By Chad Wingert
FRANKENMUTH — It’s been a wild and crazy ride for a General Motors engineer turned Frankenmuth varsity volleyball coach. His tenure with the Eagles could also be described as fun and successful but, something had to give.
After three seasons, 134 wins, one Tri-Valley East title, five All-State athletes and three Academic All-State teams, Chip DeGrace has decided to step away from the Frankenmuth volleyball program.
“I’ve been an engineer for General Motors for the last 30 years and my last 10 years have been dedicated to working toward a promotion to Technical Fellow, a very difficult and highly coveted position within the ranks of GM engineers,” said DeGrace.
In July of 2013, following a petition for his promotion, DeGrace had learned that his last 10 years of hard work had paid off. But, with a bigger title, comes bigger responsibilities.
“Prior to my promotion, it was already getting very difficult for me to balance the needs of a senior GM engineer with the needs of a varsity coach. My office is in Pontiac and the logistics alone had become very difficult to manage,” said DeGrace. “The kids and the sub-varsity teams deserved more of my time than I was able to give and my employer was asking more of me at the same time.”
In DeGrace’s final run with the Eagles, Frankenmuth went 6-1 in the Tri-Valley East, suffering their only league loss to eventual TVC East champ North Branch. His squad also finished the season as the No. 10 ranked team in Class B as voted on by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association (MIVCA).
In 2011, DeGrace’s first year as coach, the Eagles defeated the rival Broncos twice and reclaimed the TVC East crown for the first time in nearly ten seasons. That same year they won a Class B District title and they took out two top-ten teams in the process before earning a Class B Regional championship. They also set the school record for most wins in a season with 53.
But now, DeGrace is handing all of that over to Carrie Spengler, a special education teacher at Frankenmuth’s EF Rittmueller school. Spengler, a Clio native, comes to the program highly regarded from Saginaw Heritage High School, where she coached the Hawks junior varsity team.
“I’m excited to learn about Frankenmuth’s volleyball tradition and to continue taking the program in a positive direction,” said Spengler. “This will give me the opportunity to become more ingrained in the community. I’m really excited about this opportunity.”
Added DeGrace: “The volleyball program here is enjoying unrivaled popularity. An outgrowth of that success as a program is the large and growing number of kids who are involved in competitive volleyball outside of the school season. Our overall skill level and competitiveness is on par with the best teams in the state. With that being said, I plan to meet with Carrie after the new year to assure a smooth and productive transition in this program.”
DeGrace is a competitor at heart, but when thinking about hanging up his whistle, it’s not the competitive matches against the top teams in the state that he will miss the most, its his relationships that he’s established with Frankenmuth’s student athletes and area coaches.
“During my 14 years of coaching at Frankenmuth I have taken a true interest in the development of our communitiy’s kids, following them through their athletic, academic and community service endeavors. Seeing them develop as people – caring, intelligent, competitive, hard-working and thoughtful people, has made all of the hours worthwhile,” said DeGrace.
“Secondly, I’ll miss the relationships with the hundreds of coaches I’ve gotten to know over the years, like Jim Fish (North Branch), Jim Pender (Mt. Morris), Bob Tobey (Caro), Natalie Cook (Birch Run), Jon Frank (Valley Lutheran), Gary Staglewicz (St. Louis), Kristin Eddy (Midland Dow), Penny Cook (Freeland) and the scores of officials who share our desire to give the student-athletes a place to test themselves and prepare for what comes after high school.”
Chad Wingert is the Sports Editor of the Advertiser and can be reached at [email protected]