardings or Frosty Boy or the Friendly or the Loma. I know the amount of effort they put into their studies and their sport. This year, not only did I write about and photograph your athlete, I cheered them on. I caught myself rooting for them to win. I found myself feeling a sense of loss when they crossed the stage at graduation and wondered what the team would do next season. But, like life, sports will roll on. There will be new faces, new teams, new winners, and new opportunities to witness greatness. I continue to be blessed to have the chance to sit on the sidelines and watch. I encourage everyone to make plans these upcoming sports seasons to come out to your local high school football or soccer field, tennis court, track, or gym and see the talent we have at Coloma, Hartford, and Watervliet schools. Catch a football game between Watervliet and Hartford. Check out a wrestling meet at Coloma. Become involved in each school’s athletic boosters; they are always searching and grateful for new volunteers. Above all, stop out and witness strength, heart, and compassion extolled by our area high school athletes. Become part of the thread of athletics that ties everyone into a community all their own. Be a champion of our champions. Let’s dive into the list of five moments that mattered in our local sports this past year:
BARRELLING THROUGH… Addyson Milnickel doesn’t let a Dowagiac catcher get in her way as she barrels across home plate during the team’s outing in the Hartford All-Stars tour-nament on Tuesday, July 27. Milnickel scored on an in-the-park home run. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)
Moment five: Fundraising in sports
Long gone are the days where schools give carte blanche budgets to their sports programs, even if they are successful. Increased ticket sales are no guarantee that the program will see an increase in their annual budget. Each dollar for each program must be stretched further and count for more. To that end, Coloma, Hartford, and Watervliet are becoming increasingly creative in raising money for their sports programs. Watervliet football hosts an annual trivia night. Coloma’s baseball team held a silent auction, while the softball team sold player banners. Hartford’s basketball and baseball program has started a golf outing. Watervliet’s wrestling program has benefited from the Trent McKinney annual golf outing for years. Sometimes the fundraiser isn’t about the team, it’s about a cause. Hartford boys’ and girls’ basketball programs host an annual Coaches vs. Cancer benefit on the court annually, a cause that is close to their heart. What’s also incredible are the coaches who create, implement, and advertise the fundraiser, often in addition to the time they spend with their team. They are tireless promoters of their sport and should be recognized. They are helped by players’ parents, their own booster organizations, and their family. It’s a labor of love, but it’s also a love of their sport that makes it happen.
Coloma, Hartford, Watervliet in SAC
In a move that made sense long before it actually took effect, Coloma joined the Southwestern Athletic Conference beginning with the 2015 fall sports contests. Coloma was previously a member of the Wolverine Contest. Hartford and Watervliet were already members of the SAC. The new conference is 20 teams strong and includes everyone from Eau Claire to Saugatuck to Constantine and points in between. The SAC teams were then split into different divisions for each sport and often our tri-city teams landed in the same one. This meant our three local high schools would face each other on the soccer and football fields, baseball diamonds and volleyball court. We would see our three favorite schools compete against each other for Red Arrow Highway bragging rights and new – and old – rivalries would be built.
GOODSEN GETS ON THE BALL… Hartford’s Lainey Goodson pitched to Ed-wardsburg on Tuesday, June 27. Although she held the Eddie scoreless in the first inning, Edwardsburg would go on to beat the Indians 18-2. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)
Moment three: Hartford Basketball’s District Championship Run
The Hartford Girls’ Varsity Basketball team spent a majority of the 2016 season on fire but it was their Class C district championship game against Gobles that made my list. The Indians secured their spot in the championship after defeating Bangor 47-44 and Kalamazoo Hackett 44-42 in first round and semi-final district action. Both games required an overtime period before the games settled in Hartford’s favor. Two district games, two overtime periods. Those two victories earned Hartford a place in the district championship game versus Gobles. Hartford spent the first period of the game searching for their footing but the team kept pace with rival Gobles. They trailed only by two points at the end of the first period. In the second period, Hartford attacked and Gobles fell apart. The Indians amassed 17 points and captured the lead, 27-22 at half-time. The final two periods of regulation consisted of a back-and-forth battle between the teams. Hartford led at the end of the third period, but Gobles inched closer, closing the gap to 37-31. Gobles racked up a 15-point fourth quarter to tie the game and send it into overtime. One overtime period wasn’t enough. Neither were two. The game ended at the end of the third overtime period as Gobles crushed the hopes of the Hartford players and faithful with a 65-62 win. It can be said that each Hartford player, from Mariah Mireles to Tia Thomas to Ally Sinclair, gave their all and left their heart on the court. Which, really, is what sports are all about.
