The Imlay City boys’ soccer team takes time out after winning a district title in 2020.


TRI-CITY AREA — This past year was one like no other, that point is indisputable. Here is a look at the top high school sports stories of 2020 along with a few others we think deserve honorable mention recognition:

1) The spring sports season is called off (April 8 issue).

The Michigan High School Athletic Association canceled the remainder of the 2019 winter and spring sports seasons last Thursday. They opted to make the decision in compliance the last “state of disaster” directive by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s closing school buildings and moving education online for the remainder of the school year to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

It marked the first school year to not see MHSAA finals played in multiple sports since 1942-43 when World War II led to the elimination of finals in most sports.

March 12 saw the MHSAA suspend its girls’ and boys’ basketball, girls’ gymnastics, boys’ ice hockey and boys’ swimming and diving tournaments amid COVID-19 concerns. All activity in all sports was halted March 13. Spring sports to that point had started practice but had yet to begin competition.

MHSAA Director Mark Uyl did not downplay the significance of the move, unprecedented in most of our lifetimes.

“We understand as much as anyone how much school sports mean to athletes and their communities,” Uyl said. “We had ideas and hopes for finishing winter and spring and helping bring some normalcy after this long break,” he noted.

“This is the correct decision and we will play our part in bringing schools and communities together again when the time is right.”

Because the five winter sports were not able to conclude with finals, no championships were awarded in those sports for 2019-20. However, championships won at the earlier rounds of those tournaments (district and regional) will continue to stand.

2) Tri-City grapplers place a total of three times at the state wrestling finals (March 11 issue).

Almont 103-pounder Dallas Stanton and 140-pounder Mathew Dwyer earned placewinning performances versus Division 3 foes and Imlay City 285-pounder Joe Harper claimed one against Division 2 counterparts last Saturday at the individual wrestling state finals.

Ford Field, in Detroit, is where the action unfolded.

Imlay City heavyweight Joe Harper battles a mat counterpart during the Division 2 state finals at Ford Field. Harper claimed a seventh-place finish.

Stanton had the best showing among the grapplers mentioned, bringing home a second-place finish at 103 pounds.

He reached his weight division’s title match where he fell 16-1 to Dundee’s Braeden Davis.

Stanton finished the season at 42-6.

Dwyer took third at 140 pounds, closing out his tournament run with a 2-1 win against Flint Powers foe Connor Owens.

He wrapped up the season at 43-11.

Harper headlined for Imlay City at the Division 2 event, contributing a second.

He advanced to the title tilt where he dropped an 8-2 verdict to Mason’s Jack Gilchrist.

Harper ended the season at 49-2.

For their performance Stanton, Dwyer and Harper earned All-State accolades.

3) A pair of Almont golfers excel at the Division 4 state finals (October 21 issue).

Brandi Kautz shot an 81 over 18 holes en route to a two-way tie for fifth place, leading the way for the Almont girls’ golf team at the Division 4 state finals last Saturday.

Forest Akers West Golf Course, in East Lansing, served as the tournament venue.

Kautz’s impressive outing began with an opening nine of 40.

She then followed it up with a 41, leaving her with an 81 total at round’s end.

For her performance, Kautz earned All-State status (given to the low 10 scorers) that day.

Jesse Hellebuyck rounded out Almont’s two-golfer contingent at states, nearly attaining a top-ten showing as well.

She finished the day with an 87, including an opening nine of 39 and a closing nine of 48. That paved the way to an 11th-place showing.

4) The Imlay City girls’ basketball team reaches the regional title game (March 18 issue).

Imlay City cruised to a convincing 51-32 victory over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook in a Division 2 regional basketball confrontation on Tuesday, March 10.

Goodrich High School is where the action unfolded.

The outcome placed Imlay City in the regional championship where it was to square off versus Lake Fenton.

However, that game was never contested as MHSAA tournament play was halted in the days that followed.

Weeks later, the rest of the winter sports season was called off.

Imlay City wrapped up their campaign as owners of an impressive 20-3 mark.

5) The Dryden volleyball team reaches the Division 4 regional championship match (November 18 issue).

The Dryden volleyball team gave Ubly their best shot, only to drop a 24-26, 17-25, 19-25 verdict in a Division 4 regional championship battle last Thursday night.

