High hopes

By Marilyn Jones, Schoolcraft’s Poet Laureate

There’s a break in the clouds ahead
Brilliant technicians have come up with vaccines,
The deaths from COVID-19 will soon be squelched
We’re ready for normalcy and familiar things.

Of course, it’s going to take a while
Folks need to be convinced to get a shot,
Yes, there are unwanted side-effects
But a day to recuperate from the pandemic
Is better than what we got.

Some people hoarded essentials
Life as we knew it, was upside-down,
Others were desperate for toilet paper
No bowling or movies, left us with a frown.

School kids missed their classes and friends
Our graduating seniors really got gypped,
Our sports teams planned to win at State
Younger students had no parties or field trips.

But maybe there was a message here
We learned to appreciate what we had before,
Everyone had a place to get food
Though some shelves were stripped in every store.

So get in line for your immunization
We’ve had enough of quarantine each day,
Soon you can pack up your masks
Give thanks, and hope we will be normal by May!

Support local restaurants

The White Front restaurant photo courtesy of Vicksburg Historical Society.

The indoor dining ban in the State of Michigan was lifted Feb. 1, enabling our local pubs and eateries to reopen and serve customers in their establishments while following public health guidelines. The safety restrictions in place for many months have been difficult for many individuals and businesses.

Please support our local businesses in whatever way you are comfortable with and financially able. Most offer take-out, and many even provide home or curb-side delivery. Check with your favorite village eatery either online or by phone and investigate its options.

These businesses have supported community and school events. Let’s continue to support and encourage their operations.

Cherry chocolate cake – a sweet valentine treat

1 box chocolate fudge cake mix
2 eggs
1 tsp almond flavoring
1 can cherry pie filling1/2 cup milk
5 TB butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×13 pan. Stir together the cake mix, eggs, almond flavoring, and cherry pie filling. Spread in pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Melt the butter in with the milk. Add the sugar, bring to a boil and allow it to boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Add the semi-sweet chocolate chips. Stir until smooth, then pour topping on the cake.

Calling all cooks! South County News wants to publish your favorite recipes
Email your recipes to kforsythesouthcountynews@gmail.com

Do you have a cherished family recipe that you’d like to share with the community? Are you secretly a culinary genius ready for your moment in the spotlight?

We invite you to send in a favorite recipe and a photo of the finished dish. You might choose to nominate a great recipe from a friend or family member.

Each month we will select just one recipe to print in the paper. We encourage our readers to try out each new recipe and share the tasty results with us.

Schoolcraft council discusses economic development

By Rob Peterson

While discussing goals for 2021, Schoolcraft village council member Mike Rochholz asked what the village can do to attract more businesses to the community.

Council members suggested tracking available properties, including their condition and rental rates, so that staff could assist potential business owners in their location search. While Village Manager Cheri Lutz does not have an inventory of properties, she indicated that she is generally the first point of contact for businesses who are considering a move to Schoolcraft.

County Commissioner John Gisler noted that Indiana had success in recruiting businesses by having an inventory of development-ready, pre-permitted industrial sites. Lutz answered that “the harsh reality” is that Schoolcraft will have a difficult time attracting manufacturing businesses without a sanitary sewer system.

The Council asked Lutz to set up a workshop so that they could discuss their goals for 2021, including a conversation about economic development efforts.

Even without the goals in place, the community is seeing growth. The Council approved a recommendation from the Planning Commission to allow medical offices at 403 and 413 North Grand. Both properties have been vacant for some time but will be filled when Michele Enright moves her occupational therapy business into the village from U Avenue.

Clark Logic, which owns several buildings in the village, is considering a project that will involve services to home schoolers and virtual students. The project will require a zoning change, which will go to the Planning Commission before it is considered by the Council.

While on the subject of zoning, the council was reminded that the Planning Commission will hear public comments on proposed zoning changes that will affect the entire village. The public is encouraged to attend the session, which will be held virtually Feb. 8..

In other business, the Council discussed the challenges of considering whether to hold the July 4 festivities this year. Not knowing what the future will hold, it is difficult to ask people to expend energy in planning an event that may or may not happen. No decision was made.

