Kobe Clark drives to the basket for a layup. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.
Tyler DeGroote and Bryce VanderWiere go up for a rebound. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.
By Mark Blentlinger
Randy Small and the Schoolcraft Eagle boys basketball team have been able to hold off all challengers so far in the season. The team has a 7-0 divisional record and a record of 10-0 overall.
In a recent matchup against Kalamazoo Christian which figured to be a major contest, the Eagles came away with a big 51-37 win. It turned out not to be the usual hard-fought battle between the two teams.
The visiting Comets came out early and put up 9 points quickly, but the Eagles would settle down and put up 9 of their own. By the halftime, the Eagles were holding a 19-15 lead. By the end of the third period, the Eagles had a comfortable lead at 39-28, and at the final buzzer, the scoreboard read Eagles 51, guests 37.
Leading the Eagles’ scoring were Tyler DeGroote with 12, Kobe Clark with 11 and Bryce VanderWeire with 10. Schoolcraft will be heading into Vicksburg to be take on the Bulldogs on Friday. Vicksburg has a 3-7 record and is averaging 46.9 points per game. It will be a challenge for the Bulldogs to hold off the high-scoring offense of the 10-0 Eagles who are hoisting an average game score of 58.7 points.
Schoolcraft girls basketball team lost game one of the 2019-20 season to the visiting Edwardsburg Eddies, 43-31. The Lady Eagles have not looked back since, taking on all competitors and showing each rival they mean business. They are leading the SAC conference Valley division with a 7-0 record and an overall record of 8-1.
A couple of noteworthy games that have tested the Eagles have been against Hackett Catholic Prep and Niles. The Irish were able to key on some of the Eagle top players and keep the score close, although the Eagles came out on top in a low-scoring game, ending 29-26. Leading scorers were Adrienne Rosey with 11 and Gabi Saxman with 8.
The Vikings of Niles came to town with hopes of showing the Eagles that they were here to hand the team its second loss of the season. The ladies were not going to back down in their own house.
At the end of period one, the Eagles were trailing 7-15. At the break midway through the game, the Vikings were still leading 24-22. In period three, the Eagles were able to find their stride and put some space between the home and visitor sides of the scoreboard, going on a 16-4 scoring streak. The Vikings were not done and out-scored the Eagles 13-9 in the last remaining eight minutes, but the effort was too little, too late. The Eagles came out on top, 47-41. Leading scorers were Anna Schuppel, 17 points and Saxman, 12. In the very next game at Galesburg, Saxman, a Western Michigan University commit, was able to accomplish something few players do in their high school career. With a three-point shot from the top of the key, Saxman was able to lock in 1,000 points scored in her four years of playing basketball in Schoolcraft.
The Schoolcraft Eagle bowling teams are having a great season. The boys team has had good success as most of the team returned from last season. The record so far is 9-3, with losses to Coloma twice and Comstock once. The team consists of seniors Aiden Hursey and Ben Kessler; juniors Max Desmond, Zach McGill, Simon Sheen and Kyle Fleck; sophomore Brian Crofoot and freshmen Josiah Stuart, Ian McDonald and Shawn Sampsell.
Leading the team in average so far this year is Fleck with 164, followed closely by Desmond with a 161. The team went to Bronson on Jan. 17 to bowl in a tournament put on by Bronson High School. They competed against teams such as Bronson, Vicksburg, Portage Central, Sturgis, Coldwater, Niles and Galesburg. They were able to qualify in the fourth position with a total pinfall of 2,376. They had to face off against a Coldwater team that posted a total pinfall of 3,562. Although the Eagles put in a great effort, they were not able to keep up with the Division 1 team that walked away the winner that day.
Girls Bowling Team
The Lady Eagle bowling team has only two returning members from last season’s team, junior Maya Pearce and sophomore Brynleigh Macinnes. The team ended up adding eight new faces to this year’s roster: seniors Dani Warnarr, Savannah McDonald and Madi Ballett, who had just come off a great senior season of volleyball for Schoolcraft. The remaining new additions are freshmen Alayna Meade, Haley Earles, Catie Wright, Clair McIntyre and Molly Pearce. Leading the team in average so far is Pearce with a 149, followed by McIntyre with a 120 average.
Both teams will be competing at the Feb. 14 SAC conference meet being held at Airway Lanes. At the conclusion of the regular season they will head to Jackson to bowl at Jax60 on February 28 and 29 for the division 4 Regional Championship.
Vicksburg High School students who took advanced placement (AP) tests in the 2018-2019 school year were praised for their high SAT scores by Principal Adam Brush in his presentation to the school board in January.
