Top 10 stories of 2022: Stories 10 through 8

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, December 28, 2022

NILES — It was another banner year in sports for the six high schools in the Leader Publications coverage area.

From state championship runs to the world coming to southwest Michigan for one of the biggest sporting events ever hosted at RedBud MX, here is a look at the top 10 stories for 2022.

Today’s installment will feature stories 10 through eight. Stories seven through five will appear online at leaderpub.com on Thursday and stories fourth through two on Friday.

The No. 1 story of the year will be revealed on Saturday, the same day that the entire top 10 list appears in the printed edition of the newspapers.

The Niles football team qualified for the state playoffs for only the second time since 2003. (Leader file photo)

No. 10: Niles football qualifies for postseason

For only the second time since 2003, and the first time a field did not include every team that opted to play in the postseason, the Vikings went 5-4 in 2022 and earned a playoff spot in the Division 4 field, which included perennial playoff power Edwardsburg.

Niles entered the postseason red-hot as after starting the year 1-4, the Vikings won their final four games of the regular season.

Niles avenged a Wolverine Conference loss to Three Rivers in the opening round of the playoffs 56-32, which gave Niles its second playoff victory in school history. Edwardsburg eliminated the Vikings the following week in the Division 4 District title game, 24-17.

“I am excited to be back in, and I am pretty excited about our draw,” said Niles Coach Scot Shaw. “I think all of the other three teams wanted to stay away from Edwardsburg first. The road out of here obviously goes through Edwardsburg.”

The Niles Adult Baseball League reorganized following the 2021 season with a new board and more accountability. (Leader file photo)

No. 9: Adult Baseball League makes changes

As the Niles Adult Baseball League continued preparation for its 2022 season, many things had changed, according to new Board President David Sokolowski.

The 2021 season did not end on a good note for the league as it was discovered that Dakota Jackson, who was single-handedly running the league, had embezzled money for the organization that plays its games at Thomas Memorial Stadium.

A new board has been put into place and the league is trying to rebrand itself, according to Sokolowski. It is also partnering with Greater Niles Little League even more than it has in the past to help improve Thomas Stadium and remove that he called the league’s “black eye.”

“Our biggest thing is leaving that in the dust,” Sokolowski said. “We have built everything back up, starting from a zero balance in the bank account. We are working with Ed “Chop” Hoskin, the president of the Little League. Without the Little League, there is no adult league. As far as fundraising, everything that we do is going back into the stadium.”

It was discovered following the 2021 season that Jackson had embezzled nearly $6,000 of the league’s money. In December, he was charged with two felonies — embezzlement of more than $1,000 but less than $20,000 and making a false report of a felony.

Fortunately for both leagues, Jackson had not taken any of the nearly $5,000 he had helped raise through a GoFundMe campaign in May of 2020, which he said was to be used to help make improvements to Thomas Stadium. Through that money, several improvements were made historic stadium, which has been the site of many events like the 1984 Babe Ruth World Series, boxing and wrestling matches, concerts, and even ice skating.

The Niles Adult Baseball League has grown from a modest beginning of three teams to 14 teams last season. Sokolowski said that the league had already filled all the available team spots for this season, which began July 9.

Former Niles standouts Michael Tanke has been named the head coach at Canisius. (Submitted photo)

No. 8: Former Niles soccer standout named head coach at Canisius

The blue and gold color combination has been missing from Michael Tanke’s wardrobe ever since he graduated from Niles High School in 2007.

Now, 15 years later, the former boys soccer standout’s new job has him rocking the blue and gold once more, albeit 454 miles away in Buffalo, New York.

Tanke was recently named head soccer coach of the Canisius College Golden Griffin, a Division 1 men’s program and his first head coaching role.

Tanke inherits a Golden Griffin program that finished with a 1-14 record last season, including a 1-9 record in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

“If we can improve every single day, game and year, I don’t know where we can go but I know we can get better,” he said. “We have to get better with everything we do. If we focus on the process, I know we will be better than we have been.”

Tanke earned numerous accolades as a soccer player for the Vikings and made the All-State First Team in 2006 before moving on to play Division 1 soccer for four years at The University of Rhode Island, where he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics in 2011.

Tanke played professionally in the United Soccer League Professional Division for three years before injuries cut short his career. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Castleton University in Castleton, Vermont – where he earned his master’s in education, – before joining the University of Dayton Flyers men’s soccer program in 2015. After two seasons in Dayton, Ohio, Tanke was named an assistant coach for the University at Buffalo men’s soccer team in 2017 shortly before the soccer program was cut. He has spent the past five seasons overseeing the Empire United MLS Next development program in Rochester, New York before being named head coach at Canisius six weeks ago.

“There is a big difference in responsibility,” he said. “The final decisions fall on your shoulders. You’re doing the same work but I’m no longer making suggestions for decisions. My attitude has been to be a head coach, work like an assistant coach and keep my same habits as before.”

For Tanke, not only is the position an opportunity to prove himself at the Division 1 head coaching level, it also allows his family to stay close to home.

Tanke sees aspects of Canisius’ program that remind him of his days scoring goals for Niles.

“Canisius and Niles are similar in that we’re underdogs in some respects,” he said. “In boys soccer back then, we were underdogs at Niles and that’s the mentality at Canisius, too. We’re trying to punch above our weight class. I’ve been doing that since I was a freshman in high school. … My time in Niles was really fun because of that. We accomplished a lot as a team that I don’t think many people thought we could, which makes it even more memorable.”