Council member Tod Carlin asked if a representative from the Michigan Department of Transportation could come to a future council meeting to discuss planned reconstruction of US-131 through the village. Lutz indicated that she would invite them when they are further along in their planning process.

She updated the council on the reconstruction project, indicating that the trenching of the highway will not open up an opportunity for installing a sewer main. Village President Keith Gunnett added, “I didn’t think we could put the pipes under a street made for heavy trucks anyway.”

Vicksburg manager proud of village’s finances

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg’s solid financial status and commitment to its taxpayers were brought up frequently during a presentation to the Village Council by Manager Jim Mallery Jan. 18.

During the 21-minute talk, Mallery described a range of people and projects that have put Vicksburg in a comfortable place to be envied by other municipalities.

“A consistent goal of the Village Council throughout my tenure being village manager has been to be a steward of fiscal obligations and to guard our village millage rate with utmost importance,” he said, adding that in July 2019, Vicksburg for the first time in its history lowered its millage rate. The reduction was nearly one-half of a mill.

Over the past four-plus years, Mallery said, the Council has adhered to a list of clear goals and objectives, centering on sound financial management and complete transparency.

“As a municipal manager, I understand it’s not my job, nor your expectation, that I am liked. Instead, I’m charged with the responsibility to make decisions that put our village first, and that I provide this council with information and data so that the majority can set the policy that we, as staff, are charged with executing,” he said.

Mallery said he has come to the conclusion that the Village Council, sub-units of government and the public are beginning to recognize what can be accomplished when a community the size of Vicksburg operates under a best-practice model of government.

He said he is proud that the village in the current and past four fiscal-year budgets has not presented any additional general-fund debt obligations.

Mallery touted the village’s transparency, its website and how the website features a financial-transparency section. Every dollar the village has committed to ongoing projects and their individual status is shown.

Looking ahead to major infrastructure needs, Mallery zeroed in on the village’s aging sewer system, a major undertaking which council members need to put on their radar. Some parts of the system date to the early 1940s.

“It is imperative that we have the municipality in the best financial shape possible to address the anticipated and predictable upgrades needed to serve our village in the 2020s,” he said.
Mallery singled out key people in the village who help make Vicksburg a strong municipality. An emotional Mallery thanked his wife, Stephanie, before he recognized individually the roster of village staff members.
“I have never been more confident that we will reach our expectations as well as the goal we have placed before us,” he said. “The future is definitely very bright for the village of Vicksburg.”
In other action, council members approved recipients of a Business Relief Grant. Sponsored largely by the Vicksburg Community Foundation, the $40,000 pool provides financial assistance to specific-category businesses that have suffered a financial loss due to COVIID-19.
Fourteen recipients were identified, though not mentioned by name during the meeting.
Mallery called it “a very unique and great opportunity” to support local businesses. He noted three qualifying businesses deferred accepting funds and instead asked their potential share go to neighboring businesses. Checks were to be delivered by Jan. 22.
Also, the council approved the social district application for Distant Whistle. It is the fifth of five village businesses to be a part of the designated area in which businesses can offer outdoor seating and patrons are allowed to carry a cup of alcohol from one business to another.
Paperwork for final approval was to be sent to the state by the end of January.
Council members also approved a 2021 meeting schedule. The seven-member panel will continue to meet at 7 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the month. Exceptions are June, July, August and September, when the council will meet once monthly.
Aug. 16 was identified as a potential date for a community celebration.

Eagles head back to volleyball semifinals…

By Mark Blentlinger

On Nov. 15, three days after the Schoolcraft volleyball team beat Kalamazoo Christian to win its fourth consecutive Regional Championship, the MHSAA made an announcement: Every fall sport was being put on a three-week pause, no competition and no practice. Volleyball had just three games left to complete the entire season – state quarter-finals, semi-finals and the state championship. MHSAA on Dec. 29 announced that the fall season could resume practice Jan. 4. With just eight days of practice after being idle for weeks, the Eagles would face off against Calvin Christian in the quarter-finals at Loy Norrix High School. Two days prior to the game it was announced 50 fans per team would be allowed.

