My first ‘chainsaw’

By David Schriemer, M.D.

Operating a chainsaw is a small-town rite of passage into manhood. There is a primal relationship between men and their chainsaws. A well-sharpened chainsaw cutting through wood like butter soothes and satisfies the soul.

When we bought a home in Vicksburg in 1989, many of our trees needed pruning. My father and my older brother Dale came down to help. My father owned the chainsaw. He was not about to let his 30-year-old and 38-year-old sons use it because “It’s too dangerous!” My father began cutting using his criteria of cutting any limb his 6-foot 3-inch frame could reach. It was a wet, drizzly Saturday. My dad cut a branch but it got hung up in other branches and vines. He set the chainsaw down and let it idle. He grabbed the branch, pulled hard, slipped and fell on all fours with the blade of the chainsaw directly under his chest. It would have made a perfect sternotomy scar had he fallen another 10 inches. He looked up, surprised and somewhat exhilarated: “That was close!” My brother leaned over to me and said, “That’s why Dad doesn’t worry about retirement. He’s not going to have one.” My brother and I never touched the chainsaw. Apparently we were not ready.

About 10 or 15 years ago I needed to trim some branches off a pear tree in my front yard. My neighbor, friend and former partner graciously offered to help. He came down the street with his chainsaw. Not wanting to give up all the fun, he did the cutting himself. I wondered again when I would be deemed worthy of operating a chainsaw.

My office staff hearing me repeatedly bemoan my fate of never being allowed to operate a chainsaw knew they had to take action. At Christmas, they gifted me with my own chainsaw. This is what they gave me (pictured below).

I hope to get a Carhartt jacket this year.

My First Job

By Marilyn Jones,
Schoolcraft’s Poet Laureate

Back in February, 1942
I was an inexperienced fifteen,
Naïve, slender, lithe and strong
And thought I could do anything
Know what I mean?

I saw an ad for “Help Wanted”
A chance to earn a little money,
At 60 an hour, I was enthused
(I got 10 an hour for baby-sitting)
The boss said, “You’re hired, honey!”

I showed up promptly at 5 o’clock
After wading through slush and snow,
We walked everywhere in those days
Life wasn’t easy, I want you to know.

I wore slacks, a sweater and saddle shoes
A narrow board, was where I could sit,
Very soon, I learned to pull my legs up
Still…once in a while I got hit.

The noise was like a freight train
Rumble, rumble, rumble, CRASH!
Then I jumped down, and set ‘em up
And threw that heavy ball down the chute
Darned hard work for a little cash.

Over and over, up and down
This wasn’t any fun at all,
Bending, stooping, squatting, lifting
I trudged home at eleven, wanting to bawl.

I managed to stick it out for three weeks
There was never a moment to dally,
Yes, before electronics took over
I was a pin-setter at the bowling alley!

Vicksburg teachers frustrated, exhausted, board told

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools Board of Education fielded COVID-19-related concerns from staff members at its Oct. 12 meeting.

The board’s first in-person meeting since spring was simulcast on YouTube.

Vicksburg Education Association representative Kelly MacDonnell told board members the staff is frustrated and mentally exhausted to the point that some long-time district employees are resigning.

“The high level of vigilance your teachers and your already-overworked custodians are operating under to help protect our students and one another every day is so mentally taxing, it is almost indescribable,” she said. “We beg you to recognize the need for more counselors and now more custodians. We need action for the safety of our students and our staff, not just a smile, not just some hollow words of thanks from time to time.”

She said it’s the consensus of the district’s teachers that they do not feel safe in the current work environment. “The simple act of asking if your leadership represents those you lead is such a simple yet effective leadership strategy,” she said.

High school teacher Jennifer Rodas, Vicksburg Education Association president, noted that the few people who addressed the board were speaking for the majority. She said union members do their homework, communicate with each other, make sure their position is clear and that their concerns are real.

“Even though you may only hear a few of us speaking, it’s because we’re protected under our positions … there are others who wish they could speak up but they cannot for fear of punishment,” she said. “Please don’t take that there are only a few of us speaking on behalf of the VEA every time doesn’t mean that we’re not speaking on behalf of the entire association.”