Mayville High School is where the match was contested.

With the decision, Dryden watches an outstanding 21-5 campaign reach an endpoint.

“What a year it was for us,” Dryden Coach Christopher Schenkel said. “I could not be more proud of this team and their accomplishments this season,” he noted. “It may have ended a little earlier than we had hoped for but they still have so much to be proud of since Dryden has not gone to the regional finals since 1993, making this a huge accomplishment for them,” he noted.

“I just kept telling the girls to leave it all on the court, play every point as it is their last and just have fun playing the sport you all love playing.”

6) The Imlay City boys’ soccer team advances to the Division 2 regional championship matchup (November 4 issue).

Imlay City watched their outstanding 2020 campaign draw to a close with a 7-1 setback to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook’s soccer team in a Division 2 regional championship confrontation last Thursday.

Brandon High School is where the action unfolded.

With the result, Imlay City sees a 13-2 season reach an endpoint.

“We played a great team today,” Imlay City Coach Luis Hernandez commented. “The boys played really hard and never gave up,” he noted.

“We had a very good season and finished as BWAC and district champions. With a team full of sophomores we are hoping to get back next season ready to go and show that this team is ready for bigger things.”

7) Dryden basketball player Jack Kaplan scores his 1,000th career point (February 19 issue).

Dryden claimed a 60-51 road win against Mayville in a North Central Thumb League varsity boys’ basketball matchup on Tuesday, February 11.

With the result, Dryden improves to 11-3 and 6-2.

Jack Kaplan, a junior, led Dryden with 26 points that evening. He went over the 1,000-point mark for his career with a successful free throw during quarter number four.

Kaplan’s career point total now stands at 1,001 heading in to a Friday, February 14 road clash versus Kingston.

8) The high school football season is called off, then is reinstated with a six-game regular season (August 19 and September 9 issue).

After months of speculation, a decision about the fall high school football campaign has finally been made.

Last Friday the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced that the 2020 fall football season will be moved to Spring 2021 instead.

The football season switch was based on consultation with state health department officials and after surveying MHSAA member schools after the first four days of practice. Football is considered a high-risk sport for the potential spread of COVID-19 because of the level of player to player contact.

A few weeks later, football was reinstated by the Michigan High School Athletic Association to their traditional fall sports season. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 176 lifted restrictions that previously did not allow that sport to be played.

Prior to that, girls’ golf, boys’ and girls’ cross country and boys’ tennis were the only sports that were allowed to compete.

Other fall sports such as boys’ soccer and girls’ volleyball were added to that list in the weeks that followed.

The volleyball and football postseasons were halted in November and should be completed next month.

9) Capac bowler Kayden Braun excels at the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 Singles Bowling State Championship (March 11 issue)

Capac’s Kayden Braun claimed a second-place finish last Saturday at the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 Singles Bowling State Championship.

Jax 60, in Jackson, is where the action unfolded.

Braun wrapped up his six-game qualifying block with a 1,205 total, the ninth best score amassed. His effort included a 205, 158, 207, 176, 214 and 245.

That landed him a spot among the final 16 bowlers.

It was there he advanced to the championship encounter where Jonesville’s Logan Teubert provided the opposition.

When the final scores were tallied, Teubert prevailed 369-349.

10) The Almont and Imlay City football teams participate in the state playoffs (November 4 and 11 issues)

Almont kicked off their Division 5 playoff run with a 28-0 win at visiting Ovid-Elsie’s expense last Friday.

A week later, Almont watched their postseason path wrap up with a 28-0 loss to Frankenmuth in district semifinal action.

With the outcome, Almont finishes their season at 3-3.

Imlay City, meanwhile, drew Cros-Lex as their opening round playoff assignment.

It was there Imlay City put up a good fight, only to drop a 40-26 verdict to Cros-Lex in a Division 4 matchup.

Imlay City sees a 4-3 season reach an endpoint.

Honorable mention

Almont grappler Maria Stanton takes third at the MWA High School Girls’ State Championship (February 5 issue).

Almont freshman Maria Stanton turned in a placewinning performance at the MWA High School Girls’ State Championship last Sunday.

Adrian College is where the action unfolded.

Competing in the 97-pound weight class, Stanton earned a third-place finish.

