No pressure: Coaches discuss succeeding legendary coaches, maintaining program relevance
When Zach Jonker took over the Petoskey boys and girls soccer teams in 2009, he wanted to maintain the success former coach Scott Batchelor’s had with both programs.
“Any pressure that I felt was more internal,” Jonker said. “(I was) wanting, for all the alumni as well as Scott, to keep the tradition of really strong soccer at Petoskey alive, so I guess if there was any pressure, it was on myself. I didn’t feel any outside pressure.”
Jonker both played under and learned from Batchelor, a Petoskey High School Hall of Fame coach who won 11 districts and three conference titles for the girls as well as two state titles, 17 districts, 12 conference titles and six regionals for the boys. So it was an easy transition for him to take over the team.
“I kind of understood the traditions, and I appreciated the time he put into it,” Jonker said. “I wanted to keep moving the program forward and continue the success that we’d had. There was a deep personal connection for me, and he set me up for success.”
It's never an easy task to replace a legendary coach. The expectations remain the same. But striving for success has helped Jonker keep the program headed in the right direction.
His boys team captured a Division 2 district title and appeared in the regional final last year, while the girls team has had six winning seasons in the last 10 years, which includes several Big North and district titles and long playoff runs.
But Jonker's teams aren't the only ones in the area that have enjoyed success after a great coach has moved on. Petoskey's ski team, for example, has been unbelievable to watch the past eight years, as they’ve brought home eight-consecutive Division 2 state championships, five straight under current coach Erik Lundteigen.
Lundteigen took over the already-dominant program previously led by Travis Hill and continued to win state title. He, too, didn't worry about having added pressure following Hill's success.
“No, I didn’t even worry about that,” Lundteigen said. “The thing about ski racing is you get different kids in the program every year and with the training that we do, there is a very good chance of being successful when you do it the right way, and good things tend to happen.”
Learning while playing
• One aspect of replacing a legend in the coaching ranks that can be beneficial is playing under that coach and learning from them during playing days.
That was not only the case for Jonker with Batchelor, but also true for Cody Proctor, who took over the Johannesburg-Lewiston baseball team last year after long-time coach Rick Guild, who spent decades as the leader of the Cardinals program, retired.
Guild coached the Cardinals for 41 years, amassing 823 career wins, which tied him for fifth-most in MHSAA history at the time of his retirement.
So when Proctor took over the reins of a program once led by an all-time great coach, what was the first thing that came to Proctor’s mind?
“My first thoughts were that I had big shoes to fill,” Proctor said of Guild, who coached him from 2003-06. “Coach Guild had been there for 40 years-plus, so my thoughts were I had big shoes to fill, and I was excited for the opportunity to follow him and start my own legacy.”
Though the shoes were rather large for Proctor to step into, he said he wasn’t afraid of the challenge at hand.
“I didn’t really feel any pressure,” Proctor said. “I just knew that in the past, that position was filled by a great coach, and I just wanted to do my best to keep it going. I wouldn’t say any pressure, just excitement, I guess.”
In his first season with the team last year, J-L finished 11-21 in a rebuilding season. While it wasn’t a season that ended with a championship, Proctor said the key to continuing the success of a good coach is patience.
“It takes time, and probably dedication more than anything,” Proctor said. “If you want to have a successful program, you have to spend more time than anybody else (getting better). That’s probably the number one thing. Spending the time to get everybody around you to buy into the same thing you want to do.”
• Even though coaches retire or move on, that doesn’t mean they’re not around to help out their successors when asked upon.
When Jonker took over for Batchelor, the two still had a connection, and Batchelor was always around when Jonker needed advice.
“He was a really useful sounding board and was always there if I had any questions or issues, he’d kind of give me his perspective and that was really useful as well,” Jonker said. “It’s not like he rode off into the sunset. He was still at a lot of the practices and games, so he was still around and was able to give his insight.”
The same rings true for J-L football coach Joe Smokevitch. As a long time assistant for hall of fame coach Fred Davis, Smokevitch took over the program after John Bush coached the team for three seasons.
Davis coached the Cardinals for 26 years and was with the program for more than three decades before retiring after the 2009 season.
During his tenure, the Cardinals made the playoffs 16 times and won 167 games.
Even to this day, Smokevitch can seek the guidance of Davis when needed.
“If I need to talk to Fred, I can call Fred,” Smokevitch said. “I can say, 'Hey, this is what I’m thinking, what are your thoughts?' Same with John Bush. If I have questions, Fred is always there to lend a hand, even when he quit coaching and John Bush took over.