Rodas elaborated on the demands she and her peers face as a result of in-person teaching this fall. For starters, she said she uses her prep hour to change the activities taught in person over to virtual.

She continued, adding that there are “so many moving parts to this VCS virtual that are challenging and frustrating.”

“I’m logging into Google meetings trying to share my screen, make sure I’m unmuted, make sure that I have the right screen going, make sure I’m logged in to the right Google meeting, make sure that I’m cleaning my desks, making sure students are wearing their masks, making sure that they’re social distancing,” she said. “These are things that we’re struggling with every single day. Our job is normally an eight-hour day plus we’re working at home grading … it’s just not sustainable.”

She said not until the board has “real discussion,” and recognizes the challenges and struggles teachers are facing will teachers feel valued and that they’re being heard.

Rodas said she was at a point in the school year where she had started entering grades. Some virtual students who had not logged in for a number of weeks suddenly realized they are failing. Rodas said she now has to prioritize assisting those students.

“Our virtual teachers at the elementary – one of which … has resigned because the working conditions are unsustainable. We’re losing teachers,” she said. “We lost three in the last week and a half … we’re overworked, we’re getting burned out early.”

Rodas asked the board to consider hiring more virtual teachers at the elementary level, recognize the compromised working conditions, and treat teachers with kindness, patience and respect.

Two additional people spoke and expressed similar concerns about working conditions.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill disputed the claim that not everyone has protection to speak candidly before the board.

“Everyone has the same protection regardless of your position,” he said. “To hear the word retribution, again, when no one has ever experienced retribution for stating their opinions or concerns … I’m still concerned why that comes out. We truly understand the struggles, we’ve been recognizing those.”

Schoolcraft board addresses parent concerns on instruction in pandemic

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education fielded comments from several residents concerned about the district’s educational plans during the pandemic.

Kory Bienz said he was asked to speak for approximately 40-50 families in the community who want to go back to a fully face-to-face education model. “They want to know what the plan is,” he said at the meeting, once again held virtually via Zoom.

He said that other districts like Mendon, Colon and Constantine went back to a fully face-to-face instruction model on day one of the school year. While Bienz said he recognizes the teachers and administration have been putting in countless work hours, he also believes the hybrid model currently in place is not going to work for students in the long run. Bienz also expressed concerns about long term consequences of Schoolcraft remaining in this model.

“If all these other schools are face-to-face and Schoolcraft isn’t, there’s going to be families that leave the school district and that’s concerning, obviously, because that’s where we get most of our funding,” Bienz said.

Jen Rykse’s words echoed Bienz’s. She also expressed concerns about sending children back to school wearing masks.

“We are kind of all in agreement that our children learn best face-to-face. We want to get them back in the schools,” Rykse said. “Obviously we want to do it as safe as possible, but I know we’re one of the last districts to do it.”

Superintendent Rusty Stitt directly addressed the parent concerns during his report to the board, noting that they will be looking into it and will have a recommendation to the board by Nov. 9 about how to proceed.

“These are trying times for us all,” Stitt said. “It seems like every minute the rules change. Again, this is from Rusty Stitt’s perspective; we don’t know what executive order, if there’s an executive order, what’s local, what’s state and ongoing. So, it’s very challenging. Please note, and I know that you do, that the safety and well-being of our kids is of the utmost importance.”

Stitt said he does support getting back to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible. He also said that they are now required to report on their website the number of cases in the district. The district has had one case of the virus in a student at the middle school.

Trustee Jill Hunt also addressed some of the parental concerns at the meeting. She called for the community to be patient as the situation develops.

“Some of us are ready to have our kids back in school full-time and some of us aren’t comfortable with that, so we have to be mindful of everyone’s opinion on this virus and the fear that they have,” Hunt said. “This includes the staff and especially the teachers. Some are onboard with being in school and some are still really fearful of that, so as our community pushes our teachers, just please don’t push too hard. Because they have families too, they have situations and they feel a particular way as far as the coronavirus goes. So there’s no one size fits all on this, we’re going to try our best to do what we can to make everybody happy. But we will never make everybody happy. So, please bear with us as we go through these unprecedented times.”

