Column: A fond farewell

Published 6:48 am Saturday, June 7, 2003

By Staff
With the close of each school year it hits me how many high school athletes I'll likely never see again.
My job consists, largely, of watching high school athletes throughout the school year and even some in the summer. But when those athletes reach the point of graduation, my job no longer allows me to track their progress on or off the field.
In my four years at the Niles Daily Star, I can remember only a handful of times I've seen local athletes competing beyond the high school level. It's not that there aren't plenty of former Niles, Brandywine and Buchanan athletes now competing in collegiate athletics, it's that I am responsible for the coverage of those high schools' sports and, therefore, cannot possibly attend many of even the most local college sporting events.
I have, on many occasions, wanted to catch a Central Michigan basketball game so I could see Niles graduate Gerrit Brigitha in action. Fortunately, his team played in two NCAA Tournament games this season and I was able to see them on television. That, however, is the only time I've seen him play since he graduated from Niles.
There are many other athletes like Brigitha who I've wanted to see but simply couldn't.
Brigitha was also part of a special graduating class--the class of 2000. He was just one of the many outstanding athletes who took the next step in their academic and athletic careers and left Niles in the process.
This year, like in 2000, Niles and I will bid farewell to another special class. It is also the first class I have seen for the entirety of their high school careers. They were at the end of their eighth grade year when I first arrived in Niles and I was blessed to be able to see them become high school athletes as freshmen.
When I think of the class of 2003, my first thoughts are of the special group of female athletes at Brandywine.
In the last three years, the Lady Bobcats have won many district titles, several regional titles and made it to the Final Four in three different sports, winning one state title.
Jessica Keeton will wrap up her career at Brandywine as the only female athlete to play in a Final Four in three different sports. She was part of the basketball team that went to the state semifinals in 2000, the softball team that won the state title in 2001 and the volleyball team that made it to the Final Four in 2003. Now, as a member of the current varsity softball team, she still has a chance to play in another Final Four.
Joining Keeton as members of that special group are Nakisha Washington, Lauren Heyn, Brittany Bennett, Lacey Hutchings, Nikki Smith, Carrie Cooper and Stephanie Daus. Each has enjoyed success in several sports and all have been to at least one Final Four.
There are many other impressive athletes who I will miss watching on a nightly basis.
At Niles, names like Rachael Storm, Andy Brandstatter, Brooks Bonner and Ryne Dowling come to mind first.
Storm has been a staple on the varsity basketball team which won districts in each of her years on the squad. She also led the Vikings to a regional title this past year.
Brandstatter represents a turnaround in the Niles football program. From his linebacker position, he led the Vikings to back-to-back playoff berths for the first time in school history.
Bonner and Dowling seem inseparable to me because not only are they similar in size, both about 6-4, but play in all the same sports. They will be sorely missed by the football, basketball and baseball teams.
At Brandywine, the Harris twins--Ryan and Brandon--stick out as athletes I will miss watching. They were perennial overachievers for the basketball team and were a big part of the football team's playoff berth this past season.
Buchanan is also graduating several standouts. The first one to come to mind is Brandon Godsey. It seems he has been around forever, but that's because he played on the varsity basketball and baseball teams for four years. Classmate Eric Brelowski did the same thing and both also excelled at fall sports--soccer for Godsey and golf for Brelowski.
Tiffany Griffin and Tia Perry are the two female athletes I will miss most at Buchanan. Griffin is another athlete who played nothing but varsity sports, including basketball, volleyball and softball. Perry's growth into a two-time All-State basketball player was particularly fun to watch.
And who could forget Bryce Coward? After playing No. 2 singles behind his older brother as a freshman, he took over the Bucks' top spot as a sophomore and became the most successful tennis player in southwest Michigan history. He topped off his career with the No. 1 singles state title this year and his prowess will be missed now that he has graduated.
These are just a few of the athletes who have made this year's graduating class fun to watch over the past four years. There are too many to mention all of them, but please be assured the I feel all of them are worth mentioning.
I hope, against likelihood, that I will get the chance to see some of these athletes in the future. Whether competing for a college team or at any other level, seeing them again would be an honor, as it has been to cover their careers these past four years.