He also showed charts on how well the AP students performed on taking and passing the tests for college credit. In the same presentation, he featured the work being done by teachers and students on tutorial classes to help students who need a little extra work in certain subject areas.
“It’s fun working in the high school,” Brush said. “We see students who come in as freshmen and watch as they grow into adults. It’s the most rewarding part of the job.”
Vicksburg has been offering AP courses for many years and has earned the AP Honor Roll award over the last two years running. “Every time you earn this award, you have to reach a little higher to earn another one as you have to improve with the number of students enrolled in AP courses and those who take and pass the exams,” Brush said. “They get college credit if they earn a 3, 4 or 5 on the exam so there is motivation to do well. Vicksburg High School has 703 students enrolled in AP courses this year.” Some take more than one AP course each semester.
AP Capstone was inaugurated in 2019 for sophomores and juniors. It incorporates an AP seminar the first year and AP research the second year. It focuses on the skills needed to succeed in college, is performance-driven and requires lots of independent study.
Two high school teachers brought proposals to the board. Jennifer Teall, high school French teacher, proposed a biliteracy stamp that students can earn who are multi-lingual due to their classroom work. Students in third and fourth year Spanish and French classes can apply for the Biliteracy Seal in language proficiency, offered by the state of Michigan. It’s a special recognition to show the significant commitment that students make in the study of a second language besides English, she told the board.
The seal, once earned, will go on student transcripts and diplomas. The criteria includes being functional in a second language, not necessarily fluent. There are currently 400 Vicksburg students enrolled in French or Spanish classes. They begin in 8th grade, as Michigan requires two years of a foreign language to graduate from high school.
More than 100 of those students continue on to take three and four years of a language course which makes them eligible for the seal which serves to legitimize their commitment, Teall said.
Rachel King, AIM Higher club advisor, was approved to teach a leadership course worth one credit. It would be offered to juniors and seniors as an elective next school year.
“Getting kids involved in literature is a game changer,” said Todd Allgor, one of Schoolcraft’s second grade teachers. Learning to read is one of the most important lessons a child needs to learn from the earliest years. Without a good foundation in reading skills, it’s hard for a student to advance each year in grade level, according to reading experts. How to make reading fun and enjoyable can be the key to life-long learning, they say. Allgor seems to have found the way with a Mock Caldecott contest.
He has led his classroom of 22 students to choose class favorite picture books from a list of 22 books chosen by Allgor out of hundreds possible. He reads and researches reviews to narrow the book list to those he thinks might receive the prestigious Caldecott Medal, a national recognition of book illustrators for elementary student reading.
Allgor buys the 22 books with his own money for students to read.
In the first week and a half, Allgor reads all the picture books to the students. In the following week, students start meeting in groups and discussing their favorites. They vote to narrow the list to a top 10 then finally a top four. On Monday, January 27 they watched online to learn the actual winner of the real Caldecott award as it was announced.
The medal has been awarded annually since 1937 by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. The award goes to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Who better than a group of second graders to delve into the books to decide the winner, even if their choice didn’t actually receive the medal?
Schoolcraft’s three other second grade teachers in Schoolcraft have joined in with Allgor to take part in the Mock Caldecott recently: Hannah Adams, Danelle Niewoonder and Chase McPherson. Allgor has taught for 25 years and has included the Mock Caldecott competition for four years.
Schoolcraft students’ winner was “Another” by Christian Robinson. One of their Honor books was “Bear Came Along” by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, which was a Caldecott finalist.
In “Another,” a little girl wakes up to see her cat going through a portal which opens up in her room late at night. She follows, only to discover that there is a secret world where everyone has an alternate version of themselves. There are no words and the illustrations do a great job of making the story very interesting, Allgor’s students said in choosing this book.
As it turns out, the winning book was not among the books Allgor had chosen. One story he did pick and the students chose as an honor book, “Bear Came Along”, was among the honor books chosen by the professionals. The students said it was fun, happy, and suspenseful. They liked how more and more colors and animals appear in the illustrations as they move through the story. They also liked the different expressions of the animal characters and how they showed emotions. They liked how the illustrations added so much more to the story than just the words, Allgor said.
The students were very excited about the real judging. During Allgor’s book discussions, the students said something he really liked. “’It’s OK if we didn’t pick the winner. It was fun reading and talking about all the cool books.’ As a teacher, that always feels good.”
The Caldecott winner was “The Undefeated,” illustrated by Kadir Nelson and written by Kwame Alexander.
