Category Archives: Sports

Blake Bales: Five-Sport Athlete for Schoolcraft

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Blake Bales with his parents, Bob and Cheri, at Schoolcraft High School’s Parents Night. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.

By Hannah Gold

One cold, blustery day in January 2008, Blake Bales got serious about sports. He was nine and his parents had just bought a golf course, so he picked up his clubs and headed toward the first tee … in a blinding snowstorm and 35 degree weather. That was their first indication that he was destined to be a dedicated athlete.

Nine years later, Bales is a five-sport athlete at Schoolcraft High School, lettering in golf, football, baseball, bowling and basketball. He carries a 3.62 GPA. He represented the school in state competition for both bowling and golf and has been part of some of the school’s most successful athletic teams for the past four years. In June, Bales will graduate with not only a high school diploma, but 41 college credits to get him started on his way to becoming a defense attorney. He plans to attend Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek to study and play baseball.

What drives a young athlete to achieve? According to Bales, one experience was playing high school football. Bales played rocket football but quit in middle school to focus on baseball. His junior year he decided that he wanted to play football again and said, “It was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.” Citing the culture of the team as having forever changed his high school experience, he noted that his teammates are his family. “Through football I learned how to help other people through any kind of issues that may come up because, even though we are not related, we are a family,”

“Being a student athlete taught me the importance of sportsmanship. In football, we went 9-0 in the 2016 regular season and then were beaten in the first round of playoffs by our biggest rival. After the game our coach didn’t have much to say, but he did tell us that no matter what had happened we would not trash them or their game.

“We play for the name on the front of our jerseys, and not the name on the back. Even though our season was over, he made sure that we put things in the proper perspective.”

Bales recently was recognized by the MHSAA with the Scholar-Athlete Award. He credits others for his drive for success as well, namely his parents and teachers. “My parents have always pushed me to be a good student and to get good grades and my teachers have always been available and willing to help one-on-one. I knew I wanted to go to college from a young age and studying hard in high school was a way to be eligible for scholarships.”

Outside the classroom, Bales has stayed busy as a member of the National Honor Society, a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a coach for the Schoolcraft High Junior Pro Basketball Program, and a member of Complete Baseball club. He also has held a full-time job every summer and worked part-time throughout the school year since he was nine. At 10, he ran a golf club washing business to help raise money for his travel baseball expenses.

He was injured twice during his high school career. He suffered a broken thumb in his sophomore year, which prevented him from playing baseball but didn’t hinder his golf game – he qualified for State. In his senior year, he developed a stress fracture and spent the next eight weeks in a corrective boot, forcing him off the basketball court, but not the bowling alley, where he again qualified for State.

If Bales has his way, as a defense attorney he will have the opportunity to help innocent people prove their case, and bring guilty parties to trial. “I predict I will feel a great satisfaction working for people in need; especially in financial need since I can understand their situation,” he said.

Schoolcraft Sports

These Schoolcraft sports team photos supplement the rest of the photos published in last month’s issue.

Little League Opening Day

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The Vicksburg Little League opened its season on a cold day in April, but that didn’t stop the youngsters from enjoying the ride in the parade.

Over 500 young people took part in the opening day parade of Vicksburg’s Little League teams. They rode on trucks and wagons through downtown Vicksburg to the ball fields at Sunset School.

Rocket Football Sign-up to Start in June

Are you ready for some Vicksburg Rocket Football? Registration will be 100 percent on-line this season and will be open this year from June 1 through June 30. Players can register as young as 5 years old as of September 1st 2017. The flag football program will be led by Director Nick Sertic and is for players ages 5-10 years old. Teams are age based and will play in 5-6, 7-8 and 9-10 year-old divisions. The Heads Up tackle program will be led by Program Director Brian Johnson and is for players in grades 3-6. Teams are made up of third- and fourth-graders and fifth- and sixth-graders. Registration fees for the 2017 season are $80 for Heads Up and $65 for Flag, with a sibling discount available.