In the Division 3 state quarter finals, Schoolcraft jumped out to an early lead of 5-0, over Grandville Calvin Christian, with Kelby Goldschmeding serving and showing some great defense. Calvin was able to close the gap slowly with some unforced errors by the Eagles. Neither team looked like it had missed a beat with the weeks of delay.

Both teams were making some tremendous defensive plays but the front line of the Eagles, consisting of Kayla Onken , Maggie Morris and Anna Schupel, just seemed too powerful for the Knights. The Eagles were able to take game one, 25-16. In game two, Calvin Christian was able to break out a lead on the Eagles 7-3, but a hard kill by Schupel led to a five-point rally. The Eagles put some great teamwork together to take the game, 25-17.

Game three was the deciding one. Either the Eagles would punch their ticket to Kellogg for the second straight year to play in the state semi-finals, or they’d play game four. The Eagles were working on a 10-point run before the Squires head Coach Amanda Bremmer called a time out to give her girls a chance to catch a breath and calm down. The Eagles had other plans. They began to strike back, keeping Calvin Christian on its heels. With the score sitting at 20-8 Eagles, another time out called by Calvin Christian gave the Eagles the little breather they needed.

Game three ended on Maggie Morris’ kill and a score of 25-12, sending the Eagles back to the semi-finals for the second year in a row.

…But fall to Monroe St. Mary Catholic

Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.

After their quarter-final win, the Eagles headed back to play at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena where they expected to play Valley Lutheran High School, a Saginaw team which defeated Royal Oak’s Shrine Catholic 3-0 in a Jan. 12 quarter-final. But 13 days before the scheduled match, Valley Lutheran was forced to forfeit the game due to a positive COVID test.

The Eagles continued to practice, following health guidelines.

For the second straight year, the Schoolcraft team prepared for a face-off with the Kestrels from Monroe St Mary Catholic Central. Last season’s championship had come down to a tie-breaker match that the Kestrels won 15-12. These two powerhouse teams first met in 2014; the Kestrels came out on top. The Eagles were hungry for payback.

Monroe started out tough in Set 1, stretching a 6-0 point run before Eagles Coach Onken called a timeout to give the team a breather. With a tremendous block by Anna Schupel, the Eagles were able to get some momentum, bringing the score up to 11-8 Kestrels. Monroe came back to add more points, stretching the score to 17-10. The Eagles found it hard to get a momentum going, especially at the net – the Kestrels front line blocked almost everything.

Set 1 belonged to the Kestrels as defense became a factor between these two teams. The Eagles came on late bringing the score closer, but the Kestrels won, 25-19.

Kelby Goldschmeding started off serving in Set 2, but the Eagles quickly fell behind 8-4. It seemed that wherever the Eagles hit the ball a Kestrel was there with a save. Soon, the Kestrels started to make some unforced errors, allowing the Eagles to work their way back a little. Unfortunately, the Eagles dropped Set 2, 25-14.

Set 3 was a championship set for Monroe St. Mary and a stay-alive set for Schoolcraft. The Eagles started with some success, making it 5-5. The Kestrels stretched the lead going on a 15-3 scoring streak, eventually defeating the Eagles 28-8 to claim back-to-back Division 3 titles.

Leading the Eagles was senior Maggie Morris with 9 kills, 2 digs, 2 blocks and an ace. Senior Anna Schupel added 6 kills and 2 blocks. Senior Kayla Onken had 3 kills, 15 assists, 6 digs, 1 block and 1 ace. Senior Allie Goldschmeding contributed 15 digs, 3 assists and Senior Kelby Goldschmeding added 15 digs and 3 assists.

Eagles win regional football championship…

Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.

By Mark Blentlinger

After defeating Lawton to claim a third straight district championship and enduring a six-week state-imposed delay, the Schoolcraft Eagles football team needed to get ready to face off against the Titans of Jackson Lumen Christi for the third time since 2016.

Jackson had pulled off a 37-34 win in the District Championship at Schoolcraft. In 2019 the Eagles traveled to Jackson to face the Titans for the Regional Championship. They lost, 30-35.
But 2020-21 was a different story, and just as exciting as the last two.

