Peterson, Townsend to represent J-L at state final
JOHANNESBURG – They were not expecting to make it this far. But they did.
By just four points at regionals, the Johannesburg-Lewiston equestrian team made it to the state final in Midland, which runs from Thursday, Oct. 12, to Sunday, Oct. 15.
“We were pretty sure we had third place at the final ceremony,” J-L coach Stacey Holzschu said. “We were really excited when we made second. We knew we could do it, but it was pretty tight.”
“It was really exciting. We knew we'd be close, but it was pretty cool when they called us up,” said team member Sydney Townsend.
The high school team consists of just two students, Sydney Townsend and Taylor Peterson.
“Taylor handles showmanship and Sydney does the speed classes, pretty much,” Holzschu said. “Taylor will be entering 11 classes and Sydney will be entering five classes at states.”
This is Townsend's first year on the high school team.
“My grandma and grandpa Townsend have always done pleasure riding with their quarter horses and my mom and dad grew up with horses.
“I never really liked riding western and going slow like that. I always wanted to try speed, so I did a couple years ago and really liked it.”
Townsend said she takes her horse on rides about three times a week in the summer and fall and about once a week in spring.
“We mostly go on trail rides, but sometimes we go other places too.”
Last year, Peterson was a one-person team and entered all 16 classes herself at regionals.
Peterson's interest in horses also began with family. She said Holzschu, her aunt, piqued her interest in horse riding. Because her family members showed horses, she began showing horses with them.
Peterson says she practices with her horse Lenny just about every day. When it comes to showmanship there is a lot to remember.
“We practice equitation, so it's shoulders back," she said. "Your shoulders need to align with your hips and your heels. Heels down. Collecting the horse, bending their head. Then working on some patterns, doing it one-handed.
“For states, I'm practicing saddle seat, English and Western, showmanship. I also have one speed event.”
Peterson acknowledges it takes a lot of practice just to get used to the various saddles used during competition.
“The saddle seat saddle is very hard and slippery. It's hard to stay on,” she said.
Some competitions are back-to-back. This requires Peterson to quickly get off her horse and change outfits while Stacey or someone else changes the saddle for her. Then it is off to do her next pattern.
Riding also requires a special relationship between the rider and the horse.
“You have to know what the horse is feeling and the horse knows what you are feeling," Peterson said. "So, if you are nervous, the horse will know you are nervous.
“I've had had Lenny for about a year and a half. In the first year, it wasn't the best. Then, we started connecting and things came together.”
Peterson says she hopes to do well, but the competition at state features the best of the best in Michigan. They will be up against other Class D schools.
Gaylord, J-L equestrian teams compete at regionals
LUDINGTON – Both the Gaylord and Johannesburg-Lewiston equestrian teams competed in the regional competition Saturday at Western Michigan Fairgrounds in Ludington.
The Blue Devils finished third in Division C – for teams with as many as two to five riders – and missed advancing to the state final by only one place.
Viktoria Vanblaricum placed in the top six of each of her events, Rylee Harding finished with top-3 places in her classes, including a win in showmanship, and Kristin Kruger won both rounds of barrel racing and the first round of speed and action.
Also for the Blue Devils were Arika Pollaski, who scored points in the speed events as well as joined Kruger in the two-person relay, and Elise Gornick, who won the trail class.
J-L placed second in Division D – for teams with one or two riders – and will represent its region in the state final Oct. 12-15 in Midland.
Taylor Peterson rode in 11 classes and placed in each, including top placing's in showmanship, saddle seat, hunt seat, trail, bareback and western horsemanship.
Sydney Townsend focused on the speed events, placing second in both rounds of barrel racing and second and fifth in speed and action.
Peterson and Townsend teamed up for the two-person relay and took home fourth- and fifth-place finishes.
J-L almost finished with $1 million in renovations, upgrades
JOHANNESBURG — Walking into Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools this semester might make students and parents feel like they are in a whole new building.
JLAS completed many of its proposed building projects this summer, totaling just over $1 million in upgrades and the district is still in the process of finishing other projects.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, JLAS superintendent, said each of the schools now have new computer-programmed, keyless entryways where staff have access cards that function as keys.