Moment Two: Watervliet Girls’ Cross Country wins First Regional Title in School History
This year’s girls’ cross country team at Watervliet made magic. The ladies claimed the school’s first ever regional title in the sport of girls’ varsity cross country. On a cold, windy, rainy October 31, the Lady Panthers won the regional title at the Red Bud Moto Cross in Buchanan. Taylor Shafer finished the race in second place overall. She was followed across the finish line by Gabby Tavolacci in fourth place, Allie Pazera in fifth place, Brittney Johnson in 21st place, Bailey Evans in 37th place, Martha Casiano in 41st place, and Melissa Swanson in 42nd place. Coach Aaron Weber remarked, “They trained hard, and we couldn’t have had a better team race today. This is the best we’ve run all year. We finished second last year and coming into this, the girls wanted to get first [place].” And so they did. Gabby Tavolacci remarked, “We’re like a family. We make sure we push each other. We’re all very competitive.” That competitiveness within their own team is what drove the Lady Panthers to success on the varying courses this season and what allowed them to bring the regional championship trophy home to Watervliet.
Moment One: The rivalry returns
Ten, twenty, thirty, or even fifty years ago, if you were to ask a Coloma or Watervliet football fan what their favorite game of the year was, the resounding answer was, “Coloma/Watervliet!” Four years ago, that changed. Coloma moved to the Wolverine Conference. Scheduling dilemmas and MHSAA rules prevented extra games, which left the Comet/Panther match up a thing of the past. One hundred two games of gridiron history between Coloma and Watervliet ended. A rivalry that flamed for decades and through generations was extinguished. Another tradition that became trivial. An end of an era. Until this year. With Coloma joining the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and both Coloma and Watervliet part of the Lakeshore Division, the rivalry was resurrected. The return of the green and gold against maroon and white kicked off on Friday, September 11 at Panther Stadium. The bleachers were full, people were excited, and it was time for football. Amid a first quarter downpour, Coloma scored on their opening drive as Caleb McDaniel ran 82 yards on a kick return for a quick six points. Within 15 seconds of the game’s start, Coloma led 7-0. Watervliet’s David Curl responded with his own six points as he recovered a fumble and ran up the field to score a few plays later. The game featured everything that every Coloma and Watervliet football fan remembered from games gone by: back and forth scoring, a player suffering a broken leg after a play, failed kicks, quick scampers, and plenty of first downs.
Coloma 12U All Star Team… went undefeated in the Berrien Springs All Star Tournament, and won the championship with a 7 to 2 win over Bridgman! Pictured front row (from the left): Taylor Brown, Addy Kimmerly, Taryn Blazier and Kylie Prisk. Middle row (from the left): Adian Allmon, Chloe Williams and Mady McQuillan. Back row (from the left): Coach April Brown, Chloe Mathis, Head coach Mike Brown, Gra-cie Whitaker, Alyssa Birmele, Haley Antio and Coach Lindsey McQuillan!! Great season girls. Two out of three All Star tour-naments we brought home the championship!!
Watervliet held on for the 54-13 win.
The game was a return, for Comet and Panther fans, to football greatness. It was a return to a rivalry separated only by a stretch of highway. It was a return to classic hometown football.
Hartford All-Stars Tourney ends
The Hartford All-Star Softball invitational at Indian Pride Park ended on Wednesday, June 29. In the 12U bracket, an undefeated Hartford team faced Edwardsburg in the championship game. In the first matchup, Edwardsburg won 18-2. Because the tourney is double elimination, Hartford got another chance for the title in a second game. This time, the Eddies defeated Hartford 13-6. Hartford ended their All-Star run with a 3-2 record. The Indians beat Gobles 8-0, Edwardsburg 8-7, and Bloomingdale 11-3. Their two defeats came against Edwardsburg.
Watervliet and Coloma did not field teams in this division.