The Imlay City varsity girls’ basketball team wins a Division 2 district title (March 11 issue).

The Imlay City varsity girls’ basketball team saw to it that their postseason path would continue a bit longer, rolling to a 43-29 victory over Marysville in a Division 2 district championship matchup last Friday night.

It marked the first district title for Imlay City since the 2005 campaign.

The Imlay City girls’ cross country team wins a Division 2 pre-regional meet (October 28 issue).

The Imlay City girls’ cross country squad saw to it that their season would last a bit longer, claiming a first-place last Saturday at a Division 2 pre-regional hosted by Lutheran North High School.

Imlay City’s pacesetting total was 34 points.

Jessica Denver, first, 19:47; led Imlay City that day

The Almont girls’ golf team wins the BWAC title (September 30 issue).

Brandi Kautz shot a career-best 75 over 18 holes and Jesse Hellebuyck carded an 88 on the way to second medalist distinction as the Almont girls’ golf team earned a first-place finish Monday at the Blue Water Area Conference Tournament.

Holly Meadows Golf Course, in Capac, served as the tournament venue.

Hannah Revoldt and Maggie Henige rounded out the winning Almont attack. Revoldt finished with a 98 and Henige chipped in a 109.

The Dryden boys’ basketball team reaches the district title game (March 18 issue).

Dryden pulled out a 44-33 victory over visiting Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes in a Division 4 boys’ district basketball semifinal encounter last Wednesday night.

With the outcome, Dryden improves to 15-6 this season.

Dryden was to have faced Clarkston Everest Collegiate for district honors, but the season was halted and never resumed.

The Imlay City girls’ basketball team wins the Blue Water Area Conference title (February 26 issue).

Imlay City saw to it that they would clinch the Blue Water Area Conference title outright, accomplishing the feat with a 42-20 triumph against visiting Armada in a varsity girls’ basketball encounter last Friday night.

It marked the first time since the 1999 campaign Imlay City has earned the distinction of league champion.

The Capac wrestling team nabs a share of the GTC title (February 12 issue).

The Capac wrestling team claimed a second-place finish last Saturday at the Greater Thumb Conference Tournament hosted by Memphis High School.

With their showing, Capac (which won the dual portion of the conference standings) shares the title with tournament champion Caro.

It marked Capac’s first league championship since 1999.

Imlay City grappler Joe Harper registers a pair of mat milestones (February 19 issue).

Imlay City senior wrestling standout Joe Harper reached a pair of milestones last Saturday at a Division 2 individual wrestling district in Fenton.

Harper, who competes at 285 pounds, notched his 150th career win and 100th career pin when he stopped Pontiac’s Martine Jacobe with 1:02 elapsed during their championship bout.

The Almont boys’ bowling team competes at the Division 3 bowling state finals (March 18 issue).

The Almont boys bowling team generated an 11th-place finish last Friday at the Division 3 state finals.

Jax 60, in Jackson, is where the action unfolded.

Almont advanced to the state finals with a second the previous Friday at a Division 3 regional.

Strikers, in Richmond, is where the tournament was contested.

Capac bowler Adam Savage wins a regional title (March 4 issue).

Capac’s Adam Savage amassed a 1,347 output over six games, good for first place last Saturday at Division 3 individual bowling regional.

Strikers, in Richmond, is where the action unfolded.

Almont grappler Gavin Dempz collects his 100th career win (January 8 issue).

Almont senior 130-pounder Gavin Dempz notched his 100th career win last Saturday at the Imlay City Tournament.

He accomplished the feat when he pinned Brandon’s Nicholas Laskie 34 seconds into their bout, his second that day.

Imlay City grappler Dakota Sandzik gets his 100th career victory (January 15 issue).

Imlay City junior Dakota Sandzik registered his 100th career victory last Saturday at the Mayville Tournament.

The milestone came in his fifth and final bout that day. It was there he pinned Mayville’s Abigale Gonzalez with 57 seconds gone.

Kevin Kissane has been covering high school sports for the Tri-City Times since 1985. When not standing on a field or court with his camera and notepad, he enjoys golf, travel and family. Kevin is a 1980 graduate of Capac High School, and is also a grad of St. Clair Community College and earned a degree in journalism from Central Michigan University.