Memorial tourney going strong in 14th year
It has been long enough now that the young men and women chosen to receive the Emily Duits Memorial Scholarship Award, for a graduating senior at Lakewood High School each spring, don't have their own memories of Duits.
The 2019 scholarship award recipient, Savannah Stoepker, learned she'd won the award at honors night in May hours after participating in a varsity softball game.
“I was really excited. I really wanted to win that scholarship specifically, all money is good for college, but that one is based on character. It kind of speaks a lot more than even if I have been in a ton of clubs and stuff like that - knowing that people consider me a good person in school,” Stoepker said.
She'll use the award towards her coming years at Grand Rapids Community College, where she will be a member of the women's softball team. She has plans right now to study towards a degree in secondary education, eventually moving on to a school like Grand Valley State University.
Stoepker is a member of the National Honor Society and was as part of the student council at Lakewood High School, the Ionia Youth Advisory Council, the Youth Leadership Summit and Barry County's Teens Against Tobacco Use. She also had fun squeezing in some indoor soccer when she wasn't playing softball or volleyball.
The scholarship was refreshed again Saturday through the 14th Annual Emily Duits mEMorial Sand Volleyball Tournament at the Lake Odessa Fairgrounds. The event was held entirely at the fairgrounds this year, with 30 teams playing in competitive, recreational and youth divisions. There were raffle prizes, lunch catered by Yesterdog, a free ice cream wagon, adult beverages in the evening and a lot of volleyball.
Stoepker said she has been playing in the tournament since she was in sixth grade.
On Saturday, she was playing with Lakewood graduates Colten Webber-Mitchell, Lana Thompson, Zari Kruger, Alivia Benedict, and Shelby Palmer a friend of Benedict's from Albion College.
Emily Duits passed away due to injuries sustained in automobile accident in the fall of 2005.
Stoepker was coached by Emily's father, Jeff, throughout her years with the Lakewood volleyball program as well as fellow assistant coach Chelsea Brehm and varsity head coach Cameron Rowland. Rowland and Brehm were classmates of Emily's. Brehm played two seasons with Emily on the Viking varsity volleyball team, with Jeff as their head coach, and Stoepker asked coach Brehm this fall to share some of her memories of Emily.
Rowland, a close friend of Emily's who is now also the Director of the Far Out Volleyball Club that Emily once played for, shared a message on emilyduits.com in the lead-up to Saturday's tournament.
“Everyday I get to put on apparel with a little Em heart (in the Far Out logo) that is there to remind me to never take a moment for granted or that we never know when our last hello and goodbye will be, so you had better give it everything you have,” Rowland wrote. “It is rare for someone to pass as young as Em did and for their memory to be rooted so deeply into a community, a program, and individuals, but anyone who knew Em knew that she would be furious with us if we stopped living life to its absolute fullest because she brought her entire heart to every single day and for us to stop on her account would only make her shake her head.”
The event paused momentarily after lunch and raffle drawings for a group photo of the Lakewood volleyball alumni at the event and one of the Far Out alumni.
Rowland's team played to its fullest to win the competitive division Saturday. He was joined by his Lakewood classmate Chelsea (Lake) Driscoll and her husband Adam Driscoll. Chelsea went on to play at Cornerstone University after graduating from Lakewood High School. Their team also included Eno Umoh, Hannah Kenzdicky and Andrew Brown. Umoh played volleyball at Grand Valley State University, and became friends with Rowland who was attending school there at the time. Kenzdicky played club volleyball at GVSU during that time as well, and her boyfriend Brown currently plays professionally as a middle attacker for Sporting Portugal in Lisbon, Portugal.
During the lunch break, Jeff Duits said he was pleased to see the youth division as large as ever, commenting on how nice it was to see many new faces at the event.