Main entrances are programmed to be open to the public during school hours leaving visitors to walk up, push a button and await permission to enter from a secretary inside who grants access through the locked-entry area in a design meant to maintain a secure zone for students.
“In the high school, that required an entire office remodel because the high school office was in the middle of the high school hallway as opposed to by an exterior door,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “So, we had to do an entire high school office remodel which was a very expensive part of the project, but we were able to bring some things up to date with that.”
Previously, visitors could walk in without checking in through the main offices in some cases.
The Johannesburg and Lewiston buildings also have new carpeting and newly painted walls that match the district's red and white color scheme with an added new gray tone that gives the halls and rooms a modern feel.
Xenakis-Makowski said the schools also saw heating and cooling work, cabinetry, demolition work, aluminum doors and windows installed, electrical work, drywall, flooring and plumbing work done in both the Johannesburg and Lewiston buildings.
“My big push is to align both our buildings so they’re the same things curriculum wise,” she said. “(We’re) trying to bring everybody together and so we’re going to continue to try and do our updates together too.”
Lewiston Elementary School runs through fifth grade, and the Johannesburg Elementary, J-L Middle School and J-L High School operate out of the building in Johannesburg.
n November 2015, the district’s sinking fund millage proposal for a 2.3-mill levy on specific building repairs, upgrades, site work and remodeling was approved by district voters.
Xenakis-Makowski said because the district relies on taxes collected in the summer, the money was not collected until 2016.
“(At first) we didn’t have all of the (bulk of the money) for a summer type of project,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “We had anticipated that we would be bringing in just over $900,000 a year to work with.”
She said the district put projects up for bid but found some of the projects like replacing exterior doors were going to cost more than anticipated, so the district replaced exterior doors this summer instead of last year.
One of the first projects the schools needed was roofing for both locations.
“Just like when you’re taking care of your house, we had to do the roofs first. The problem with doing the roofs first is nobody sees that you’re doing roof work. It’s not obvious,” she said.
To do both Johannesburg’s and Lewiston’s roofs at the same time was about $750,000, so Xenakis-Makowski said the district did the two buildings at different times.
“We couldn’t do all that in one year,” she said. “So we did the whole Lewiston building first and part of the Joburg building in the worst parts, and that was last summer.”
This summer, the Johannesburg roof was completed.
Xenakis-Makowski said Johannesburg’s roof cost about $500,000 and Lewiston’s was roughly $250,000 and each is a Duro-Last roof with a 25-year warranty.
She said while much of the work done this summer is not in plain sight, she has heard positive feedback from parents about how the new carpeting and paint projects make the school look.
J-L students start semester with new satellite college class
JOHANNESBURG — Rae Ann Kievit, a Johannesburg-Lewiston High School senior, gave her fellow seven classmates multi-colored handouts in the school library while their English 111 teacher, Cathy Kappius, sat at the head of the class.
Only, Kappius was not actually in the library or even in Johannesburg. She was teaching via satellite, and while students heard and saw her instructions through a high-definition screen set up with a video camera, Kappius could also see and hear the students on her large screen in Oscoda.
“I like being able to interact with the professor (in) the hybrid (format) where we still have the work, but then we can easily talk all together in the classroom,” Kievit said.
Kievit and her classmates are part of a new dual enrollment satellite class where students earn college credit through Alpena Community College but take the class itself Tuesdays and Thursdays at J-L High School.
Curt Chrencik, JLHS principal, said the class is a unique opportunity for students and especially helps students by saving them a long distance-drive.
“It gives our kids, No. 1, the ability to be close to home to stay on campus because that driving is a difficult thing,” Chrencik said. “Plus, (there’s) the benefit of having a live instructor. Online can be tough … this is actually like being there in the class.”
He said for students in Lewiston, it can be about 45 minutes or an hour to drive to college classes in Gaylord.
"We've got parents that are happier that in December, January, February, their kids aren't driving an hour in snowstorms and such. They're right here on this campus," Chrencik said.
