For the second year in a row, an outstanding softball coach from the county has made the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association (MHSSCA) Hall of Fame. Last year it was Posen’s Glenn Budnick making the hall. Last Friday the honor went to Rogers City’s Karl Grambau.
Budnick, who is now the varsity baseball coach in Posen, left the softball reigns in 2016. Grambau, the Rogers City High School softball coach for the past 21 seasons, has no plans to retire from coaching anytime soon, he said in his acceptance speech in Mt. Pleasant.
He told about his experience in Little League and a coach who inspired him as a child.
“My first coach was Chris Pollock. He was a great coach. He really got me excited about the game of baseball. I wasn’t a very good player, that is for sure, but he made it fun and I learned so much about the game,” Grambau said.
Pollock went on to coach softball for 26 years at Armada High School, and made the MHSSCA Hall of Fame in 2001, even having a field named after him in Armada. The Hurons had the honor of playing on that field some years ago. Pollock is now in his 41st year of coaching basketball and has coached golf for 18 years.
Grambau also credited the late Don Wagner for his first real coaching gig, letting him assist coaching a Little League team when Karl was 13 years old. He credited Budnick for encouraging his participation in the MHSSCA.
Grambau is the third softball coach in the history of the program, taking over for Charlie Fairbanks in 2003, who followed in the footsteps of founder the late Jerry Chrzan. Grambau himself was instrumental in helping get a softball program, appearing with Chrzan at a meeting of the Rogers City School board of education to ask the program be added.
ONE OF the highlights of Karl’s career came in the 2004 season, when the team got hot at tournament time.
“We won six games in the tournament by a total of eight runs, including three extra-inning games and two come-from-behind wins in the sixth or seventh inning. In the state semifinals against Vandercook Lake, we were down by two runs with two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth and Ashley Fleming hit a three-run homer to put us into the state finals,” Grambau said at the Hall of Fame banquet.
A run of nine district titles in a row began in 2012 and the team made it to the final-four again in 2013. The 2014 team had a theme of “believe, achieve,” that led them to the state championship in the first finals staged at Michigan State University.
He described the reception thrown for the state champions, walking through town in a parade that ended at the high school softball field.
“When the cars were coming in, all the girls waited at the gate and thanked every person for coming to the celebration,” Grambau said. “It was unbelievable how the community came together. The girls were like rock stars that summer.”
He talked about how special a few quarterfinal wins were when the team bus rode through town, stopping at the Little League field to greet the players. That scene played out several times, and always is a favorite of Grambau, he said in his acceptance speech.
“I think that the thing that I will remember the most, because I had tears in my eyes when it happened, is when I talk about that bus going to the Little League field. Going back to where they first started playing the game made for such a special memory,” Grambau said.
HIS COACHING philosophy includes giving a lot of power to the players. He told the crowd at the banquet he doesn’t call pitches or give the steal sign. The catcher calls the pitches and each player always has the green light to steal.
“We try to teach our players life lessons that will last long after they take their cleats off. Some of my former players are now coaching at various levels and that makes me very proud,” he said.
He praised the work of many dedicated and talented volunteers who assisted over the years.
“To me this award is for our whole softball program, our school and our community because so many people have helped us through the years,” he said.
Richard Lamb, editor of Presque Isle Newspapers, had the honor of introducing Grambau at the banquet. In Lamb’s many years of covering sports for the newspaper, he has likely seen Grambau coach more games than anyone, whether it was basketball or softball games.
“Karl is the kind of man you would want to coach your child. I was glad he was my daughter’s coach. He is knowledgeable about the game, always encouraging to his players and insists on fair play. He is a leader in bringing out the best in young people through encouragement,” Lamb said in praising Grambau at the banquet.
Heading into the 2024 season, Grambau’s teams have a 531-216 record, winning 14 conference championships, 10 district titles, seven regional titles and have made the final-four five times.
He coached the team to a runner-up finish at the state finals in 2004 and to the state title in 2014.