Children at Indian Lake Elementary school have been invited to participate in the Odyssey of the Mind program as an after-school activity. It challenges kids to think more creatively while problem solving with a small group of classmates. After months of study and practice, they will enter a competition with students from other schools in February.
It’s a parent-led project that Sonya Sutherland invited other parents to take part in with the blessing of Principal Ruth Hook. “It was part of my elementary school in Whitehall but I was never picked. It’s a national and international contest. Now that my family lives in the Vicksburg school district, I wondered how to start an Odyssey of the Mind here,” Sutherland said.
She ended up with three teams of six or seven students, two coaches for each team and Callie Baker, the 5th grade science teacher at Indian Lake, participating. “It is empowering to the kids,” Sutherland said. “They have to figure out how to make a decision with each other on a short- and long-term problem that the Odyssey of the Mind curriculum creates. It can be a little scary for kids to think outside of the box, as is required. The weirder the better as far as the judging is concerned.”
Kids have to do their own research, write a skit, build a set and have eight minutes to perform a play they have written that answers the problem posed by Odyssey. They get criteria points [that are three pages long] from the judges. All of this takes plenty of practice and commitment while learning how to work together, including students with special needs.
Max Armstrong, a 5th grader, said he decided to participate in the Odyssey instead of watching TV at home. The only girl in Sutherland’s group, Amaia Uribe, a 4th grader, said her mom made her volunteer but now it’s a lot of fun. The other four boys agreed.
“The whole idea to is push kids and make them think,” Sutherland said. “They are also given a spontaneous problem to solve in ten minutes as a team. It’s all about creativity, problem solving and life-long learning skills. They engage in a real-world application in a caring and positive environment.”
Has anyone ever seen John Gisler, the Kalamazoo County Commissioner who represents the south county area, in any item of apparel other than the shirt with the red, white and blue stars and stripes emblazoned on it? This reporter got to wondering if he ever takes it off long enough to launder it since he appears at almost every meeting I attend.
The mystery is solved, upon my asking him a most personal question at the Schoolcraft Township board meeting in January. Turns out he has 11 identical shirts like this, all given to him periodically for gifts by his family members. I’m thinking he must not be too hard to shop for at Christmas and birthdays.
Thieves Break into Vicksburg Businesses
Four stores were broken into in downtown Vicksburg in one night in January, including Shear Beauty, Geek Genius, McCallum Accounting and Brian Pitts Insurance at 123 S. Main. Cameras appear to track one person at about 4 a.m. walking from Pitts’ office north to McCallum’s building on the corner of Main and E. Prairie, but the figure has not been identified as yet. Police Chief Scott Sanderson says the case is open with several leads being worked diligently. The thief got away with a Chromebook computer from Pitts and iPad tablet from the beauty shop. Geek Genius was hit the hardest with some of their gear and petty cash taken in the break-in.
Academy of Rock Musicians
Schoolcraft High School band members are also students at the Kalamazoo Academy of Rock (KAR). They have been selected to participate in a show with Matt Giraud, an artist from Kalamazoo who finished 5th in the 8th season of American Idol. The students are John Chapin, Elsa Petersen and Chance Evans.
The spring KAR show is March 21 at the State Theater in Kalamazoo. Giraud will be headlining that show and working with many of the KAR students, having them perform on stage with him.
Leeanne Seaver Edits Just Released Book
Leeanne Seaver, a 1977 Vicksburg High School graduate, moved back to Vicksburg about seven years ago and immediately became involved in volunteering in her hometown. She is a professional writer who has contributed several articles for this newspaper. She is a close friend of Kathy Forsythe, who writes a monthly column for us. Both belong to a local writers’ club.
Seaver is celebrating the recent book launch of Slings & Arrows, a book by David Bland. It is about how toxic narratives perpetuate poverty in Indian country. She did a lot of rewriting and contributing to the book as a developmental edit/editor. Read: literary midwife she exclaimed! “I’m so proud of it . . . it feels like “part of the solution, not just more of the problems in Indian Country,” she said.
Two more of her books she is working on are launching this spring—one a full write/full credit and another co-authored. Both are business-genre type books, Seaver said.
The 2020 census that will be taken of every person in the United States, is having troubles hiring enough people as census takers, even at the rate of $20.50 per hour in this area. Getting counted is important for our local governments in several ways. Federal dollars flow down through the states and municipalities based in part on the head counts of everyone living here. The numbers also determine how many members of Congress each state is given. If our population has declined, we stand to lose a seat at the table in Congress.
