'He bleeds red and gray'

Matt DeYoung, Grand Haven Tribune, Mich.
·6 min read

Mar. 6—SPRING LAKE — Cavin Mohrhardt claims he has three passions: his family, the Marine Corps, and Spring Lake.

Mohrhardt, who graduated from Spring Lake High School in 1976 and has been a teacher, athletic director and coach over his 35-year career, will retire as the Lakers' athletic director at the end of the current school year.

Along the way, he's been a part of a special culture that surrounds Lakers' athletics.

"I think that unless you've been here, it's hard to explain," Mohrhardt said. "There's always been a sense of pride. For me, it started with people like (Tom) Hickman and (Thomas) Grabinski, (Butch) Cantrell. People love it when they're here, and they learn to embrace it. It's different than other communities."

That special culture starts at the top, and for Spring Lake, there have only been three athletic directors since the school began offering prep sports in the 1960s — George DeVries, Hickman and Mohrhardt, who took over that post in 2003.

Mohrhardt was shaped into the leader he is today thanks to his years in the Marine Corps and his relationship with Hickman.

"Being in the Marines has affected me every day of my life," he said. "And I learned everything from Coach Hickman. There's not a better person to learn from. Everything I do, and everything Spring Lake stands for, comes from him. I didn't change a whole lot because you don't fix what's not broken. I still talk to him and get his advice."

His time in the Marine Corps left "Coach Mo" with the ability to be gruff and stern when need be, but he's also quick to smile and to laugh, and lists protecting his coaches and athletes among his top priorities.

"Cavin's been a Laker for life," said Bill Core, who has coached and taught alongside Mohrhardt for the past two decades. "If somebody truly bled red and gray, it would be Cavin. He's the most loyal person I've ever met. He and I go way back. He was in my wedding, and I was his JV coach for 13 years, and we're still best friends today.

"He would do anything for anybody. If you had one phone call and you needed something done, you'd probably call Cavin."

Mohrhadt was a three-sport athlete during his days as a SLHS student, playing football, basketball and track. He went on to compete in basketball and track at Alma College, then enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he was a helicopter pilot. He was stationed in California, but took overseas tours to Okinawa, Japan; the Philippines and Korea.

After eight years, he returned to Spring Lake, but remained in the reserves for the next 12 years.

It was during that time, while he was a member of the reserves and coaching varsity boys basketball at Spring Lake, that he and his wife, Pam, were expecting their first baby.

"My unit was going overseas because it was the first Iraq war, and Pam as pregnant," Mohrhardt said. "I stayed back thinking that as soon as we had the baby, I would leave."

When she was seven months pregnant, Pam ended up in the hospital, but doctors told Cavin he would be fine to go coach that night's basketball game in Greenville.

"Bill Core rode the bus with the team, and Hickman followed me to the hospital and drove me to the game," Bill said. "At halftime, I see a police officer walking with a purpose toward me and I thought, 'this can't be good.'"

Pam had gone into labor, but the neonatal until at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids was full, so she was in an ambulance, accompanied by friend Peggy Walling, heading for Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo.

"I drove Hickman's car down to Kalamazoo while Bill finished coaching the game," Mohrhardt said. "I listed to the game on the radio while I was driving. We won the game, and Pam was down there for two weeks, and all that while I'm trying to figure out if I'm going overseas or not."

Such was the life of a teacher, coach and parent-to-be.

Cavin and Pam have two sons. C.R. lives in Hollywood and is an actor and a stunt man in various productions and films. Christian is a teacher and assistant athletic director at Western Michigan Christian High School.

"I couldn't be more proud of them," Cavin said. "They're both doing exactly what they love to do."

Once Cavin retires, he and Pam — who recently retired from her job at Christian Care in Muskegon — have several vacations planned, including a trip down the length of Route 66.

Cavin freely admits he'd never have been able to do what he's done the past three decades without Pam's support.

"She's a remarkable woman for putting up with it for 34 years," he said. "I was always gone, and she never complained. It takes a special woman to do it. I look at Liz Hickman, who did it for 30-some years. That's the reason guys like us can do it for that long, is we have someone who totally understands and takes care of things."

Mohrhardt also gave credit to athletic secretary Sue Theune, along with Sarah Bulthuis and Gail Brye.

"Sue is the athletic department," Mohrhardt said. "She's amazing. You can't run a program like we've got without here. We have 24 sports at 5-6 different venues, and for the last 8-9 years, Sarah Bulthuis and Gail Brye have helped me out tremendously. Both of them were coaches, and both are Spring Lake grads who were athletes in Spring Lake when they were in high school."

Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton credited Cavin with having a hand in all facets of the Lakers' athletic success.

"Spring Lake has an excellent athletic program whether you measure it in wins and losses, championships, participation levels, or any other criteria. That doesn't happen or continue without a strong AD," Furton said. "Cavin's contributions to our school and community have been immense. Over the past several decades, Cavin has furthered the standard of what it means to be a Laker.

"It may sound corny to some, but it is Cavin's love for Spring Lake that distinguishes him as a leader. He cares more deeply and takes his role as our AD more personally than anyone I've been around in the past 30 years. It just means more to him. That's inspiring to everyone who has had the pleasure to work with him. There's no easy way to express the gratitude I feel toward Cavin for his service as the Laker AD."

Burton said the district will post an opening for the athletic director position sometime later this month, and hopes to have top candidates selected sometime in mid to late April.