Middle school Principal Dave Powers echoed Hunt’s comments about patience. He said the situation is hitting close to home at the middle school and because he has a friend whose son has contracted COVID-19 for a second time this year. Powers said previous experiences visiting with students or parents of students in hospitals and funeral homes was humbling.

“They don’t teach you about or prepare you for those kinds of scenarios as you head into leadership and into education,” Powers said. “To have to face that and what could be the potential outcome of those situations is beyond words.”

While he is hopeful for a return to normal, he said he also wants to err on the side of caution for safety of both students and staff.

“I don’t want to visit one more student in a hospital or one more funeral home in my career – which I don’t have a ton of it left, but I don’t want any more of that for anybody and their families,” Powers said.

Board President Jennifer Gottschalk also called for parents to be patient as they work through the process. She said she does not want to rush things as they follow the data and work with the health department.

“We’re going to follow the rules all the way along and we’re not going to skip steps in the process,” Gottschalk said. “Stick with us and we will get there. We’re not going to speed through this. Let’s take our time and get it right.”

With few losses, Eagle volleyball on a roll

By Mark Blentlinger

With a record of 28-2, the Schoolcraft Volleyball Team is spiking its way through opponent after opponent. The team has lost only to Portage Central and Lakewood (Lake Odessa), ranked No. 1 in division 2. Coach Erin Onken said, “We are having fun and improving daily. Consistency in our play continues to rise and we are looking forward to postseason action starting soon”

The Eagles have hosted Delton, Kalamazoo Hackett, Galesburg and Coloma. They also held a Quad tournament that included No. 1 ranked Mendon in Division 4, No. 2 Ranked Lakewood in Division 2 and Mattawan, which is not ranked this season.

The home match vs Delton resulted in the Eagles winning 25-10, 25-8, 25-11. Kalamazoo Hackett, hoping to be competitive, was next, but Schoolcraft did not allow the Irish to flex too much muscle, shutting them down with scores of 25-13, 25-12, 25-11. The Rams of Galesburg also fell in three, 25-8, 25-8, 25-6. The Coloma Comets came into the gym to face the mighty Eagles. They fell 25-10, 25-9, 25-8.

With a win over Constantine 25-21, 25-22, 25-15, the Eagles secured the SAC Conference Valley Championship, but the games didn’t stop. The Eagles next headed to Battle Creek Lakeview for another quad tournament where they came out victors, beating Portage Northern, Cass Tech and Lakeview.

While the Eagles’ defense stands out, the team is playing very aggressively on both sides of the net. The team leaders are the ever cool and collected. Libro Kelby Goldschmeding has 419 digs this season, followed by her sister Allie Goldschmeding with 301. Onken says, “Allie is a primary passer and a dominant right-side defender.” Kayla Onken rounds out the top three in digs with 284. Offensely, Anna Schuppel leads with .558 hitting efficiency, boasting 241 kills. Leading the team in kills is Maggie Morris with 299.

The Eagles are Ranked No. 2 in Division 3, right behind No. 1 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. These 2 teams could end up seeing each other for the third time and second straight year in the Division 3 state championships.

Schoolcraft Eagles soar into playoffs

By Mark Blentlinger

With the MHSAA cutting team play to six games in the 2020 football season, every team will compete in the district championships. The regular season allowed teams to stretch their legs, but the Eagles stretched their wings. The Eagle offense has picked apart opposing defenses with pin-point passes from senior signal caller Alex Thole, allowing his receivers many yards, all supported by a powerful running game.

The Eagles have won the SAC Conference Valley Championship. Offensively, the team has scored 250 points, allowing opponents only 85, with 42 of those points coming from the trip to Chelsea which gave the Eagles their only loss of this season. The Eagles have accumulated 2,271 total yards of offense, while allowing the defense just 1,190 total yards.