Playing at Macamly Field at Portage Central on a sunny day, the Eagles got their win and handed the Titans their first .500 season since 1988.

The first half of the game was a defensive battle; neither team saw the end zone until nine seconds before the end of the half when senior Alex Thole scored from 7 yards out. The extra point was wide and gave the Eagles a 6-0 lead going into halftime. A fumble from the Titans was recovered by the Eagles and led to a second score by Schoolcraft with a pass from Thole to Jimmy Downs. The 2-point conversion was successful from Brandon Newland to put the Eagles up 14-0. The Titans took just one play to add points off a 65-yard run from Basil Hampton. Jackson scored again, taking the game into the fourth quarter at 14-14.

With a perfect pass to Harmon DeVries, the Eagles opened it up to 21-14 – until Basil Hampton from Jackson took the ball 80 yards to the house and a 2-point conversion to give Jackson the lead, 22-21. After working their way down the field, sophomore Tagg Gott hit paydirt from 7 yards out. With a successful 2-point conversion pass to Harmon Devries, the Eagles took the lead again 29-22 with 5:53 showing on the clock. The Titans did everything they could to work their way down the field. On a long pass into the end zone from the Titans, senior Jett Gott stepped in front of the receiver to intercept the pass and seal the championship for the Eagles.

Coach Nathan Ferency told the team how proud he was by beating one of the best programs in the state of Michigan and earning the Eagles their first Regional Championship since 2001. He told the players and coaching staff to “enjoy this win for the day but tomorrow we are back at it and getting ready for the State Semi Finals.”

…But miss state championship

Four teams remained in the Division 7 hunt for the state football championship Jan. 16. One was Schoolcraft’s: The Eagles faced off against the Hornets of New Lothrop at Fenton High School.

The Eagles struck first, with senior Jimmy Downs taking the ball 87 yards down the sideline, the only score in the first quarter. But the Hornets went on a scoring streak and added three touchdowns combined with three two-point conversions. At halftime the Hornets led, 24-7.

With two more scores from the Hornets and a 36-7 lead, senior Jake Olvitt stepped in front of a pass, bringing some life back to the Eagles and making the score 36-13. In the fourth, Alex Thole found Harmon DeVries from five yards out. Jett Gott added the two-point conversion, bringing it yet closer at 36-21. That’s where the scored remained, sending the Hornets on to the Division 7 State Championship.

The Eagles ended the season at 9-2, scoring 441 points and allowing 170. The team secured its third straight district title and first regional title since the 2001 state championship team. The New Lothrop Hornets had not come that close to losing a game all season, scoring 485 points and only allowing 92. The Eagles will graduate 20 seniors this year.

Statistically, the game ended with the Eagles running 72 offensive plays to the Hornets’ 64. The Eagles netted 430 yards of total offense while the Hornets netted 456. Senior Alex Thole went 22/39 for 300 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Jimmy Downs carried the ball 6 times for 99 yards while sophomore Tagg Gott had nine carries for 37 yards. Jett Gott led the Eagle receiving corps with seven catches for 135 yards, Jimmy Downs had five for 67 and Harmon DeVries added three for 48 with one touchdown. Defensively, Brandon Newland led the Eagles with five tackles and Bryce VanderWeire had four with six assists and one tackle for loss.

Schoolcraft board addresses COVID-19 concerns

By Travis Smola

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic was a hot topic at the Schoolcraft board of education’s January meeting, where multiple teachers weighed in their opinions of the current situation.

The board approved a resolution that will mostly “stay the course” on what the district was already doing to address the pandemic. The elementary school is continuing a five-day-a-week a.m. and p.m. schedule.

The district recently had a positive case with a teacher. Board President Jennifer Gottschalk confirmed quarantine procedures and contact tracing had already been done and the schedule for the elementary will remain unchanged.

For the high school and middle school, they will continue to offer an SCS Online and KVIC (KRESA Virtual and Innovative Collaborative) instruction model option. However, they have since transitioned out of a full hybrid model to a face-to-face Tuesday through Friday full day schedule effective Jan. 25. Mondays will be left for teachers to work with online classes.

