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Mr. Hess Wever & Miss Bonnie Wilkinson

The next in our series is the first and only woman coach, Bonnie Wilkinson-the reason she is the only woman because, until 1972, there was only one sport for girls (basketball) and from the early 1960’s to the early 1970’s it was discontinued for a reason I’ve never been able to find. Also, most of the first coaches on girl’s teams were men and the articles are on individuals that were teachers until the 1990's. If we do a series on later teacher/coaches, there will be more women.

Bonnie went to Grand Valley when it was in its infancy and women’s programs were just starting. While there, she participated in three intercollegiate athletic sports; volleyball, basketball, and softball, and her basketball team in 1971 was undefeated. She was first introduced to Sparta while at Grand Valley as a student teacher which eventually led to her employment here lasting 35 years. She retired in 2006. Bonnie taught in three different areas while at Sparta-Social Studies, general education in 4th and 5th grades and P.E. Twenty-three of those years she also spent in coaching in many different areas; middle school cheerleading, basketball, volleyball, and track. She really was best known for coaching varsity volleyball and coached the Varsity and JV teams alone at the same time to keep them going.

Bonnie still lives in the Sparta area, taking in volleyball games, is single and active in the Sparta United Methodist Church, and, to her great credit, lists Michigan State as her favorite team.

The second individual is Mr. (Hess) Wever, the holder of the most basketball victories in school history. He grew up in Fremont which twice was in our conference. While at Fremont High, the varsity basketball teams he was on reached the state finals. His junior year the team lost to Alma in the finals and in senior year they lost in the semis. He also played QB on the football team and ran track in the high hurdles, pole vault, and high jump. As a senior, he made the all-state third team which was composed of players from all classes. Surprisingly, Fremont did not have a baseball team.

After high school graduation in 1948, he attended Alma College, where he continued to play football (QB) and was on the basketball team. Interestingly, it seemed he was better in basketball in high school, but football in college. After graduating from Alma, he did not go directly to Sparta, but he was one year at Holton and seven at White Cloud before coming to Sparta. He was originally hired to be the football head coach, but the current coach went one more year and he instead became head basketball coach. The next football year Mr. Dickey became the head football coach. For many years, Hess coached JV and was an assistant varsity football coach. When he retired from coaching basketball, he had acquired 125 victories-the school record. He was a long-time biology teacher and also a driver’s training instructor (whom I had). I never had him as a teacher, but taught with him and also had him as a football coach for four years and basketball for two. One of Mr. Wever’s favorite hobbies was flying a plane out of the Sparta Airport where he helped start its flying club.

Hess Wever passed away on November 15, 2020, at the age of 90. He married his high school sweetheart, Lora Ann, who passed away in 2004 after 52 years of marriage. Together they had four children: Steve in Japan, Nancy, Jennifer, and Lori Ann Jantz, who passed away in 2017.


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