He said the satellite class is also helpful for students who are involved in after-school activities.
Classes started a week before the high school’s Sept. 5 start date and since then, students have been learning and being held to the standards of college students. On Tuesday, Kappius taught students how to use varying levels of description in essays and how to create flowing sentences.
“They can perform a skit right there in front of the instructor. She’s just watching it on the monitor and listening to what’s going on so it’s very much like that class that’s taught like a regular college class,” Chrencik said. “I think it’s kind of a win-win for us with our geographic location and also financially.”
He said it is also a win for Alpena Community College (ACC), since the college can have one instructor who teaches the same class to students around the state at the same time.
Deborah Bayer, vice president of instruction at ACC, said the original goal was to have joint college classes between the Oscoda campus and the main campus in Alpena, but organizers found that the idea could also be applied to high school dual enrollment as well.
“So, instead of having to cancel class because of low numbers, if we have, say, some of the classes we might have 10 or 12 students in a class here on main campus and only six or seven at another site,” Bayer said. “So, we’re able to connect the two classes with one teacher and now the students are actually interacting with each other from different locations too.”
Jett Ewing, JLHS senior, could be seen participating in the evening class and answering Kappius’ questions. He said his favorite part of the class was getting college credit at Johannesburg without needing to go through an online class.
“It’s very one-on-one compared to online (classes),” Ewing said.
Hall of fame profile: Hoops star Neff led J-L to big wins
JOHANNESBURG —The 1980s were some rockin' and rollin' times for high school boys basketball in Northern Michigan, with a number of outstanding teams doing battle.
Otsego County saw a pair of strong, and often ranked, teams in Johannesburg-Lewiston and St. Mary, and the key cog in J-L's success during that era was Mike Neff, who is being inducted into the Greater Otsego County Sports Hall of Fame next month.
Neff, who scored 1,110 points in his career, led the Cardinals to the district title during the 1988-89 season, exorcising the demons from the year before.
"My junior year, we lost districts by one point (to Atlanta)," Neff said. "Both teams were evenly matched. I remember dedicating myself to basketball from that moment on, throughout my summer and into my senior year. I came out tougher mentally."
Neff's rise was clear from his play, averaging 18.4 points, 11.7 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 steals.
There was also adversity in Neff's senior year, as the Cardinals started the season 2-3, including a drubbing at the hands of Mio, who would go undefeated that season and capture the Class D state championship.
After that game, Neff vowed to steer his team back toward success.
"I wasn't a rah-rah, loud vocal type of leader, but I remember at practice the center, and my best friend, (Linc Campbell) and myself got into it," Neff said. "I snapped on him. I remember either I was going to get pounded or we were going to do something. We talked it out and, shoot, we won the next 9-10 games in a row."
That preceded another battle against Mio, this time on the road. Neff and Campbell were standouts and the Cardinals gave the Thunderbolts their closest battle of the season, falling short by two points.
That moral victory paved the way for a large season-closing win against St. Mary, which was ranked at the time.
"We beat them by 18 points, Neff said. "That was a really good feeling."
It was also a good feeling winning the district. District titles have been a rarity since the time Neff graduated, but during his day, J-L was a feared team among many solid programs in the area.
Neff also was a linebacker and the starting quarterback for the Cardinals' football team his junior year, but a football injury that lingered into the basketball season caused Neff to give up football in favor of training for the upcoming basketball season. He also was a four-year starter in baseball, playing near error-free ball at first base.
He has remained active in sports, coaching basketball, football and track at the youth, middle school and high school level. He has three children, Drew, a senior, Bryce, a junior, and Kennedy, an eighth-grader.
He said the lessons he learned in sports — both from winning and losing — has helped guide his life.
"It has made me a lot tougher mentally," Neff said.
EAST LANSING – The postseason landscape will soon look much differently for the volleyball and basketball teams in Otsego County.
The MHSAA announced Thursday morning that starting in the 2018-19 school year it'll do away with its traditional Class A-B-C-D enrollment breaks it uses in volleyball, boys basketball and girls basketball and begin using the Division 1-2-3-4 system that most of its sanctioned sports already uses.