In 14U action, Watervliet’s All-Stars went 1-2. They topped Lawrence 13-10 but lost to Gobles 11-6 and Berrien Springs 6-2. Coloma and Hartford did not have teams in the 14U division. In 8U, Hartford was the lone area school to field a team. The Indians recorded a 2-2 record, with wins over South Haven 15-12 and Gobles 7-4. The team’s two losses were against Lawrence 17-6 and South Haven 12-9. The 10U division found Hartford and Coloma seeking the championship trophy. Coloma posted a 2-2 record. The Comets defeated Hartford 10-5 and Paw Paw 19-0 but lost to Big Rapids 5-4 and Dowagiac 11-6. In their game against Dowagiac, Coloma’s Addyson Milnickel had a nice catch in the third inning and stroked an in-the-park home run in right center in the fourth inning. Hartford’s All-Star tourney run ended with a 2-2 record. The Indians notched victories over Gobles (9-1) and Bloomingdale (15-0) but suffered a 10-5 loss to Coloma and 12-2 loss to Dowagiac.
Bednarowski 5k race results available
Saturday’s Gene Bendarowski 5k walk and run occurred with near perfect weather. With no wind present and cool temperatures, the runners and walkers enjoyed the early morning race. Calvin Bates, 15, of Carmel, Indiana won the 5k run with a time of 16:30.9. He was followed by Nicholas Watson in second place (17:17.2), and Jobe Kerr of Watervliet in third place (17:39.1). Hunter Reed finished fourth (17:48.1), while Max Rathburn of Portage, Michigan took fifth place (17:50). In the women’s division, Peyton Witt, 15, of Kalamazoo, finished first (11th overall). Witt’s time was 19:09.8. Anna Fisher came in 16th place overall (19:33.7). Phoebe Bates of Carmel, Indiana took 17th overall. Her time of 19:48.4 was good for third place in the women’s division. Finishing fourth for the ladies and 20th overall was Rachel Bendewald of St. Joe (20:09.1). Anna Frazee took 24th place overall (fifth place in the women’s division) with her time of 20:30.6. In the 5k walk, Nada Kramp of Stevensville won first place among the competitors with her time of 33:48.7. Dawn Biernach finished second (38:57.1). Bruce Gelbaugh of Plainwell was the first male finisher of the walk; he took third overall with a time of 39:13.9. Fourth place went to Bob Chaput (39:59.6). Lydia Koshar finished fifth with a time of 40.21.3. Kristin Koshar took sixth place (40:24.2), with Colleen Menci in seventh (40:41.4). Coloma’s Maureen Ovington finished eighth overall with a time of 40:43. Watervliet’s Jim Grabowski took ninth place (41:08.9), and Nancy Paskel rounded out the top ten finishers with a time of 41:27.8.
Hooterville Hitters Drop 4th of July Vintage Baseball Game to House of David Echoes
The Hooterville Hitters may not be a refined vintage baseball team, but mess with their queen, and the bats start cracking. Sort of. As part of Watervliet’s 4th of July festivities the Hooterville Hitters faced the House of David Echoes in their annual vintage baseball game. The game is
GIVE IT A RIDE!… Paul Jon-jevic of the Hooterville Hitters smacks the ball during action against the House of David Echoes. Jonjevic was joined on the team by his son Kaden. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)
played according to 1858 rules that governed the sport. Gloves aren’t allowed except by ladies. Balls that are caught on one hop are considered out. If you cross home plate, you must approach the scorekeeper and ask them to “tally my ace, please.” Fines can be issued by the umpire if your conduct is deemed rude or unsatisfactory. As is the case each year, there is a learning curve for the Hitters, whereas the Echoes have a cohesive team in place as they play numerous games the entire summer season. The Hitters started hot, scoring three runs in the first inning. But, the game was tied after the Echoes’ turn at bat. The Echoes then blasted out to a substantial lead in the second inning, and the game for the Hitters went downhill from there. The Hitters, held scoreless in the second inning, were able to put runs on the scoreboard in each ensuing inning. They scored one run in the third, two in the fourth, three in the fifth, and four in the sixth before being blanked again by the Echoes in the seventh. Mid-game the Hitters – and the entire community of Watervliet – faced a scare when one of their players was hit in the face by a ball. dding to the anxious feeling that settled over the crowd was the fact that the first baseman scorched by the ball was none other than Miss Watervliet Karlee Liles. Liles was yanked from both the hot corner and the game, ice applied to her cheek, and by the time you read this, the bruise should be fading…somewhat. Thankfully, Liles doesn’t have to grace a float until Coloma’s Glad-Peach festival in early August. And, yes, our queen is tougher than yours. The game rolled on, but the Hitters were unable to recover. Rochelle Ulleg, the hurler for the Hitters, pitched a complete game. The Echoes notched a 20-13 victory. Members of this year’s Hooterville Hitters include Liles, Ulleg, Heidi Knight, Bruce Heslet, James Williams, Kaden Jonjevic, Paul Jonjevic, Aliea Chapin, Brittney Collins, Brody Roland, Candy Evett, and Mike Noack. The Hitters return to the field on July 1 against the Echoes.
