GR SPORTS HALL OF FAME: Five Sports Stars, EGR State Champion Teams Inducted
Tia Brooks-Wannemacher, Kelly Butler, Beth Launiere, Tom Werkmeister, Bob Kaser and EGR football state champs from 2006-2010 join the hall
GRAND RAPIDS – The Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame inducted its 2021 class Tuesday night in ceremonies at Van Andel Arena.
Tia Brooks-Wannemacher, a Olympian who first starred at East Kentwood High School; Kelly Butler, a former NFL lineman who launched his career at Grand Rapids Union High; Beth Launiere, a Northview High and Aquinas College athlete and highly successful volleyball coach at the University of Utah; Tom Werkmeister of Hudsonville, a dominant amateur golfer now playing professional golf; Bob Kaser, the Grand Rapids Griffins’ award-winning broadcaster and vice-president; and the five consecutive state football championship teams from East Grand Rapids (2006-2010) were honored.
Brooks-Wannemacher had to be talked into trying the shot put, but then starred at East Kentwood and went on to the University of Oklahoma where she won the 2012 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor championships. Later that year she was third in the U.S. Olympic Trials to make the team and represented the United States at the 2012 summer Olympics in London.
The 31-year-old online marketer said being inducted into the Hall was an amazing honor.
“I am so blessed and I’m so excited to share this with my family and friends,” she said. “I never imagined this. I never imagined going to the Olympics and that happened and we’ve been able to accomplish so much over the years. I’m extremely blessed.”
Butler first starred on the football field at Grand Rapids Union, then started four years for Purdue University as part of a prolific offense that averaged over 450 yards per game with star Drew Brees. He was selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions and played for the Lions, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He retired in 2012.
The 39-year-old Butler who now lives in Winnipeg and is finishing his degree in sports psychology at Purdue on-line, said he never thought such an honor would happen for him.
“I’m very proud to be a part of such a great group of diverse individuals, and just to be able to say that Union and Kelly Butler are in the hall of fame is an amazing feeling,” he said. “They’ll say my name on behalf of Union and my Grand Rapids family. Grand Rapids has always had great people that have always loved me and embraced me and taken care of me. That allowed me to succeed and this award it their award too.”
Launiere was a standout volleyball player at Northview High School and then Aquinas College before starting her coaching career as an assistant at Ferris State University. She has spent the last 32 years at the University of Utah as head coach were she started this season with a career coaching record of 601-375 with 16 NCAA tournament appearances, six conference titles and 17 20-win seasons.
She called it one of the most special honors she has ever received.
“This is where I started and the people here tonight are my family, my friends, my teammates and coaches and I’m so honored and humbled,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of great people who have been inducted to the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame because I know there’s so much great sports history in the town. It’s exciting to be part of that.”
Werkmeister dominated amateur golf locally and in Michigan until age 50 when he turned professional to play on the PGA Tour Champions. He has won more Grand Rapids area amateur championships than any golfer in history, won 10 state championships including two Michigan Amateur Championship titles and in 2013 was the first amateur to win the Michigan Open Championship in 38 years.
He called being named to the hall of fame a tremendous honor.
“Grand Rapids has been my home for 35 years now so I’ve watched and know about the people who are in the hall of fame and it’s awesome to think I’m part of that,” he said. “It’s only going to get better as I look back on it. It’s like anything I’ve accomplished, in the days and years that follow you appreciate what happened more and more.”
Kaser was inducted as the Warren Reynolds Lifetime Achievement Award winner but was unable to attend due to testing positive for COVID-19. He joined via a taped interview with WOOD-TV’s Jack Doles, the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award winner.
“I’m truly honored,” he said in the interview. “Calling hockey games was what I wanted to do and the Griffins gave me that opportunity and gave my family the opportunity to make our home in Grand Rapids.”
Kaser has been the Grand Rapids Griffins lead broadcaster for 22 years while also working in the front office as vice-president of community relations and serving as president of the Griffins Youth Foundation. He has spent over 40 years in hockey, won multiple awards and filled in on Detroit Red Wings broadcasts, too.
The East Grand Rapids football teams of 2006 through 2010 were inducted in the Team category. Coached by Peter Stuursma, now the head coach at Hope College, the program tied the then Michigan High School Athletic Association record of five consecutive state titles with a 67-3 collective record, including a 33-game winning streak.
Stuursma said great players make great teams.
“We had so many great players who grew up wanting to play football for East Grand Rapids,” he said. “It was quite a run there and it was because we had great players who were great people and they never bothered to entertain the thought they would lose.”
The Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame honors prominent West Michigan athletes and those who have contributed greatly to sports on a local, state or national level, and presents annual events in support of local youth organizations and charities. Plaques commemorate the members of the Hall of Fame at Van Andel Arena.
Learn more about the Hall of Fame and its members at grshof.com.