The board heard concerns from teachers at all three schools in open comment time prior to their decision. Most of the teachers thanked the board for its efforts during a trying school year and said they wanted to get back to face-to-face. But they were also concerned about class sizes and moving too quickly to return.

High school English teacher Kimberlee Klocke said contact tracing had been effective early on, but she had concerns about teachers having to use unpaid leave if quarantining more than once. She is also worried full classrooms could make social distancing more difficult.

“It concerns me that we could now end up with higher amounts of students and staff needing to go into quarantine,” Klocke said. “But we also need to consider what that could do for athletics and also our extracurricular activities.”

Fifth grade teacher Sheryl Peterson said the plan they agreed to before winter break was changed upon their return. She also expressed concerns about rushing students back before nailing down some more details.

“We’re not against moving towards a plan to bring our students back to school more,” Peterson said. “And maybe this is a good blueprint that’s been developed. But we haven’t had time to really hash it out.”

Fourth grade teacher and Kristin Caroselli , president of the Schoolcraft Education Association, said the teachers and district had agreed on some non-negotiable conditions that were not fully being honored after they returned from break, mainly dealing with social distancing concerns.

“We’re not surprised by this, we know this is coming and we want it to be better,” Caroselli said. “We want to be back in school. But we don’t want to be back in school in an environment that feels unsafe.”

Other concerns were raised about the second strain of the virus, how quickly teachers could get the vaccine, over-packed special education classes and concerns about bullying due to mask wearing.

Superintendent Rusty Stitt responded by thanking everyone for their concerns, noting that 2020 and COVID-19 have been the biggest challenge of his career.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” Stitt said.

Stitt praised the staff for its dedication and passion for the job and said that he’s been meeting with other superintendents weekly to discuss the issues at hand. He said Schoolcraft’s decision to go back is in line with other districts in the county. He noted that while they were moving forward with this plan, things were not “set in stone” and could change if it didn’t feel right.

New Trustee Adam Haley inquired into what a “worst-case scenario” would be for numbers of students and distances between them in classrooms at the middle school. Middle School Principal Dave Powers said he’s met with with Facilities/Technology Director James Weiss and custodial staff and found it may be up to 19 in some classrooms. However, he believes it will be in excess of three feet of social distancing.

There’s another factor that may come into play. “We are expecting that there will be some students who will still choose to be full virtual,” Powers said. “That is going to reduce that number in any section.”

Powers said they have not had many issues with social distancing, even during lunch periods, and that they have had few problems with children wearing masks. Schoolcraft is going to be mandating mask use for now.

The board discussed hiring new staff for the middle and high school to help with the extra workload on teachers. The district is hiring at least two for the middle school. However, High School Principal Matthew Dailey says they don’t anticipate doing that in his building. The creative solution is to better utilize two substitutes for the rest of the year and to add the option for a seventh hour class before or after regular school hours. Teachers would get overage pay for teaching this hour and it would have smaller class sizes to avoid overcrowding in other parts of the day. They could also possibly have teachers start taking classes during their planning period if they so choose.

If the district does need to hire more staff, Stitt said they aren’t expecting any issues because they are expecting to receive more COVID-19 relief money from the state that will cover the costs.

Vice President Jason Walther said he’s had discussions with other districts who have had experiences similar to Schoolcraft’s, of isolated cases with no cases of transmission at school. He said his own discussions with the health department on the issue indicate most transmissions happen on personal and holiday time.

“In my mind, COVID’s not going away. Yeah, we have a vaccine coming, but we’re going to be dealing with this for a lot longer and we have to get back to some sense of normalcy as fast as we can,” Walther said.

Stitt noted that the board must reconfirm its COVID response plans every month no matter what because of the way the situation keeps changing. He said he may bring the board together at short notice to make decisions if the schedule needs to be changed because they’re falling behind in preparations. Stitt said he wants to stay with a four-day schedule for now because it allows teachers the time they need to also work virtually.

“I struggle right now personally with that five-day, just because we may have to pivot out of it,” Stitt said.