Brad Keselowski led his first lap of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway Saturday night on the ninth circuit of the race. He remained at or near the front of the pack, which worked to his benefit when the “Big One” erupted in a multi-car accident on lap 89. More than 10 vehicles were caught up in the accident caused after the rear of Jamie McMurray’s race car got a little loose – courtesy of a bump by Jimmie Johnson. The accident damaged almost half the field, including Brian Scott’s #44 that rode the hood of Kevin Harvick’s #4. Seven drivers would not be able to recover from the wreck and parked their cars for the balance of the race. Keselowski collected his third win of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He led 115 of the races 161 laps; Keselowski also moved up two spots in the driver standings to second place. Due to a caution period on lap 155, the race was completed with one overtime lap. Kyle Busch took second place. He led 16 laps on the day. Trevor Bayne posted his best finish of the season thus far after taking third place. Joey Logano took fourth place and led six laps. Rounding out the top five was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who earned his second top five finish this year. Race pole sitter Greg Biffle led one lap and finished in eighth place. The 17th race of the season featured 26 lead changes and only five caution periods. Twenty-three drivers finished the race on the lead lap. Kevin Harvick remains atop the driver standings in first place with 565 points. Kurt Busch is in third place behind Keselowski, 20 points behind Harvick. Logano moves up to fourth place just 14 points behind Busch. Carl Edwards trails Harvick by 38 points and drops to fifth place. The Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway takes place on Saturday. The race represents the half-way point in the 2016 NASCAR season. The superspeedway in Sparta, Kentucky was completed in 2000 and is 1.5 miles long. Keselowski set the track speed record in 2014 with a lap completed in 28.603 seconds. Will Keselowski win his fourth race of the season on Sunday? Check back next week to find out.
HARTFORD SPEEDWAY…Michigan dirt Cup modified driver David Mielke wins at speedway on Friday night, July 1.
Plethora of cars & stars for
Hartford double header
Race fans from all corners of the mid-west converged on the wicked half mile over Independence Day weekend for two days of adrenaline fueled action. On Friday night the Michigan Dirt Cup modifieds would see a back and forth battle between David Mielke and Collin Thirlby with Mielke coming out the winner. Chad Bauer would take second, Thirlby third, Dave Baker fourth, and Andy Sprague fifth. In Puhrman Hauling & Excavating Stock Car action Jerrad Kick would once again land in the winner’s circle after holding off a furious charge from Josh Frye who would settle for second. Andy Barr would finish third, Caleb Bisacky fourth, and Larry Arndt fifth. Federated Auto Parts Cyber Stocks would see Riley Goss and Brian Gage as the early leaders before Chad Freed would overhaul them on lap seven to take the win. Paul “Fireball” Nelson would bring it home in second, Gage third, Loraff fourth, and Riley Goss fifth. On Saturday, 71 fire breathing methanol injected sprint cars would fill the pit area for the largest sprint car event in the state of Michigan. Sheldon Haudenschild would win in the All Star Sprint Car series, Dustin Daggett reclaimed his throne as King of Michigan for the GLSS 360 Sprints, and Indiana stand out Landon Simon would claim the non-wing portion. Next Friday Hartford Speedway will be hosting Driver Autograph Night & the American Ethanol Late Model tour for their second appearance of the year. Jacks Excavating & Trucking Modifieds LLC, Puhrman Hauling & Excavating Stock Cars, and Federated Auto Parts Cyber Stocks will tackle the wide oval. General Admission is $12 with kids 10 & under FREE. Racing gets under way at 8PM. For more information visit the Hartford Speedway website at www.HartfordSpeedway.net or check in on Facebook.