The first round of counting will be online, which is a huge change from the old days of someone actually coming to the door and asking how many people live in a house. The census takers will actually fan out to find those haven’t supplied their information online. They will try to find more people that might be hiding from fear of being counted. They promise that everyone’s data is secret and will not be shared with any other federal agency.
Vicksburg’s parking requirements will require the Mill development to pave portions of a wetlands area developers have hoped to save, a consultant told the village Planning Commission. Developers are asking the village to consider reducing the requirements.
Commission members asked for more information from the consulting firm, Grand Rapids-based Progressive AE. The commission’s review was requested by the developer, Paper City Development.
Developers of the Mill said paved parking to meet the current ordinance would need as much as nine acres, which would require paving over portions of the wetlands. They considered a parking structure, but said it’s not workable due to the cost, the high water table and the historic designation of the property.
Consultants said reduced requirements for paved parking are consistent with modern best practices in zoning – and would be sufficient because of the mixed-use nature of the development. People who visit the brewery are likely to also visit the museum, for example. The ordinance calls for providing enough parking for each use independently.
The goal, according to consultant Suzanne Schulz, is to make a place for people, not cars. “It’s a Goldilocks scenario: Too much parking actually makes it feel empty and unappealing,” she said. “Too few parking spaces and you deter visitors from coming.”
The consultants illustrated their concerns over the current parking ordinance by comparing required parking in Vicksburg to requirements for a similar project in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and the Village of Middleville, southeast of Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo were chosen because of their experience with mixed-use developments. Middleville was chosen because it is closest in size to Vicksburg.
For example, the Mill would require more than 1,200 parking spaces under the current Vicksburg parking ordinance. In Middleville, this number would be 1,406, but that village allows up to a 50 percent reduction in parking spaces for a mixed-use development. The city of Kalamazoo would typically require 1,755 spaces, but it does not have a parking requirement in the downtown area, which is the part of town with the most development activity. In Grand Rapids, the required parking could be as low as 303, as its requirements for each use are lower and allow for up to a 50 percent reduction in parking for mixed-use projects.
Vicksburg’s Planning Commission, charged with making recommendations to the Village Council on any changes to the zoning ordinance, requested that the consultants provide estimated attendance numbers at the Mill.
Commissioner Chris Newman asked how attendance would vary by days of the week, adding that he was especially interested in how the planned museum would affect the parking needs. The consultants agreed to provide these numbers, saying that programming for the project is still being developed. The goal of the community comparison was to begin a conversation about how Vicksburg fared in relation to other places; specific numbers will be provided in the future.
The parking study reviewed a similar-size project in Grand Rapids to see how the complementary uses impacted the parking lot. American Seating Park is an 11-acre mixed-use project that houses several uses: the headquarters of American Seating; rented office space; 89 apartments; and New Vintage Place, an event center. The total square footage of all uses there is 355,207 square feet. The Mill at Vicksburg totals 419,000 square feet.
The total number of parking spaces at American Seating Park is 619. The consultants studied the development over several days when events were happening at New Vintage Place. The events on those days were around 100 attendees each. According to the study, the parking lot maintained a consistent occupancy of 75 percent from morning through evening, leaving 151 parking spaces open throughout the day. The consultants presented this as evidence that the Mill will not require the full 1,200 parking spaces that the current zoning code requires.
The Mill project is in a zoning designation called a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which allows the village to create special zoning requirements specific to the property. A PUD is generally used when a developer has a mix of uses for a property that don’t fit into the typical residential, commercial, or industrial zones.
If the Village agrees that the Mill can be served by fewer parking spaces, it could revise the PUD. Landscape architect Mark Robinson, another consultant present at the Planning Commission meeting, believes this is a time “to not do something just for the Mill. Something that benefits the Mill should benefit the community, which is why we are taking our time and making sure that this [potential change to the zoning code] works for everyone.” Village Manager Jim Mallery noted that most of Vicksburg’s parking requirements date back to 1976 and updating them is considered a best practice.
The consultants will now work with Paper City Development to study the expected attendance numbers at the Mill and calculate the expected parking needs. They will then return to the Planning Commission with more information and their recommendations later this year.
Other Planning Commission Action
The Planning Commission also heard a request from owners of a home at 210 N Michigan Avenue planning an expansion of their living area and the addition of a two-car attached garage. Due to the location of the home on the property, they could not attach a two-car garage without building within 8.5 feet of the side lot line. A 10-foot setback is required. The owners also requested relief from the maximum allowed ratio of building to lot size. After conducting a survey, it was found that their plans would cover 21 percent of the lot, where only 20 percent coverage is allowed.