Schoolcraft’s only loss during the regular season, 42-21, came at the hands of Divison 3 Chelsea, a much larger school compared to the Division 7 Eagles.

Thole and the offensive attack still had 337 yards with 301 coming through the air. It took until the second quarter before the visitor side of the scoreboard added points with a 32-yard interception by Jimmy Downs. Alex Thole went 19/38 on passes, with three interceptions and two touchdowns. Sophomore Tagg Gott led the Eagle rushing attack with seven attempts for 28 yards.

Regular season ended with the Eagles winning the last three games. First was at Saginaw High School where the Eagles blanked the Trojans 55-0, keeping Saginaw to 18 yards of offense. Lawton then visited Roy Davis field with the hopes that the Blue Devils could end a three-game losing streak to the Eagles; however, Coach Ferency and the team kept Lawton to 14 points while scoring 45 for the home team with 452 total yards of offense. Thole went 11/22 for 189 yards, the first game since his sophomore year in which he didn’t throw a touchdown pass. Tagg Gott lead the ground attack with 19 carries for 137 yards and three touchdowns. Jimmy Downs had four catches for 105 yards, with Harmon DeVries snagging three for 44 yards.

For the last game before districts, the Eagles visited the Panthers of Delton Kellogg for a drizzly, cold game on the Panther’s new turf. The Eagles had 351 total yards, with 151 in the air and 200 on the ground. Leading the attack was Tagg Gott again with nine rushes for 85 yards. Thole had 10 rushes for 68 yards and a touchdown. Jimmy Downs followed up with five touches for 24 yards, hitting paydirt three times. Senior Jett Gott led the defense with five tackles and four assists. Fellow senior Carl Taylor added five tackles and six assists.

Post season has started throughout the state. The Schoolcraft team trounced Galesburg’s Rams, 53-6, on Oct. 30.

Athletic director talks limited event attendance

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft Athletic Director Jeff Clark briefly spoke about attendance at sporting events in response to the coronavirus pandemic at the Schoolcraft board of education meeting.

Clark noted that he has spoken with the MHSAA and the health department on the issue. The MHSAA put out guidelines allowing for up to 1,000 people at events, but only if facilities allow that – and Schoolcraft’s do not. The district will allow 30% capacity at outdoor venues and 20% capacity at indoor ones.

Tickets will be prioritized to each parent of a student athlete. If a family is separated with divorced parents, they will be able to get four tickets if they need them. After parents, priority shifts to student spectators starting with seniors first, juniors second.

Clark noted that capacity at Roy Davis Stadium is 480 fans under the rules and that attendance must be split between home and visiting teams – 240 for each team. For volleyball, the limit will be 280 fans and for the upcoming basketball seasons only 180 will be allowed in. Clark said this is due to the configuration of the bleachers and the court.

He said they will continue to stream sporting events live via YouTube for anyone who can’t attend in person.

Schoolcraft’s equestrian team improves

Senior Annabelle Ledlow and her horse.

Over the past three years, the Schoolcraft High Equestrian Team has improved, increasing placings and points in its division. This year, the Class B team, coached by Christine Rosey since May 2018, produced enough points to challenge the second-place qualifying team, missing qualifying for regionals by just three points. This may be the best performance Schoolcraft’s team has had.

Three seniors have completed their high school equestrian career: Katelynn Delaney, Annabelle Ledlow and Alana Reed. Delaney, a determined showmanship competitor and rider, faced challenges with her horse’s health, limiting her competitions in the past two years. Ledlow has won high point district awards multiple times and has been the team’s high point award winner for the past two years, all the while competing on two of the most challenging horses on the team. Reed attends many horse shows and fairs, excelling at jumping. All three contributed to the success of this year’s team.

Looking to next year, Rosey states that she has talented riders coming up from the middle school, as well as returning underclassmen Mariah Flynn, Brooklyn Hamelink, Clara Ledlow, Ridley Reed and Faith Westfall.