“Vicksburg Rocket Football is committed to promoting a positive environment to teach, play and learn the fundamentals of football. Together with the participation of parents, coaches, and players, we aim to establish a lifetime appreciation for the game,” said Johnson. “This program continues to grow in leaps and bounds; we had over 225 players for the 2016 season and fully expect to surpass that number in 2017. Above all else, we want our players to have fun, and seeing our program continue to acquire more players each year and retaining them in the middle school and high school programs. I’d say we are accomplishing that goal,” said Valerie Tassell, board secretary for the program.

If you have interest in coaching at any level, please contact Sertic (Flag) 269-370-5660 or Johnson (Heads Up Tackle) 269-998-2719. Interested in volunteering on the VRF Board? Contact Tassell at 269-929-6897.

Bulldogs Boys’ Athletics Starting Strong in Spring

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Garrett Ketelaar races home against Paw Paw in their recent double header, won by Vicksburg.

By Travis Smola

Everyone was excited to see what varsity baseball would do this season and they haven’t disappointed their followers. The boys rattled off eight straight wins to start the season, including taking the championship game of the Sturgis Invitational on April 15.

The week before that, the team had two thrilling victories in a double header against Three Rivers. Senior Brenden Lovell pitched a one-hitter in game one to help seal a 5-0 victory. The second game saw big hits from Drew Hamilton, Adam Henderson, Ryan Morgan and Matthew Holman as they took that game 7-1.

Closer Garrett Ketelaar made a thrilling last out in the game. The batter sent the last pitch screaming back at Ketelaar’s face, but he got his hand up for a spectacular catch and an unexpectedly quick end to the game.

The team was handed their first loss on April 17 against Schoolcraft.

The lacrosse team lost its home opener, but it’s still showing why it was conference champion last season. The boys defeated Harper Creek 11-7 in their most recent matchup. That comes right on the heels of a 16-0 shutout over Portage Northern on April 13 and 16-3 and 18-3 victories over Pennfield and Kalamazoo United.

And when the team has lost, they haven’t gone down without a fight. Two of their losses came in tight overtime games to Lowell and Hartland.

It’s still fairly early in track season, but so far the Bulldogs are fielding a really competitive team. The team was edged out by the narrowest of scores, 70-67, against traditionally strong Otsego back on March 29.

“We’ll get them at the conference meet,” Co-Head Coach Jon Kachniewicz said during the Paw Paw Lions Invitational. Speaking of that event, it was senior Deondre Lovell putting on a show as he set a new personal record of 11.568 while taking first in the 100-meter dash. He also took first in the long jump.

In the 4x100m relay, it was Lovell, Jackson Holladay, Noah Burton and Tanner Mendham taking first for the Bulldogs. The same team then went and did it again in the 4×200. The team of Aidan Ward, Jacob Wisser, Jacob Klimp and Casey Hall took third in the 4×400 and Elijah Locket, Klimp, Collin Eager and Kyle Strong took third in the 4×800.

Sophomore Andrew Smith also helped with showing how versatile the Bulldogs are, taking second in the pole vault.

Kachniewicz said they have a great mix of new and veteran athletes on this year’s team including a couple of exchange students. Their competitive nature should make the rest of track season an exciting one for the team.

Lady Bulldogs Having Success in the Early Spring Season

By Travis Smola

Vicksburg softball head coach, Paul Gephardt, says last year’s state finals appearance is in the past. The focus is on the here and now as they work on just one game at a time. After a couple of losses to state-ranked powerhouse Caledonia, the Lady Bulldogs bounced back against Three Rivers with 16-6 and 5-4 wins.

One thing fans will be happy to see is that the girls’ bats are still hot in the early part of the season. In the first of those wins against Three Rivers, nearly every girl on the roster had a hand in scoring runs and capitalizing on Wildcat mistakes. Their scoring ability was further showcased in 5-1 and 13-1 wins over Schoolcraft on April 18. They beat Sturgis 15-0 on April 21 and split a double header with Coloma on April 24, following that with a win over Allegan 39-5 and a perfect game thrown by Avery Slancik.