"This change (was approved) in response to a proposal by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan," MHSAA media coordinator Geoff Kimmerly wrote in a release. "Michigan's interscholastic volleyball community also has expressed openness to equal divisions in the past.
"All other tournaments – except football – are conducted using equal divisions based on enrollment and (are) determined prior to the school year. Football is the only sport requiring teams to qualify for postseason play, and its equal divisions are not determined until after the regular season ends."
The switch should be a boon for all four of Otsego County's MHSAA-sanctioned schools in Gaylord, Johannesburg-Lewiston, St. Mary and Vanderbilt.
For the Blue Devils, it means a more level playing field in their district and regional rounds. In the past, Gaylord has played a Class A tournament schedule against schools sometimes twice its size. Instead of facing schools such as Traverse City West and Midland Dow, for example, it'll most likely draw postseason opponents such as Kalkaska, Gladwin, Sault Ste. Marie and Ogemaw Heights, among others, that have a similar enrollment size.
Gaylord athletic director Christian Wilson anticipates its volleyball and basketball teams will be classified as Division 2 programs, similar to the Blue Devils' boys and girls soccer teams, baseball and softball teams and boys golf team.
"For Gaylord, it's a good thing for us," Wilson said. "We're going to see schools that don't have those giant enrollments of 2,300 or 3,000 students anymore. I think that levels the playing field for most schools. So, I think it's great for us, and it's a good thing and great for the whole state."
The new divisional format could pose one problem for the Blue Devils: extended travel.
Leveling the playing field makes Upper Peninsula schools such as Escanaba and Sault High more likely to be thrown into Gaylord's postseason brackets, whether it be in the district or later on in the regional.
"I could see an increase in travel because we do have a few more U.P. schools like Marquette, Escanaba, the Sault and Kingsford," Wilson continued. "Right now, Marquette is in our district, so we have a 1/6 chance of going to Marquette when they do the district draw. Now it could mean we'd have a 2/6 chance.
"But we're used to traveling, so that's not really a big deal to us. It'll only mean more travel expenses if that happens to be the case."
Of course, while travel could be the only negative for Gaylord, it'll be a benefit for Johannesburg-Lewiston, St. Mary and Vanderbilt.
In the past, J-L has played its volleyball and basketball districts in both the east side of the state at in cities such as Oscoda, Whittemore and Alcona as well as on the west side in cities like Maple City and Traverse City.
With the schools from those areas likely to draw D3 classifications, J-L could find itself playing against the teams it already sees in its baseball, softball and football districts (e.g. Hillman, Atlanta and Posen if it gets pulled to the east or St. Mary, Bellaire, Mancelona, East Jordan and Ellsworth if it gets pulled to the west).
That thinking poses one question: Who wouldn't want to see a J-L and St. Mary matchup in the postseason? That could be exciting for the area.
"We won't be going to Oscoda or Glen Lake anymore, and our districts will be a lot less to travel to," J-L AD Joe Smokevitch said. "You'll see us closer to home. Depending on where you draw the dividing lines, you could see us with St. Mary or Atlanta or Hillman.
"Personally, I think it's probably a lot better this way. I know we're a Class C school, but we're a small C and are a lot closer to being a D than we are a C. Right now, we're in the same basketball regional as Boyne City (a school that will be Class B next fall). This makes it more competitive for us."
Another positive for J-L is that it'll see bigger crowds at postseason games.
"My crowds have been minimal the last few years," Smokevitch said. "Only a few people come to the games, like parents and grandparents, because they have to travel from Alcona, Oscoda and Whittemore to get here. That's just a crazy amount of travel.
"We'll draw bigger gates if we're playing schools closer by. The biggest thing with this is the travel is going to be different, and that's a good thing."
The MHSAA also announced the following changes it'll adopt for the upcoming 2017-18 school year:
• In football, for the semifinal and final matchups, the home team and visitor will be determined by playoff point average instead of the previous regional advancement. In addition, the MHSAA will allow 11-player semifinal games to be played either Friday night or Saturday as opposed to only on Saturday.