“I can think of one day where we took an entire hour looking at a fullback trap play and what was going wrong (with the play). We spent more than 45 minutes just looking at one play basically, and that’s just the kind of the guy Fred is, was and always has been.”
Proctor has also received help from Guild after his retirement last season.
“He stopped in a couple games last year, and I’ve talked to him about a couple of questions,” Proctor said. “He was a great influence for me, and he is somebody I can go to and talk to if I need that advice.”
Carrying the torch
• Whether it’s rebuilding a program or carrying on the success a team has enjoyed under a coach, there are a few ways to reach those goals.
For Lundteigen and the Northmen ski team, maintaining the dynasty that is Petoskey skiing takes dedication and preparation and willingness from all involved.
“The training is what makes it work,” Lundteigen. “The goal is for everyone to improve, and when you train the right way, then that’s a lot easier to see happen. That’s one thing I’m happy about, we train the right way and the results show that.
“The kids that buy into that, they get better, and if you don’t, you stall out and other people pass you, so we’ve got a lot of kids that work at it. The kids buy into that and they’re accountable.”
Smokevitch said his advice to coaches taking over programs after legends had moved on would be building relationships with players at a young age and staying true to yourself.
“When you’re first taking over a program, building relationships is the biggest thing,” Smokevitch said. “Building those relationships for the kids get to know you and your personality, those kinds of things.
“And don’t try to be something you’re not. I know I’m not Fred Davis. I know I’m not John Bush. I’m not those people. I want to be me and be comfortable doing what’s comfortable to me.”
As for Jonker, the goal for him and the goal for all coaches should be leaving a foundation that the next coach who takes over a program is also set up to maintain success moving forward, he said.
“I want to make sure that I leave the program better than I found it, which might be an unobtainable goal,” Jonker said. “I’ve only got a few years left, and hopefully I’ll be able to pass it on to somebody that’s passionate and will continue the tradition that Scott started, and I kept alive.
“I just want to keep it rolling and hopefully pass it on, in a few years, to somebody that’s just as passionate and ready to take it to even greater heights."
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG — Students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools will start the 2018-19 school year with more dual enrollment options thanks to a successful pilot program expansion between the school and Alpena Community College (ACC).
At the start of the school year in September, eight J-L students enrolled in a pilot English 111 class through ACC without a commute between the two locations. Under the current pilot program, J-L students show up for class at the high school and their teacher communicates with them via a web cam video conference from Alpena.
But starting in September, the school plans to increase the number of satellite classes offered to high school students.
“(It’s so good for students) because now they don’t have to drive to classes, and they can take them during the school day,” Danica Nowak, J-L High School counselor, said.
She said some students who live in Lewiston would have a long commute to drive to Gaylord for certain dual enrollment classes. Nowak said having the classes during the school day will also be helpful for student athletes and others with after-school activities or employment.
J-L senior PJ Bucy agreed that having the classes during the day would be helpful.
Bucy is enrolled in the pilot program class that started last year and he will be considered a college sophomore once he graduates from high school this summer and said he has plans to attend Ferris State University for its heating, ventilation and air conditioning program.
He said in that first semester of the pilot program his class at Johannesburg was the only class in on the live feed from the instructor, but this semester other schools have joined in the classroom on the Alpena side of the connection.
Nowak said the schools plan to offer intro to criminal justice, English 111, intro to psychology and speech classes for the 2018-19 school year.
She said the school is also planning a meeting after spring break with parents of students looking into dual enrollment classes.
“(We want to) make sure that the parents are aware of all the opportunities because there is so much,” Nowak said. “Right now, we’re in the process of having students choose the classes they want to take next year.”
Students first need to qualify to take dual enrollment classes based on state standard scores in order to be eligible for the college classes.
JOHANNESBURG — On National School Walkout day last week, Johannesburg-Lewiston High School hosted a special assembly that addressed violence in school.
Principal Curt Chrencik said the assembly was not only meant to address school violence, but it was also an opportunity to focus on compassion, tolerance, acceptance and a responsibility to help others.
“We all know that there’s violence in schools....What we need to understand is there’s violence that happens in this school everyday. Every day,” he said to the group of students. “And there are weapons in this school every day. And you know the biggest one? It’s right here.”
Chrencik held up a cell phone to the middle and high school students who sat in the high school gym bleachers.