The lacrosse team is still a club sport for the Lady Bulldogs, but unlike last year, where they played a JV schedule, this year it is all varsity. The team is 2-3 currently. “The girls are getting better every day in practice,” Head Coach Charlie Glascock said.

Even though they recently lost against Portage in a scrappy 17-12 game, Hannah Corwin had a hat trick of three goals as the team rallied late to give Portage a scare. Glascock wants to thank the 12 different sponsors who contributed to helping grow and expand the program by getting the girls new warmup gear this spring.

The soccer team is playing scrappy ball despite some growing pains. Goalie Kelsey Aldworth racked up 16 saves in an early 5-0 loss to Lakeshore. Michelle Bower, Emmaline Miller, Katelyn Woosley and Haylie Burr all clogged up shooting lanes and made scoring difficult for opponents. “We’re going to be competitive, but we’re very young,” Head Coach Mike Moldovan said. The team got its most recent victory in a 4-0 road win over Dowagiac on April 19.

The tennis team defeated St. Joseph in a clean 8-0 sweep on April 13. But then the girls fell to powerhouse teams from Caledonia and Edwardsburg in subsequent matchups. But two girls did pick up some individual wins at Edwardsburg. Ady Reno won her matchup 7-6, 2-7, 6-2. And Josephine Hosner won 7-5, 4-6 and 6-1.

Track and field has a good mix of new and veteran athletes, according to Head Coach Lucas Wolthuis. The team defeated Allegan at a recent tri-meet and weren’t far behind Three Rivers. At the Paw Paw Lions Invitational, Mia Mulhearn set a new personal record while taking the 300-meter hurdle final.

Freshman Riley-Ann Bierema took second in the 400-meter dash and senior Layna Steele took third in the 800 meters. The 4×400 and 4×800 teams also both took second in the finals. And field events continue to be strong, with Grace Welch taking second in shot put and Anna Schriemer taking third in discus.

Skylar Rogenski turned in another strong long jump with a third place finish. Wolthuis says Otsego is the team to beat still. But he thinks they can be in the hunt for second or third in the conference.

Grace Welch and Tanner Mendham Sign with Adrian

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Grace Welch signs her academic scholarship to Adrian College which includes a commitment to play volleyball. Her parents Dawn and Shawn Welch are standing behind her in the picture.

Grace Welch has been a varsity starter for Vicksburg’s volleyball and basketball teams from her freshman year to her senior year while carrying a 3.99 academic average. She has also competed in track all four years. In the fall, she plans to take her abilities to Adrian College, where her sister, Olivia, is currently contributing on the sports scene in volleyball.

She has signed with Adrian to play volleyball, but will go there on an academic scholarship with full tuition promised, since it is a Division III school which doesn’t offer sports scholarship. “It takes good time management to take part in the National Honor Society and play club volleyball all year long,” according to Welch. For the past two summers she has worked on the maintenance team at the Southland Mall in Portage with a third stint coming up this year.

Her record in volleyball helped to carry the team as an outside hitter. She has 135 sets played, 490 kills for the year for a kills-per-set of 3.6 and a hitting percent of 36.7 percent. Her parents, Shawn and Dawn, are her greatest supporters, attending almost every contest she has participated in. Welch has two brothers coming up through the school system, Ben, 15, and Eli, 12.

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Tanner is shown here with his parents, Aimee and Dan Mendham, and coaches Tom Marchese, football, on the far left, and Dave Smith, track, on the far right.

Tanner Mendham, soon to graduate from Vicksburg High School, will be going to Adrian College in the fall where he expects to participate in both track and football on an academic scholarship.

Coach Smith believes that Mendham’s work in each sport complemented the other. “He’s highly competitive. We put him in as the anchor on the relay team because nobody is going to pass him in the home stretch. He earned All-Conference in his junior year.”

Coach Marchese said Mendham gave his all as a defensive back, and though he was small for the position, size didn’t matter. “He wasn’t afraid to tackle and get his nose dirty. He does the extra little things and had a great senior year for us.”

Mendham said he has worked at Celebration Cinema while still participating in sports and keeping his academics at a high level.