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Posen’s Momrik as passionate as ever 10 years after heart attack

News File Photo Posen girls basketball coach Karl Momrik pumps his fist in celebration after the Vikings defeated Hillman for a Division 4 district title last Friday in Hillman.

Karl Momrik has never been one to mask his emotions.

Anyone who’s watched the longtime Posen girls basketball coach on the sidelines for even a few minutes knows how passionate he is about the game he loves.

He pumps his first with every successful basket. He laments missed shots (especially the easy ones). He’s constantly pacing, giving strategy or instructions to his players, regardless of what the score is, always thinking ahead.

Momrik’s emotions were on full display again on Friday as he watched the final seconds tick down in Posen’s district title game against Hillman. By his own admission, the last 30 seconds felt like an eternity, but when it was over he let out a big fist pump and immediately turned to hug longtime assistant Kevin Romel.

Months of teaching and practices and countless reps and hard work all added up to a district title for the Vikings; their first in four years.

Since he took over the program in 2007, Momrik’s resume is beyond impressive. He has won more than 200 games with numerous North Star League titles, six district titles and one regional championship.

But the Vikings’ latest triumph is more than just another line on a resume or another trophy in a case. It represents how far Momrik has come in the 10 years since his coaching career–and his life–nearly came to an abrupt halt.

Last month–Feb. 9 to be exact–marked Momrik’s 10-year anniversary as a heart attack survivor and he understands how lucky he is to still be able to do what he loves.

“I’m so blessed to be here. Not many people survive that widowmaker,” Momrik said. “I live a fairly normal life with a few restrictions on me and just being able to be around the kids every day is a blessing.”

Ten years ago during a game in Rogers City, Momrik felt some slight chest pain just after the second half tipped off. It didn’t feel like much, but it was significant enough that he told Romel to take over coaching duties and headed to the locker room. Feeling warmer than usual, he got the attention of Karl Grambau–then a Rogers City assistant coach–and Rogers City athletic director Pat Lamb, who sought out EMTs to attend to Momrik and he was ultimately whisked away to the hospital.

Momrik knew he didn’t feel right, but he didn’t think his issue had anything to do with a heart attack until it was confirmed later by doctors in the emergency room at Alpena General Hospital (now MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena). He was later flown to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City and suffered another heart attack while there, pushing back triple bypass surgery by a few days.

After his surgery, Momrik talked to a doctor about whether it was possible to return to coaching.

“He told me my basketball career was over and I said, ‘That’s ok, I haven’t played in years,” Momrik said with a laugh. “I said ‘What about coaching?’ He asked me, ‘What’s your excitement level?’ I said about 10 ½. He said, ‘Well we’ve got meds that can bring it down to about a three and I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing for your kids.'”

Momrik returned home a little more than a week later, but his presence was still felt by the team, especially Romel, who took over coaching duties and led the Vikings to a district championship, their first since 2006. During most of Posen’s district title win over Mio, Momrik drove around listening to the game on the radio to stave off the stress of sitting on the bench.

The two of them have been friends for more than 30 years and Romel has been right there with Momrik every step of the way during his Posen tenure for all the highs, lows and everything in-between.

“He’s been with me for 13 years and he doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does,” Momrik said. “He’s a tremendous guy and a great assistant coach.”

In the nine seasons since his heart attack, Momrik is 151-51, a nearly 75% winning percentage, though he’ll be the first to tell you there are a lot of people involved in that success. Still, that’s pretty amazing for someone who survived two heart attacks in three days, one of which is fatal nearly 90% of the time.

His heart attack initiated some necessary lifestyle changes, but Momrik looks good, feels good and although he’s still excitable on the sidelines, he hasn’t changed his coaching approach all that much; he’s still a competitive guy who loves to win and loves to teach, whether he’s got a veteran team or a group of wide-eyed youngsters.

“I’m as passionate as I ever was. I can’t change who I am,” Momrik said. “I love coaching the game.”

As the Vikings get set to play St. Ignace in a Division 4 regional semifinal tonight, I’m reminded of the last time Posen faced the Saints–a game that speaks to just how hard and phenomenal a job Momrik and Romel have done to make Posen one of the most consistent teams in Northeast Michigan.

On March 7, 2013, the No. 2 Vikings squared off with against the top-ranked Saints in a battle of unbeatens in a Class D regional final in Gaylord. Conventional wisdom said Posen, despite its 23-0 record, had little chance of winning.

After 32 minutes of basketball, the Vikings more than proved their doubters wrong in one of the best games in program history. They didn’t win the game, but their 74-68 loss proved they could hang with St. Ignace and it was one of the few times the Saints were actually tested all season.

“We couldn’t be prouder of 11 kids. So many people told us we were going to get rolled by 30 or 40. Where are those people now?” Momrik asked after the game. “These kids put Posen on the map tonight.”

The next season Posen finally summited the mountain, winning the program’s first regional title and Momrik looked as happy as any coach I’ve ever seen, hoisting the regional trophy over his head like he’d just found the Holy Grail.

Times have changed since then and the players on those Posen teams have long since graduated, but the current group of Vikings has been no less exciting to watch. These Vikings represent the youngest group Posen has ever put on the floor; a group that includes just two seniors, four sophomores, a freshman and two eighth graders.

It’s been a different kind of year for Momrik as coach–one marked by a lot of repetition and really hammering home the finer points of Viking basketball–but it might just be one of his most rewarding.

If this season is any indication, Posen looks well-equipped to keep growing, getting better and might just make a run at the program’s second regional championship in the next few years.

“We have to go through a lot of things over and over, but those kids listen,” Momrik said in the aftermath of Posen’s district win. “They just kept at it and kept their focus. It’s just outstanding for Posen basketball.”

As it was seven years ago, conventional wisdom says the Vikings have their work cut out for them tonight.

But whether the Vikings win or lose, Momrik will be there on the sidelines, pacing and strategizing and encouraging, thankful to be alive and able to coach basketball the Posen way.

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