“It’s one of the biggest weapons that you have that we misuse continuously,” he said. “You want to talk about why people might react violently? (It could be because they’re) isolated, because they feel like they don’t belong, because they’re hurt, because they’re scared. There’s so many ways and so many things that we can do as students of J-L and as people to make sure that people don’t hurt or aren’t hurt.”
Seven teachers and staff as well as a group of character development class students shared stories surrounding the assembly’s themes.
Ann Quay, JLHS science teacher, emphasized love, avoiding drugs and empathy.
She relayed an experience of learning of a shooting earlier this month at Central Michigan University, where her daughter is a student.
“She said ‘mom, you would not believe the texts and the phone calls I got that morning,” Quay said. “And what I said to her was ‘in those down moments where you think nobody cares, in that one day think about how many people texted you.’”
Mark Peppin, high school social studies teacher, told several stories about the importance of words and how they have significant meaning to others.
“Every year, Mrs. Meyers has her seniors write ‘thank you’ notes. Some of you think it’s tedious....I’ve kept every one,” he said. “I’m having a bad day, somebody says something mean, I’ll look at them. I go back and read ‘Thank you for doing this’....It brightens my day every time….It means something.”
Chrencik said the process of having staff members who know J-L students speak from personal experiences was more meaningful than if the school brought in outside guest speakers since the staff would be better able to connect with students.
At the start of the assembly, students pulled names from a box labeled “Pride” in deep red lettering. Students had the chance to win a range of prizes including items like a pass to cut to the front of the lunch line, gift cards or surprises that come from spinning a small prize wheel in the main office.
This is the first school year where students have had the Cardinal Pride Program.
Last month’s theme was "Responsibility."
“What happens is that teachers, staff, anyone really can use their discretion and when they see a student that is showing responsibility above and beyond or whatever the theme is, they get a ticket,” Chrencik said.
Students then bring the ticket to the office and put it in the Pride Box.
“So, then once a month… we go down to the gym and we hype it up a little bit and we talk about the students and what the character trait was and then we do a drawing,” he said.
At the end of each assembly students learn the focus of next month’s pride month.
The current focus through April is on "Academic Pride," where high school students who are passing all of their classes are entered in the drawings.
May’s topic is “Caring for the Community.” Chrencik said students who bring in canned food donations can receive tickets for the drawing as well as students who volunteer.
J-L hires teacher for homeless students, teens at risk
JOHANNESBURG — Homeless high school students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (J-L) now have a support teacher whose specific goal is to support them at school.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, J-L superintendent, said having homeless students is not a new occurrence, but the teaching position for those students is.
“In Johannesburg, we typically have anywhere from 10 to 20 students K-12 each year that are classified as homeless,” she said in an email. “We are just trying to ensure that we give every student whatever we can in order to create an environment where they can be successful.”
At the January meeting, the J-L Board of Education unanimously voted to hire Ann Quay for the district’s homeless support teacher position. Quay is also a high school science teacher and said her role as homeless support teacher exists outside of her contracted teaching hours.
“I hope to create an environment for all students so they are comfortable coming to me when they have a need, and I hope to meet the needs of as many as we can — because ultimately, having basic needs met is a precursor to any learning,” Quay said in an email.
She said she plans to establish quality relationships with students as well as working with them and their teachers “to ensure academic success is a focus for them.”
Quay meets with the students outside of regular classes once a week.
“Basically, some of the needs they have are textbooks for college classes, hygiene products, clothes, food, haircuts etc.,” she said. “We try and make sure they succeed in school by taking the worry out of after-school concerns.”
The homeless support teaching position funding allows for 20 hours per school year.
At risk and after school help
• The board also approved Cody Gascho to fill the district’s at-risk aide position and Tammy Myers was hired as the second after school support teacher.
“(Cody Gascho) is a new hire with an outstanding resume who we believe will be able to connect with our students and help support them,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
Students meet state criteria of being considered at risk through a variety of avenues and schools received funding toward programs to assist those students. The 2017-18 school year State Aid Status Report puts J-L’s at-risk funding at about $290,000 for the school year.
Students who do not meet school and state proficiency standards on tests, victims of child abuse or neglect, students who are frequently absent and students who come from under performing schools each are considered examples of at risk students.
Xenakis-Makowski said there was a need for added support in the district.
Since the beginning of the school year, J-L has offered after school support for students in grades 6-12 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Myers, a high school special education and English teacher, is taking on Monday and Wednesdays as the after school support teacher.