Village Planner Bobby Durkee recommended approval of both requests, the side setback because there is no other way to attach a two-car garage to the structure within the required 10’; and the lot coverage area due to the fact that the property fronts Mill Pond. Waterfront property is notorious for being difficult to survey, as the waterline can move from year to year. The neighboring property owners were informed of the request by the village, but none appeared at the meeting to offer objections. The Commission recommended village council approval of both requests.
The audience listens intently to Schoolcraft Village President Keith Gunnett as he explains what is happening on the sewer issue.
By Sue Moore
The possibility that neighboring villages of Schoolcraft and Vicksburg can share costs of a sewage disposal system has put Schoolcraft’s immediate plan to go it alone on hold.
Schoolcraft’s village Council had scheduled a Jan. 29 special meeting to consider when to set a public hearing date, the first step to finance the project. At that meeting, Council President Keith Gunnett told residents and fellow council members he had learned about Vicksburg’s interest in looking at the costs the morning before at a meeting of the South County Sewer and Water Authority.
There was another reason to delay the process, Gunnett explained: “I found out that once we have the public hearing and vote to go ahead, we couldn’t stop the process any time in the future. I thought we could stop the process at several other points.”
Schoolcraft had been counting on getting finished cost numbers by scheduling a public hearing and then applying to the United States Department of Agriculture/Rural Development (USDA) for a grant. “Once we got the numbers, we were told that we could either move forward or back out. Apparently, that was not true,” Gunnett said.
“Just yesterday, I was told that the only way to back out of the sewer project, once the public hearing is held, is to go to Circuit Court during the 45-day rescission period. This is the only window after we have applied to the USDA for a grant and loan. You know how much that would cost to go to court and probably not result in our favor if we want out?”
“I asked questions at the Authority meeting and got answers that were new to me,” Gunnett said. “The whole point of applying for the money from USDA was to get the costs firmed up so we know the accurate numbers. Right now, we don’t know that. What we have are the numbers that [engineering consultants] Wightman & Associates have given us previously. Those were the highest possible costs and didn’t figure any reduction if we were able to get a grant from USDA – which we believe we are eligible for.”
Authority members agreed to Gunnett’s request for a time extension to study the process further, giving his village two months to do so.
Vicksburg’s representative, Council President Bill Adams, suggested at that meeting that his village might be interested in joining with Schoolcraft on the sewer project if doing so would reduce their costs below that of the Vicksburg’s current sewage disposal structure: transporting sewage through Portage to the Kalamazoo waste treatment plant. “It’s part of our due diligence to look at this option.”
“This was a bombshell,” Gunnett said at the Schoolcraft meeting. “It would change everything. Now I think we will probably see that a two-month extension will go at least another month or more while Wightman recalculates the numbers, with Vicksburg being added at the front of the project. This would give everyone a little breathing room,” Gunnett said.
Trustee Mike Rochholz said that if Vicksburg would come in, that would change the scope of things, requiring a [sewage treatment] plant to handle chemicals and the combined volume. He thought a lagoon system that has been proposed would be out of the question. Wightman consultants have said that they could build it either way.
Trustee John Stodola, who also attended the Authority meeting, said, “We need to get our own legal advice and find out our exposure to the costs going forward. This is a very abrupt change in direction. We need the costs in writing. It’s more important to do this right than to do it quickly. I’m willing to sit down with anybody who has concerns.”
There was an avalanche of questions and comments from the 25-plus people in the audience. They appeared split about equally for and against.
Rochholz asked the Council and citizens to not be divisive with each other. “No matter which way this decision lands, someone is going to be unhappy.”
Who owns the sewer system if it is constructed, an audience member asked, and what is the process?
If Schoolcraft goes ahead with a sewage disposal system, the Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner must form a Drain Board to establish the financing for the project, make the request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for funding, and become a conduit for the project.
“The day-to-day work on engineering and running the sewer would fall to the South County Sewer and Water authority,” Council President Keith Gunnett said, adding that the Authority would own the infrastructure and the treatment plant and collect fees from member communities to operate it. The authority currently services sewer systems around Pickerel and Indian Lakes and in parts of Pavilion Township.
Brady, Pavilion and Schoolcraft townships each send an elected official to sit as a member of the Authority’s board. Schoolcraft and Vicksburg villages have been invited to be official members. For now, their voting power is weighted, with less value than the votes of the other three townships.
They would have equal representation with the other three entities if the sewer project goes through.
The Authority signed a contract with Wightman & Associates some time ago for engineering design for the proposed sewer. The individual municipalities have not contributed funding so far for the engineering work.