West Michigan Symphony concert to play coveted ‘Carmina Burana’ composition

West Shore Symphony Orchestra music director Scott Speck is set to conduct the next performance. (MLive file)

West Shore Symphony Orchestra music director Scott Speck is set to conduct the next performance. (MLive file)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — The West Michigan Symphony plans on bringing one of the more comprehensive pieces of music to the stage on Friday, Nov. 21.

Carla Hill, president and CEO of the West Michigan Symphony, said the symphony decided to pull out all the stops for this piece as part of the symphony’s 75-year anniversary season.

The performance is called Carmina Burana: Sacred and Profane.

“It’s been on our wish list for a while,” Hill said. “It’s a major piece of work and it uses a large portion of the orchestra. One of the reasons we were doing it this year was because it is our 75th anniversary.”

Hill said many people have heard of the famous composition, since Hollywood has used it in such films as “Excalibur” and “Natural Born Killers.”

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts where the theme of Richard Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser” will open the concert with the second act featuring “Carmina Burana.”

“It is a really big responsibility to put it together,” Hill said. “We’ve been rehearsing with three directors and we will do a combined rehearsal with all the choirs and the orchestra.”

The Muskegon Chamber Choir, Grand Rapids Chamber Choir, Holland Chorale and the WMS Children’s Choir will join the symphony and soloists for “Carmina Burana.”

Divided into three parts, the concert will also feature soloists Martha Guth, Hugh Russell and Christopher Pfund. Guth – who was featured in a WMS performance last year – is known for her range and “rare breath control.”

When asked how all of the performers will fit on the Frauenthal stage, WMS Vice President of Operations Gabe Slimko said the first few rows of floor seating will be removed to accommodate some of the musicians.

“It’s actually going to be some pretty spectacular staging,” he said. “We’re hoping to set chorus risers as high as eight levels on the stage while the symphony will begin at floor level and finish with the brass section at the front of the stage, creating a stacked effect.”

The symphony first announced that “Carmina Burana” would be on the table for the upcoming season last March. Ticket prices range from $18 to $40 depending on seating.

For those interested in tickets or more information regarding the concert, call the Frauenthal Center at 231-722-9750. Tickets also are available online at www.startickets.com.

Pfund also is scheduled to give a performance 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22 at The Block, 360 W. Western Ave. He will be joined by pianist Kelly Karamanov.

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 19, 2014)

Residents show support for Boys & Girls Club of Muskegon County at public unveiling

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — A Boys & Girls Club that will serve children and teenagers is inching closer to opening in Muskegon County.

Residents and Muskegon-area leaders met for a public unveiling for the club on Tuesday, Nov. 18 at Nelson Elementary School, located on 550 W. Grand Ave.

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson, who also serves as board president for the Boys & Girls Club of Muskegon County, said the event was a way to show the public what has been done in the past couple of months.

“This will also serve as a capital campaign,” Hilson said. “We’ve been successful so far, raising almost $600,000 with a mixture of donations and grants.”

The local club is in the process of hiring an executive director and will likely open during the first quarter of 2015, Hilson said.

While the club will lease space in the Muskegon elementary school, it will be open to all area young people ages 5-18. Hilson said the plan is to operate the club Mondays through Fridays from 3-7 p.m.

Since discovering the arrival of the club, parents have been emailing Hilson with positive feedback as well as asking for ways on how they can help.

“The vision and all the talk is finally turning into a reality,” Hilson said. “One of our goals is to collect three years of an operating budget and we are hoping by the end of December to reach that mark. We are well over halfway now and are reaching out to the community to see if they can get us the rest of the way.”

Chris McGuigan, president of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, said the public event also served as a way for parents and residents to learn more about what the club has to offer.

Services will include tutoring, life skills and other various opportunities and activities between the hours of 3-7 p.m. — a time when kids need something to do, McGuigan said.

When deciding where to establish the site, McGuigan said they conducted a demographic study and discovered Nelson to be a neighborhood that was the most accessible to kids who needed it the most. One of the things that has amazed McGuigan has been the local support from residents and the elementary school.

“Every person who has joined this effort didn’t have to be asked twice,” McGuigan said. “There is such an overwhelming desire to take care of our kids. This is something our kids need and I just wanted to thank all the people, especially Muskegon Public Schools.”