Students can now have after school support Monday through Thursday until 5:45 p.m.
J-L senior raises more than $600 for childhood cancer research
JOHANNESBURG — With 21 inches of hair off and and more than $130 over her goal, Harley Heidman proudly returned to school following a weekend where she accomplished her goal.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston High School senior raised a total of $630.98 for childhood cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
“I like the idea of raising money for the foundation, and the fact that my hair can go to use to someone else and I know that mine will grow back,” Heidman said.
St. Baldrick’s Foundation participants announce they are shaving their heads, and then leading up to shave day, they encourage family and friends to donate toward the California-based foundation for childhood cancer research.
Heidman is not the first in her family to participate in St. Baldrick's.
“My sister did it her senior year in 2014, but I just thought it would be neat to do,” she said. "She was going into the Army and she just decided that she wanted to shave her head anyway, and she might as well do it for a good cause."
Heidman has kept her hair long on and off the last two years and said she decided to shave and raise money for the foundation about four months ago.
She announced her plans via Instagram and on Jan. 6, she shared her before and after photos.
“It felt very good to be donating my hair to a good cause. I was glad (that so) many people supported me and helped me,” Heidman said via Instagram message. “Now without my hair I feel the same. It is different but I feel happy about it.”
Heidman was surrounded by friends, family and a teacher as she had her hair shaved at the Grondin's Hair Center in Gaylord. In addition to raising money for the foundation, Heidman also donated her locks to Children with Hair Loss.
“I’m happy that I am able to help children who have lost their hair,” Heidman said. “A little girl will have a beautiful wig.
J-L students score higher than state, education district
JOHANNESBURG — Students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (JLAS) tested better overall than the state and its education district on nearly every part of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) earlier this year, according to Katy Xenakis-Makowski, the district’s superintendent.
Xenakis-Makowski presented the latest test scores at the district's November board of education meeting.
She said JLAS students tested above the state and Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Educational Service District average in 18 of the 20 categories measured in M-STEP.
Fourth- and sixth-grade math were the two areas the district scored below the state average.
“In the two areas below either the State or ESD, there was a small percentage difference and the district has identified new resources and additional time for the curricular areas impacted,” reads part of Xenakis-Makowski's presentation to the board.
The test grades students in third- through eighth-grade on subjects like English language arts, math, science and social studies. It also tests 11th-grade students on science and social studies.
This is the third year Michigan schools have used the spring M-STEP after it replaced the fall MEAP test.
Several board members questioned the low proficiency scored in the state's scores. Xenakis-Makowski said the proficiency levels on the test change annually and that the schools don’t know what the cut score is for proficiency.
"When you take a test, what percentage is passing? Some people think 60 percent is passing — some 75 percent, some 80 percent," she said in an email.
"Every year the state determines how many questions must be correct on an M-STEP test (after the test is taken) in order for a student to be considered proficient. Questions, numbers of questions and how many are required to be correct for passing changes annually."
She said another important part of the picture centers on student growth.
"We have been talking about proficiency, but really what we need to make sure we have is growth," she said. "For example, if a student enters the school district in third grade, but assessments demonstrate the student is functioning at a first-grade level, we work hard through interventions and support opportunities as well as best practices in teaching to get that student to grow."
By the end of the school year, that same student might be at a third-grade level, which means they grew two grade levels in a single school year, but they are not seen as proficient by the state since they would need to be at a fourth-grade level by the end of that year.
A new state law addresses reading levels and requirements for students in third grade and Xenakis-Makowski said the reading law "focuses on proficiency, but will hopefully allow examples of growth and intervention to allow for student advancement." More information on the reading law is scheduled to appear in a future Herald Times story.
According to the state’s testing calendar, the next round of M-STEP tests includes about four weeks starting April 2018.
In her closing comments at the board meeting, Xenakis-Makowski said: “(J-L) students are outperforming others near and far due to the dedication of parents, students, teachers and staff. As a district, we know it is the partnership and value placed on quality education that help our students achieve.”
J-L students also scored above state average on the SAT. Last school year's juniors took the spring SAT and had an average score of about 1014 this year, compared with the ESD’s average of 1007 and the state average score of around 990.
In early 2016, Michigan switched from the ACT achievement-style test to the SAT, an aptitude test with questions that increase in difficulty as the test goes on. Scores range from 400 to 1600.
Xenakis-Makowski added that overall, “we have to be careful and balance test scores with the bigger picture of student growth. It can't just be about one test."
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.