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Red Hawks overcome adversity to have stellar season

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The Red Hawks Celebrate the District Title after a 21-14 win over Muskegon. Photo by Brandon Kramer.

By Judy Reed

In a season that was an emotional rollercoaster for the Cedar Springs football players, coaches, and fans, the team overcame adversity and showed everyone exactly what they are made of.

The team started out well, winning two of their first three games, winning by handy margins over Saginaw Swan Valley and Ottawa Hills, and losing only to Division 1 powerhouse Rockford. The Red Hawks were fresh off a a record-setting win over Ottawa Hills (70-35) and preparing for the game against Kenowa Hills when they were blindsided by a tragic event—the death of longtime assistant football coach and middle school teacher Kevin Martens. 

Martens, 46, of Sparta, passed away of an unknown heart condition on Thursday, September 16, 2021, at his home in Sparta.

Coach Kevin Martens was honored posthumously as Asst. Coach of the Year for Region 1 Division 3.

Martens had been a teacher at Cedar Springs Middle School since 1999. He coached middle school track and was a Cedar Springs High School assistant football coach for over 20 years. 

“Kevin was the first coach I hired when I became the head coach 9 years ago,” said Cedar Springs Head Coach Gus Kapolka. “His passion for young people and helping them succeed was obvious the first time I met him.”

The blow was something that could have derailed the Red Hawks. Instead, it spurred them on to play better than ever. The Red Hawks were pumped up to win the game. They took the field like they were on fire. They scored five times, racked up over 400 yards total, and limited Kenowa Hills to only 48 yards in the 38-0 win. But the team didn’t stop there. 

The Red Hawks went on to play some outstanding football, beating Forest Hills Eastern, Middleville Thornapple Kellogg, and Wayland. They lost by only one point (41-40) to Division 5 state champion Catholic Central (no other team scored that many points against them). They they went on to be the first Cedar Springs team in history to beat South Christian (38-32), and take second in the OK-Gold behind Catholic Central. They beat Coopersville easily in the Pre-District game, and the biggest thrill of all, was defeating the Muskegon Big Reds to win the district championship game 21-14. Their season ended with a loss to DeWitt in the regional championship game. 

Their accomplishments included the team finishing with a 9-3 record; being district champs; making it to the state quarter finals; Coach Kapolka getting his 100th win; Aiden Brunin kicking an 86-yard punt in the 3rd quarter of the Muskegon game that is the 2nd longest punt in MHSAA history, and the longest punt in a playoff game ever; losing to Catholic Central by one point; beating both South Christian and Muskegon for the first time ever; being ranked as having the best team offense in the OK Gold by media covering the OK Gold; being ranked 7th in Division 3 in the final AP Poll and Detroit Free Press; rnked 8th in Grand Rapids Press final power poll; ranked 18 out of the top 50 teams in the state by MLive’s final power poll; and having many players voted to the final dream teams and all state teams. And to top it all off, Coach Kevin Martens was voted assistant coach of the year in region 1 of Division 3, by the MHSFCA (Michigan High School Football Coaches Association).

“This was the most resilient team I have ever coached,” said head coach Gus Kapolka. “They have had to deal with unimaginable tragedy and heartbreak, but it only served to bring us closer together. I couldn’t be prouder of this group of young men. I am honored to be their coach.”

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