RELATED: Boys & Girls Club expected to open in Muskegon in early 2015

Rick Huisman, the executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, made a trip to Muskegon to share some of the positive experiences he has noticed at their location.

With more than two dozen people in attendance, Huisman issued a statement on starting a Boys & Girls Club in Muskegon.

“The Boys & Girls Club has been a special place for me,” he said. “It’s not going to be an easy process, but the rewards are well worth it.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 19, 2014)

Mr. Consistent: Muskegon Catholic Central football coach impressed by production, ability of senior kicker

Griffin Seymour (21) kicks off in the third quarter. Muskegon Catholic Central crushed Fowler 42-0 in the district final on Nov. 7, 2014. (Tommy Martino | MLive.com)

Griffin Seymour (21) kicks off in the third quarter. Muskegon Catholic Central crushed Fowler 42-0 in the district final on Nov. 7, 2014. (Tommy Martino | MLive.com)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Every point matters for Muskegon Catholic Central football coach Steve Czerwon.

That’s one of the reasons why he’s been so impressed with the production of his kicker, Griffin Seymour.

“I think he’s so consistent,” Czerwon said. “We’ve scored a ton of points the last two years, but he’s only missed four PATs in that time.”

Griffin Seymour

Griffin Seymour

For the Crusaders (11-0) this season, Seymour is 71-for-73 on PATs, 6-for-9 on field goals and has accumulated 27 touchbacks. That means the senior has been averaging nearly 2.5 touchbacks per game.

The former soccer player has been MCC’s kicker for the past two seasons. After one season, his level of performance has changed significantly.

During the offseason, Seymour hit the weight room in an attempt to make his leg stronger and improve his accuracy.

“It was a lot of squatting and leg presses,” Seymour said of his summer workouts. “If you’re not loose, an injury comes into play. So, stretching helps a lot with kicking as well.”

His hard work during summer camp did not go unnoticed, as the coaching staff could see the changes in their first practice.

Seymour regularly attempts field goals and kickoffs from different distances during practices, allowing him to test his range. Compared to last year, he saw a dramatic change for field goals, as he began making them from an additional 20 yards out.

“He has a much stronger leg,” Czerwon said. “He made a commitment in the offseason to get his leg strong and I think that shows. In the Muskegon Heights game, he had seven touchbacks in the first half.”

On the strength of Seymour’s leg, the Crusaders almost always have the upper hand. Czerwon said he sees it all the time – an opponent scores a touchdown and they may only get six points out of the drive because  of a missed extra point. The Crusaders rarely have to deal with such scenarios because of Seymour.

In addition, he’s been really good at field goals on the season, despite the fact that MCC is not a team that has had to attempt a lot.

What comes to mind for Czerwon is the field goal Seymour made in Ohio in Week 1 in their closest game of the season, a 24-14 victory over Columbus Bishop Hartley.

“We made our field goal and they attempted a field goal of their own that would have tied the game and they missed it,” he said. “We ended up scoring a late touchdown, but at the same time that was a turning point. When you play those really high-caliber teams, those three points go a long way.”

According to Czerwon, Seymour has more than doubled his number of touchbacks, which in turn helps the defense when its opponent is pinned at the 20-yard line.

This comes into play with the Crusaders scoring on nearly every opening drive this season. It gets to be difficult for any opponent to be down early and have to drive 80 yards to even the score.

“He’s somebody who takes his role seriously on the team,” Czerwon said. “If you look at the Lions, that’s a job that they’ve failed at miserably this year. (Seymour) has added to the overall sense of what we are as a team.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 13, 2014)

5 things to watch in Muskegon Catholic Central-Mendon matchup in Game of the Week

Tommy Scott, of Muskegon Catholic Central, carries the ball up the field as Kyle Wiswell, of Mendon, attempts to bring him down as Alex Lewandoski, (15), and Jacob Holt, (77), attempt to block during the regional football finals on Nov. 16, 2013. Muskegon Catholic Central beat Mendon 28-12. (Natalie Kolb | MLive.com)

Tommy Scott, of Muskegon Catholic Central, carries the ball up the field as Kyle Wiswell, of Mendon, attempts to bring him down as Alex Lewandoski, (15), and Jacob Holt, (77), attempt to block during the regional football finals on Nov. 16, 2013. Muskegon Catholic Central beat Mendon 28-12. (Natalie Kolb | MLive.com)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — The Muskegon Catholic Central-Mendon football matchup is Muskegon’s MLive.com Game of the Week as selected by fans.

The Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders (11-0) enter the game with a convincing 42-0 shutout over Fowler last week, while the Mendon Hornets (10-1) are coming off a 35-8 win against Climax-Scotts.

The Division 8 regional game will be hosted by MCC and kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 15.

Here are five things to watch for:

Let the record show

The two teams have a combined record of 21-1 this season, with Mendon’s one loss coming in week three against Watervliet. The Hornets’ loss came in a game when they didn’t play eight of their starting seniors because of a one-game suspension. The suspension came at a bad time for Mendon, as Watervliet was one of the Hornets’ toughest opponents. Watervliet has a 10-1 record of its own at this point in the season and is playing in the Division 6 regional finals.

Outside of the 18-13 loss to the Panthers, Mendon’s only close game came a week later as it won by eight points against Niles Brandywine. As for MCC, the Crusaders’ current undefeated season has seen five shutouts with their closest game being a 10-point win at the beginning of the season against Columbus (Ohio) Bishop Hartley.

Injuries and roster turnover

MCC is returning most of its starters from last year’s squad whereas Mendon has had to deal with several injuries throughout the season. Crusaders head coach Steve Czerwon said this should not be an issue for the Hornets come Saturday.

“When you get to this point of the season, they have kids who have had a ton of starts and playing time,” Czerwon said. “They’ve got such a good program that they can keep bringing up kids from JV year after year to fill in those spots.”

According to Wes Morgan, publisher and editor for joeinsider.com, who frequently covers Mendon football, the Hornets’ No. 1 problem this season has been dealing with injuries. Having already been thin in numbers, Mendon had one injury after another which forced head coach John Schwartz to play musical chairs with his players.

“They have had so many guys playing different positions,” Morgan said. “They lost a lot of guys, returning probably about half the starters from last year. I spoke with John Schwartz and he said this has been the most challenging year of his coaching career.”

Look for a sound run game

The Crusaders and the Hornets are two teams that like to pound the ball while controlling the clock. The majority of the Crusaders offense comes from their ground attack, which has accumulated more than 4,000 rushing yards with at least 1,500 of them being claimed by starting running back Tommy Scott.

As for Mendon, Morgan said the Hornets have had to change their backfield this season because of injuries. Elijah Klepper, who was originally a fullback, stepped in as their primary running back and leads the team in all rushing categories.

“(Mendon) does some good things out of the I-formation,” Czerwon said. “They are fundamentally sound. I think the tailback is the key to them, but they are a pretty diverse bunch.”

A tale of two halves

The main story for the Crusaders this season has been the early leads. With blowout win after blowout win, MCC gets out to a lead and keeps it.

For Mendon this season, Morgan said this has not been the case.

“They are a second-half team,” he said. “Every time you think somebody gives them a good game, they run away with it in the second half. Their coaches are great at making changes at halftime. Their adjustments are spot on.”

However, the Hornets cannot afford to start out slow against MCC and their high-flying offense. Whenever Mendon has been down to start the second half this season, it has only been by one score. Normally, the Crusaders have built a five-touchdown lead and have a running clock in the second half.

This additive would make things more difficult should Mendon be down big.

A rivalry in the playoffs

This is the fourth consecutive season in which these two teams will face one another in the playoffs.

With MCC having won the last two, the Crusaders hold the edge, going 2-1 over their last three meetings. What’s different about this upcoming game is that the Crusaders will have home-field advantage.

“For the last three years, it’s been us going down there,” Czerwon said. “Now they’re the ones who have to get out of bed early and make that trip.”

That means Mendon has to travel 118 miles each way and go up against not only the Crusaders’ team, but their fans as well. When asked if it’s ever a concern playing a team four years in a row in the playoffs, Czerwon said those circumstances come with the success.

