2015-08-13 / Sports

Opportunities rich for area athletes

By Al Willman Of The Enterprise staff

NORTHPORT PLAYERS gather around coach Chris McCann during a time out in a recent game. NORTHPORT PLAYERS gather around coach Chris McCann during a time out in a recent game. Having an opportunity to participate in athletics in Leelanau is as much about social interaction as it is about honing one’s skills.

Included are county high school basketball players, most of whom play more than one sport at their respective schools and many of whom would not make rosters at bigger schools.

But in Leelanau County, they are given a chance to grow athletically and socially.

“Sometimes as coaches we need to respect that the social aspect is important,” said Todd Hursey, who coached both boys and girls basketball at Suttons Bay for more than 20 years, before stepping down last month.

Basketball, perhaps because it requires so few players to field a team, is the only sport offered at all four public schools in Leelanau County and St. Mary.

Boys basketball

At smaller schools, student-athletes grow close to each other at a very early age.

“We’ve all grown up together,” said Trevor Petroskey, a senior at Suttons Bay who plays basketball and baseball. “Unlike a big school where you might see a teammate only at practice, you see them every day at my school and I’ve been able to play with mostly the same kids since I started playing sports. You know everyone inside and outside of the sports.”

He said he would likely not be a dualsport athlete at a bigger school.

“If I went to a larger school, I would probably focus on one sport,” Petroskey said. “But I love basketball and baseball and I would try to play both.”

Glen Lake sophomore Max Guilbeau, who plays basketball and runs track, said he might not play at all if he was a student at a larger school.

“Probably not,” he said. “There’s so many other kids at big schools.”

At Northport, the smallest public school in the county, boys basketball coach Chris McCann said the contrast with larger schools is obvious.

“They have more kids trying out at Traverse City West than we have in our entire school,” McCann said. “I think I dressed eight guys last year. By the end of the year, I had three freshmen. There really is not a lot of competition for playing time. And I think the kids know that, too.”

One of those students is senior point guard Marcus Stowe. He grew late, starting his high school career at 4-foot-11 before growing to 5-foot-7.

“He would probably have been cut or overlooked as a freshman if he was at a larger school,” McCann said.

Stowe said, like the other schools in the county, teams are required to do more with less.

“We have smaller numbers, but that means we have a stronger bond than most,” he said. “(We have) more chemistry because we have played together so long.”

Girls basketball

Libby Munoz, who is entering her senior season at Leland, said each athlete at a smaller school makes a difference.

“I think it’s really hard to compare the opportunities we get at Leland to any other school,” she said. “At Leland, we usually have six-seven kids on a team. That means that each one of us makes a big difference. If one of us misses practice, it’s really hard to work on some things. We all have a big role on the team. For us, we just have to make sure that we are participating in everything we can because there’s a big hole if anyone is missing.”

Munoz, who plays basketball and soccer, said being involved in athletics provides a sense of belonging.

“I think a major reason people like to play is because we all like to be a part of a team,” she said. “And if people want to be, they can be a part of three different teams in a school year. There aren’t many places you can do that. Even if you choose one sport that’s your ‘first’ you can still play the others to stay in shape. We’re lucky to have that opportunity.”

Emily Holmes, a sophomore at Lake Leelanau St. Mary, said small-school athletes are able to participate in several sports.

“If I went to a larger school I do not think I would be able to play like I have at St. Mary,” she said. “I believe that I would have to choose one sport and practice only that one so that I would become good enough to play during games.”

Holmes said the opportunity to play multiple sports has been meaningful.

“Being able to play multiple sports a year has been my favorite part of school and I feel blessed that I am given this opportunity,” she said.

Teaching values

Suttons Bay Athletic Director Doug Periard said those opportunities have lent themselves to teaching life lessons to the student-athletes.

“You learn to be a role player in one sport, and maybe a star in another,” he said. “You learn to make a commitment and to support others. You learn to deal with adversity in more than one sport, or you learn to deal with different people. I tell the kids that your coach is kind of a practice for your boss when you get older. If you go out there and put forth an effort, you’re rewarded for that. In times that you aren’t putting forth the effort, you don’t get that reward. That’s a big part of what we do here.”

Northport AD Josh VanderMeulen said he teaches real world applications to his student-athletes.

“My largest piece — and I think this goes to the larger dialogue — is when you’re an athlete, you’re entering into a competitive realm,” he said.

“The world is competitive. It doesn’t matter what you think about it. It’s a competitive place. When you go through, and you’re training, and you’re looking at your teammates and you’re looking at what it takes to do it — that’s just life. If you sit down in a job interview and you don’t think you’re the best, you’ve lost. If you go on the field and you don’t think you’re the best, you’ve lost. And if you know you’re not, and if you haven’t put yourself in a position to be successful, you need to think about what you haven’t been doing.”

St. Mary AD Teresa Szur said the environment at St. Mary is different than in the public schools, with which she has previous experience.

“We had to develop a phrase for our athletic department,” Szur said. “We build character, train champions and develop leaders. That is the premise of our athletic program. The advantage we have that I didn’t have at a public school is the faith component that you’re allowed to further bring in and talk about. Every team prays before a practice or an event. It just gives you a really different mindset that I guess you don’t have (otherwise).”

Leland AD and girls basketball coach Ryan Knudsen said his school focuses intently on academics and life after sports.

“The focus of our athletic programs has always been on educational athletics, with emphasizing the importance of academics to our student-athletes,” he said. “All of our coaches also work hard to incorporate important life lessons into their programs such as teamwork, commitment and perseverance.”

Holmes shared the things she’s learned as a multiple-sport athlete.

“I have learned that being a part of a team makes you a stronger person and helps you work with other people,” she said. “It showed me how to be a leader and how to step down and learn from others. Sports also taught me that you don’t have to be the best just always give your best.”

Guilbeau said he’s learned much in his first two years at Glen Lake High School, but had one big takeaway.

“Stay smart,” he said. “Don’t do silly things that could jeopardize your sports career.”

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