Rosey is proud of her team and optimistic for the team’s future. She also discusses the bigger picture, stressing that being part of an equestrian team teaches important life lessons like “responsibility, emotional control, self-discipline and time management.” She teaches her young competitors, “You can do whatever you set your mind to if you don’t give up.”

Vicksburg football blanks Otsego 38-0

The Bulldogs celebrate a job well done.

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg varsity football team blasted by Otsego in the annual “battle of the Bulldogs” with a 38-0 shutout to bring their regular season record to 4-2.

“I thought we played probably our most complete game all year on both sides of the ball,” Head Coach Tom Marchese said, “tackling, blocking and just making some plays when we had to do it.”

Vicksburg started off that complete game on a strong statement of an opening drive. Jacob Conklin capped off the drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target, Toby Stock. It was the second of eight receptions Stock had in the game. Seven of those catches came in the first half alone. For a while it seemed that Otsego had no one covering him.

“They were playing off him a lot, so we took what they give him,” Marchese said. “That’s the good thing about Conklin being a third-year starter; you know it doesn’t always have to be the home run or the deep ball, he can give it to the guy 10 yards downfield and he makes something running, so that was pretty good.”

Conklin also scored twice in the game using his legs, first on a four-yard run with four minutes left in the first half and again on a designed 13-yard QB keeper in the third. Conklin also tossed a second touchdown to Breckin Burdette, a 20-yarder on a fourth down and eight that was just outside of field goal range.

Vicksburg also had arguably its strongest game of the year running the ball. Elijah Bombich and Xavier Wadley took turns plowing through the Otsego defense all evening, churning yards and chewing up clock. Bombich carried the ball 12 times and Wadley seven times. Bombich finally found the endzone from one yard in the game’s final minute.

“Up front and offensively, I thought we played one of our better, more complete games up front blocking,” Marchese said.

Kyler Dean missed two extra points in the contest, but he also connected on two field goals from 20 and 23 yards out to help give the team a well-rounded performance on special teams. The defense made an especially strong showing, forcing two turnovers on downs. Burdette had an interception that he nearly turned into a pick-six, and Vicksburg also recovered a late fumble to stop a late Otsego drive.

“I thought defensively we ran to the ball like no other,” Marchese said. “We did a really good job keeping (Ashton) Atwater at check because he’s a really good back.”

All four of Vicksburg’s wins this year were shutouts and all were by at least 30 points. Their two losses came against Edwardsburg in the season opener and against Paw Paw in a tough home loss.

Bulldog tennis comes up short in conference meet

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg varsity tennis team had a strong year but came up just short against Edwardsburg in District play to end the season. Previously, Head Coach Warner Offord had hoped the team had a chance at going to state.

“We had the opportunity, but we let it slip away,” Offord said.

The team had a good start to the season and down the stretch picked up a 7-1 win over Paw Paw on Sept. 23 before losing to Saint Joseph and Stevensville Lakeshore six days later.

Against the Eddies in District play, sophomore Jackson Bowles was the lone Bulldog to pick up a win, beating his Vicksburg opponent 6-3, 6-2 in the No. 2 singles. Senior Zachary Myers lost the No. 1 singles 6-1, 6-2. Senior Andrew Reno lost 6-0, 6-2 in the No. 3 singles and Jorge Cortes lost 6-3, 6-3 in the No. 4 singles.

In doubles play, Conner Rugg and Gage Stenger won by default in the No. 4 singles. Sean Kelly and Drake Steele lost 6-1, 7-6 in the No. 1 doubles. Ben Dilly and Thomas Harsha lost 6-0, 6-2 in the No. 2 doubles. Gage Bainter and Logan Schwenk put up a fight against the Eddies, but ultimately fell 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

It wasn’t the season Offord or the boys had hoped for, but there were some bright spots along the way. Offord was awarded Boys Regional 3-18 Coach of the Year by the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association. While he was excited to receive this honor, he’s already looking forward to next year, even if he anticipates it being a rebuilding year due to the loss of multiple seniors.

“It is what it is,” Offord said. “We’ll just have to wait for next year. I just hope the guys play a lot over the winter break and we can get better for next year.”