“Anyone who is in the playoffs consistently is going to run across familiar opponents,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any different with Mendon. It’s just another team you got to play to advance.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 12, 2014)

Muskegon Community College sports recap: Deanna Near leads Jayhawks’ strong finish at cross country nationals

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — The Muskegon Community College women’s cross country team finished the 2014 season running at the NJCAA national championships at Shadow Hills Golf Course in Lubbock Texas on Saturday, Nov. 8.

mccThe women’s team finished 14th place in the country – the best team finish ever recorded by the MCC women’s cross country team on a national stage. Leading the way with a 17th-place finish out of 273 runners was freshman Deanna Near.

Near finished an impressive season by breaking her school and personal record with a time of 18 minutes, 34 seconds. According to head coach Dan Fishel, this was the highest finish by any Jayhawks cross country runner at the national meet since the restart of the program in 2010. Near’s effort resulted in All-American honors.

“Deanna ran her best race of the season at the right time,” Fishel said. “She ran aggressively and was not afraid to mix it up with some of the foreign runners in the race.”

Rounding out the top seven runners in order for MCC were sophomores Andrea Lavigne and Samantha Eely, freshmen Marlee Harris, Raquel Zavala, Sabrina Smith and Andie Young.

“The women finally put everything together and ran what we knew they were capable of all season,” said assistant coach Jessica Chandler. “We couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY

The men’s cross country team finished the 2014 season running at the NJCAA national championships at Shadow Hills Golf Course in Lubbock Texas on Saturday, Nov. 8.

The Jayhawks finished 27th in the country and were led by sophomore Jacob Baker, who took 56th out of 256 finishers and nearly missed All-American honors with his time of 26 minutes, 45 seconds.

“Jake was in 43rd place most of the race, but was passed by a pack of runners in the last 600 meters during a mad-dash for All-American honors,” said head coach Dan Fishel. “Jake was a little upset, but he should be proud of having an outstanding sophomore season by being an All-Conference and All-Region runner this season.”

Rounding out the top seven in order for MCC were freshmen Colin Duca, Austin Persoon, Dylan Medendorp, Dominic Flores and Lenin Castillo. Freshman Austin Kleiner did not finish the race due to an injury.

“The guys just missed their goal of finishing in the top 25,” Fishel said. “We have a young team and the future looks bright.”

MEN’S BASKETBALL

The MCC men’s basketball team has opened the season 2-0 after winning its home opener on Thursday, Nov. 6.

Coming off their win over Cornerstone University’s junior varsity squad, the Jayhawks cruised past Grace Bible College JV team, 95-60. The Jayhawks were able to control the tempo and speed of the game, by getting an early lead with a few easy buckets in transition.

At halftime, the Jayhawks led 41-30, despite a late run by Grace Bible. The Jayhawks were able to extend their 11-point lead, which allowed every player to see playing time. For the second time this season, the Jayhawks were led by a balanced attack on the offensive end with five players reaching double figures.

“The two stats I am most pleased with are the 21 team assists and how we were able to outrebound them 49-34, (for) another great team win,” said MCC head coach Dave Schlump.

Deshawn Sanders led the Jayhawks with 18 points and dished out five assists. Eddie Tornes played well, scoring 12 points with five rebounds and three assists. Aaron Sydnor scored 13 points and grabbed nine boards, nearly getting a double-double.

Coming off the bench to contribute were Marcus Tumblin (14 points) and Tyrome Maxwell, who was a huge factor recording a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Grace Bible was led by shooting guard Kenny Vernon, who scored 20 points.

The Jayhawks will be back in action Wednesday, Nov. 12 against Cornerstone University’s JV team at 7 p.m. at Bartels-Rode Gymnasium.

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 11, 2014)

Muskegon Museum of Art to use ’12 Days of Christmas’ theme for Festival of Trees

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — The Muskegon Museum of Art will open its doors for the upcoming Festival of Trees on Thursday, Nov. 20.

Judy Hayner, executive director of the Muskegon Museum of Art, is shown setting up one of the exhibits from a previous year. (MLive File Photo)

Judy Hayner, executive director of the Muskegon Museum of Art, is shown setting up one of the exhibits from a previous year. (MLive File Photo)

The festival, which is in its 10th year of being hosted by the museum, will conclude on Nov. 30. For those 11 days, volunteers will transform the museum galleries into a festive arrangement of Christmas trees, décor, a gingerbread village and a model train display.

