Lapeer High football a winning combination of East-West

Lapeer High football a winning combination of East-West


Lapeer High football a winning combination of East-West


It could have been a recipe for disaster.

The challenge was to take Lapeer’s high schools — East and West — and combine them into one: Lapeer High School.

In football, the task seemed monumental, and maybe a more difficult process than combining the student bodies.

We’re talking about kids who lived for the one night a year they played against the other school in town and wanted to beat the brains out of the other team’s players.

“It was intense,” said offensive tackle Brandon Murawa, who played at East. “That was the thing you looked forward to — the East-West rivalry. It was a big deal.”

Now you were asking them to suddenly become teammates?

“At first I was upset about it,” said Hunter Andrews, a linebacker from West. “You have so much pride for your school.”

Now you’ve combined both schools into Lapeer High at what used to be East.

How do you blend two distinctively different teams into one cohesive unit willing to go out and play for each other like they have been teammates for four years?

Pueblo Viejo tacos, of course.

“We actually did this thing, the O-line and whoever wanted to come — Taco Tuesday,” offensive guard Anthony Herbert said of East. “We’d go out there after lifting in summer workouts, and we’d go eat tacos for $1.”

The players from two teams began to blend as one — a group that is now 4-0 and ranked No. 8 in Division 1 entering tonight’s Saginaw Valley League showdown at perennial powerhouse Mt. Pleasant, No. 9 in Division 3.

A year ago, West principal Tim Zeeman and first-year East principal Doug Lindsay began meeting and planning to execute the decision of superintendent Matthew Wandrie to combine schools. They brought together 30 students from both schools and started the process of trying to determine the mascot, which is Lightning, and colors, which are blue, green and silver.

Lindsay and Zeeman are co-principals, with Lindsay focusing on academics and staff development, and Zeeman on athletics, among other duties.

They knew how important it was to get it right with football. They realized that a successful football team can set the tone for the school year.

“Everywhere I’ve ever been, that’s the way it’s been,” Lindsay said. “It’s an old adage, you start off the football season well and the attitude of the school year starts off well.”

The first key decision was to name a coach.

The most viable candidates were front and center: Mike Smith, a 1980 West graduate who began coaching at West in 1985 and had been head coach since 1998, and Jake Weingartz, a 2003 East graduate who had been East’s head coach since 2008.

Both were highly qualified, successful coaches who had the admiration and respect of their players and teaching colleagues.

The district decided on Smith, 52, who was older and more experienced, but no one wanted to lose Weingartz, 29.

“We knew when we decided to hire Mike, we knew Mike had to be that person to oversee it,” Zeeman said. “But we knew Jake had to be an integral part of that, and Mike took than on.”

Still, trying to define roles could have been disastrous, because both coaches ran their team’s offense.

“The first meeting we had was kind of funny,” Smith said. “I asked him if he ever thought of coaching defense because he hadn’t. I realized our (offensive) philosophies were the same. With what we were trying to do, his language was better, so we took his system and integrated what we did.”

Weingartz had no problem being an assistant under Smith, a coach he had admired for years.

“It wouldn’t matter if I was the head coach on varsity or a position coach on freshman, I just flat like coaching,” Weingartz said. “I was not going anywhere. I just want to be a part of it.”

Weingartz is the offensive coordinator and calls the plays, and Smith is sort of his assistant when the Lightning has the ball.

“He still too often asks me what I want to do here,” Smith said.

The coaching staff met periodically throughout the winter as did the players.

When the 2013 season ended, Smith took his players to East for weightlifting sessions.

They also held open gym sessions on weekends for players, the main purpose being a bonding process for the players. Making it easier was that the students attended middle school together before heading their separate ways to East and West.

“We started with the open-gym process, just kind of getting to know each other again,” said defensive lineman Jon Currie, who attended West. “It was a little weird at first, I’m not going to lie. But I used to go to school with some of these kids, so it was like getting back with them, and it’s been actually really fun this year even talking to some new East guys.”

The coaches kept the workouts going throughout the summer and the bonding continued.

Many players worried about their starting spots, but Smith and Weingartz assured them those players who started at East and West likely would still be starters again because the new team would two-platoon.

But the merger did cost the team some players who chose not to play football.

“The first thing I thought was the numbers on our football team would have been drastically increased, but we have the same number of kids that I had last year on the Lapeer West team,” Currie said. “I know some of my friends were intimidated that they might not be able to play. Some of them dropped it. I was upset with them, trust me.”

Once the team got into pads and scrimmaged, optimism began to bloom.

The shortcomings each team had a year ago were fixed by players from the other school.

“They had guys that we needed, and we had guys they needed,” Herbert said. “I knew it would be a lot of fun playing with these guys we played with when we were younger. I didn’t think we were going to come out this strong, but now I can see that we’re going to come together and have a powerhouse of an offense and a powerhouse of a defense.”

Even with an extra 800 students who showed up at a new school, the merger has been flawless — and having an unbeaten team hasn’t hurt one bit.

“Honestly, this whole process just talking school-wise, I think our football team’s helped the most,” Currie said. “Just how well we’re performing right now, I think everyone is getting behind us, and I think it’s a good thing for the community.”

It might be good for the community, but Pueblo Viejo took a serious hit every Tuesday.

“We mingled fine and had a great time,” Murawa said. “We had no problems. We all just bonded. We didn’t fight or argue.”

Tacos anyone?

lapeer Results and schedule

Aug. 29: 42-0 win over Rochester

Sept. 5: 34-6 win at Flint


Sept. 12: 48-0 win at Bay City Central

Sept. 19: 55-7 win over Saginaw Heritage

Tonight: At Mt. Pleasant, 7

Oct. 3: vs. Saginaw Arthur Hill, 7

Oct. 10: vs. Midland, 7

Oct. 17: At Flint Carman-

Ainsworth, 7

Oct. 24: vs. Davison, 7


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