By Craig Beilfuss

MUSKEGON—The Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame had their annual banquet at Trinity Health Arena in downtown Muskegon on June 18.

The area hall of fame inducted five new members and recognized two student-athlete honorees.

Inducted were Mike Ribecky, Dr.  Calvin Johnson, Todd Herremans and Abby (Cole) Hatch.  Ken Erny was awarded the Gene Young Distinguished Service Award. The top student-athletes were Western Michigan Christian’s Abby VanderKooi and Whitehall’s Ira Jenkins.

Veteran soccer coach and athletic director, Erny who was diagnosed with ALS during the summer of 2020,  addressed those in attendance with an emotional, 7-minute  video message.

Erny, who is a member of the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame, was the athletic director at Fruitport High School for 30 years. In October 2020, Fruitport’s soccer field was dedicated in his honor and named the Ken Erny Field.

VanderKooi  was chosen as the Dick Hedges Female Student Athlete honoree. VanderKooi, an All-American and All-State runner, is headed to Grand Valley this fall where she will participate in both cross country and track and field.

Abby VanderKooi (Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez)

I have been blessed with a fantastic high school sports experience,” VanderKooi said. “My past 4 years of high school have been a roller coaster, times of great success and times of struggle. My career has had many highlights. My career has also had many struggles. I have had an eating disorder, a broken toe, extremely low iron levels, a torn hamstring and hip flexor and much more. Yet, through all of the struggles, I have learned so much. During these hard times, I have drawn much closer to God. I have learned that there is so much more to life than running. I am a child of God. I am a sister, friend, daughter, baker and a teammate.

My coach, Coach Gould has also been a huge asset to my running,” she said. “He constantly encourages me and invests hours and hours into my training,” said VanderKooi.

Ira Jenkins was recognized as the Gary Ostrom Male Student-Athlete honoree. Jenkins, an all-state wrestler, participated in football and wrestling at Whitehall. He will be taking his talents to the University of Michigan this fall.

Ira Jenkins (Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez)

I am extremely grateful to be receiving such an honor,” said Jenkins. As I look back on the names and careers of the men and women who received this award before me, a who’s who of Muskegon area athletics … I am humbled. Our journey as high school athletes was filled with unprecedented challenges from a global pandemic to a polar vortex. Personally, the pandemic was a turning point in my wrestling career. My dad challenged my brother and I when the shutdown began. He said, ‘you can look at this as an excuse to do nothing or as an opportunity to jump levels.’ So my brother and I went to work. Our garage turned into a wrestling room and our basement turned into a Gold’s Gym, where grunting and heavy lifting was encouraged.

Two-record breaking, undefeated state championship wrestling seasons and an all-state honorable mention season followed.

I’ve learned some valuable lessons in life from my family, coaches and teachers,” Jenkins said. “I believe these lesson are the reason I stand before you this evening accepting this award.”

Former Oakridge athlete, Dr. Johnson, was unable to attend the banquet and also had a video speech prepared. Johnson, a 1977 graduate, was a four-sport athlete at Oakridge. He went on to play college basketball at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He is now an accomplished anesthesiologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

Mike Ribecky (Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez)

Ribecky, a 1973 Muskegon Catholic Central graduate, was a four-year offensive lineman at Western Michigan University. Ribecky is preparing for his 45th year as an assistant football coach at Muskegon Catholic. He has been involved in 381 wins with the Crusaders to go along with 12 state championships.

Hatch, a 2013 Grand Haven graduate, led the Buccaneers to back-to-back Class A basketball championships in 2012 and 2013. After graduation, she went on to the University of Michigan and was a four-year volleyball player. Hatch, who stands 6-5. was two-time all-Big Ten selection and a second-team All-American in her senior year.

Finally, Herremans, a 2001 graduate of Ravenna, played 11 years in the National Football League. Herremans was a four-sport athlete in high school. He went go on to become a four year starter at Saginaw Valley State University before being drafted in the fourth round of 2005 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Todd Herremans (photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez)

Abby (Cole) Hatch (Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Leo Valdez)