Marguerite Curran-Gawron, communications and public relations manager at the Muskegon Museum of Art, said the festival will have a number of special events that will coincide with its overall theme within those 11 days.

“This year’s festival theme is the ’12 Days of Christmas,'” Curran-Gawron said. “We do a different them each year, with last year’s being candy town.”

The themed decorations and trees are created by local designers and sponsored by individuals and organizations in the community, Curran-Gawron said.

“This has become a traditional community event,” Curran-Gawron said. “We hold it around the Thanksgiving holiday and early enough so people can bid on their trees. It’s also a nice thing to hold around the holidays when people start thinking about Christmas.”

Admission for the limited-time event will be $7 per adult, $3 per child ages 3 to 17 – with anyone under the age of 3 allowed in for free – and $5 for Muskegon Museum of Art members. The hours of admission are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, with Sunday hours running from noon to 5 p.m.

“The funds will go into our budget and we can use that for programs throughout the year,” Curran-Gawron said. “It’s a nice time to deck the museum out and invite everyone.”

To learn about sponsorship opportunities, becoming a volunteer, or purchasing single and group reservations, call the Muskegon Museum of Art at 231-720-2571.

A list of the upcoming events are as follows:

VIP Mingle Preview Party – Wednesday, Nov. 19, 6 p.m.
Holiday Cheer! Michigan Beer! – Saturday, Nov. 22, 6 p.m.
Deck You Halls Home Decorating Workshop – Sunday, Nov. 23, 3-5 p.m.
Festival Senior Day – Tuesday, Nov. 25, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Festival Family Day – Wednesday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Teddy Bear Breakfast – Saturday, Nov. 29, 8:30-10 a.m.

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 11, 2014)

MATS opening launch of regional bus service ‘beneficial’ to passengers

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Normally, Shawn Peterson would have to hitch a ride to get from Whitehall to Muskegon.

However, Peterson was able to take advantage of the long-anticipated regional bus service the Muskegon Area Transit System enacted on Monday, Nov. 3. The bus service – called Muskegon Area Regional Connections – offers rides from Muskegon to more rural areas in the county, including Holton, Ravenna, Montague and Whitehall.

“Muskegon County really needed something big like this,” Peterson said. “It’s good for someone like me – who has a disability – who can’t physically drive. There are people in Whitehall that don’t drive and can’t afford Port City Cab.”

The standard fare costs $2.50, while the discounted fare for seniors, passengers with disabilities and Medicare cardholders is set at $1.25. A 10-ride ticket is available to both groups for $25 and $12.50, respectively, according to the MATS website.

Peterson said he was the first passenger to board one of the new MARC buses that ran from Whitehall to Muskegon. Prior to the new regional bus service, transportation was hard for the Whitehall resident.

“I usually get a ride from my mom and my friends,” Peterson said, “but since they have odd working schedules, it gets tough.”

The new MARC buses are similar in size, but differ in appearance based on their blue and green lines on the sides – a change from the blue and pink lines the MATS buses showcase. Each of the three new buses boasts 32 seats, standing room, space for two wheelchairs and a rack for two bikes.

The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of the 35-foot MARC buses last year, using funds from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

Carey Kelley, along with his sister, Sandra, tested the MARC buses on nearly every new available route on Monday.

The two found out MATS was going to start the bus service on Nov. 3, and decided to go on three different runs – a ride from Montague, Whitehall and the Muskegon run to Holton.

“We had a good time, everybody was talking and smiling,” Kelley said. “Then we jumped on the Muskegon bus and rode to the (Herman) Ivory Terminal and took the Holton ride.”

Kelley, whose wife is employed by MATS, said he believes it is important to improve any transportation services, especially if it can help others who are unable to get around on their own.

“At some of the senior apartment buildings, most of those people have to get relatives or friends to drive them all the way down to Muskegon,” Kelley said. “But now with the bus system, they can ride here, go to Meijer and catch a different ride. It’s going to be beneficial for us.”

Route maps are now available for download on www.matsbus.com. For more information, call MATS at 231-724-6420.

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 4, 2014)