• In golf, a Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) rules official is required to be present at each Lower Peninsula regional tournament to assist with rules issues.
• In hockey, a 23rd active player can be dressed in uniform if that player is a goaltender. Previously, only 22 active players could dress and sit on the bench. Also for hockey, helmets must be worn by players and officials at all times while on the ice except while standing for the national anthem or during post-game ceremonies.
• In soccer, the MHSAA has eliminated overtime and shootouts during the regular season. Leagues and conferences will be allowed an overtime option for their end-of-season bracketed tournaments, but overtime in those cases must not exceed two 10-minute periods plus a shootout.
• In swimming and diving, the MHSAA has reduced the number of regular-season wins required by a diver – from five to four – to earn a berth in the diving qualification meet.
• In volleyball, any 12th-grade athletes with no remaining interscholastic eligibility left in any sport can wear a school uniform in one all-star game sponsored by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association during the summer.
• In wrestling, team regional sites will now be selected from the four qualifying teams based on a yearly rotation among the districts.
J-L junior joins summer Air Force seminar, preps for academy
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Madison May set her sights on joining the U.S. Air Force Academy and has been working toward that goal for the last two years.
May, a Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools junior, said she is applying to the prestigious academy and hopes to hear a response of acceptance next spring. In the meantime, she is preparing and is finishing up 11th grade coursework early so she can attend the Air Force Academy’s Summer Seminar Program June 11-16 in Colorado.
“It’s pretty much a week of academy life, so it’s like a preview (of the academy) because the following summer I will be entering the actual academy,” May said.
May’s interest in the academy started with a career day event during her first year of high school and a comment from her uncle about the Air Force’s academy.
“Militaries have always interested me, and I think it’s cool and it’d be an honor to serve my country. And the Air Force Academy gives me something to work for and it’s a challenge that I want to achieve,” May said. “So that’s really (what) my driving goal for this whole thing is. I’ve gone downstate to certain Air Force Academy forums to learn more about it — I’ve gone to congressional representatives’ (meetings).”
May is also seeking nominations from Michigan’s U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow as well as U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Summer seminar students take classes, do physical training and take practice fitness assessments to see if they are interested in the academy, she said.
May said she is also planning to take her ACT and SAT tests in Colorado since she will be out of state at the time of the test and said she plans to arrive several days before the seminar to become acclimated to the elevation and altitude in the area.
“I’m even taking standardized tests out of state just to help me improve my application — I came to school early and ran a mile to work on my time, I’ve got up in the morning and I have some weight (equipment) at my house and I will do that. I have a pull up bar at my house, I have a treadmill at my house,” May said. “After school, I practice (track) and after practice on some days I have college (dual enrollment).”
The academy is a four-year program and if May is accepted, she said she wants to give back after the academy.
“I hope to get into the academy — and depending on what career I choose, I will serve a minimum of up to 12 years of service just to kind of repay the academy. And then after that I can do whatever I want, but I want to stay in the Air Force and serve my country,” May said.
For the Air Force Academy’s class of 2017, there were 9,706 applicants and 1,475 received offers of admission with 1,191 applicants admitted, according to the Air Force’s website.
In the academy, students average 81 crunches along with 43 pushups and need to shoot a basketball at about 42 feet for women, according to the admissions’ fitness requirements.
But the academy has more than just high fitness standards; May said she also needs to ensure she dedicates her time to other endeavors like bettering her leadership and school grades. The academy’s application addresses school work, leadership and character.
“Another part is there’s a ton of different deadlines for different people, different things at different times,” she said. “That’s another part of the academy that they’re testing you on is the little details like that and that’s just the start of the actual academy.”
For her leadership niche, May is serving as the vice president of student government at J-L, she is a National Honor Society chapter officer and she is the captain of her Relay for Life team.
And as for showing her character, she has nearly 200 hours of community service through Otsego County United Way.
The academy application takes about a year from start to finish, and May said while the summer camp should help her gain a slight edge with her academy application, it does not secure her admission.