2017-11-09 / Front Page

Co-ops open doors, but challenging

Northport, S-B begin new co-op
By Jay Bushen
Sports Editor

JIM CHAMPION addresses his North Bay girls basketball players Monday at the team’s first official practice in Northport. Photo: Dan Duffiney JIM CHAMPION addresses his North Bay girls basketball players Monday at the team’s first official practice in Northport. Photo: Dan Duffiney Declining enrollment and the growth of co-op programs continue to alter the landscape of Leelanau County sports.

Jim Champion can attest.

Champion, a retired middle school teacher and former coach at Suttons Bay and Lake Leelanau St. Mary, returned to the county coaching ranks Monday for the first official North Bay girls basketball practice. The county’s newest co-op program welcomes girls from Northport and Suttons Bay.

“You have to settle things with two school systems,” Champion said when asked about the logistics of a co-op program. “You have two boys basketball programs to bounce off, so getting gym time set up has been a challenge, but it looks like we’re rolling now.”

Last summer, a decision was made to include all but two Northport sports — volleyball, which already co-ops with St. Mary, and boys basketball — under the Suttons Bay umbrella.

NORTH BAY girls basketball players become acquainted with each other Monday at their first practice. Photo: Dan Duffiney NORTH BAY girls basketball players become acquainted with each other Monday at their first practice. Photo: Dan Duffiney The districts have been joining forces since the 2014 formation of the North Bay boys soccer program, which has since added St. Mary to the mix.

Now that Leelanau County is home to more than a dozen co-ops, one might wonder just how these programs have changed — or helped preserve — prep sports on the peninsula.

The most common complaint among coaches seems to be the coordination of student-athletes in multiple districts.

“There’s a lot of flexibility that’s needed,” said Doug Periard, the athletic director at Suttons Bay. “You have two academic cultures. It takes a lot of people working together to get all the moving parts working together.”

Upkeep can be tricky, Periard said. Few details can be set in stone.

An example came up at a recent athletic directors meeting in Gaylord, where someone asked whether the “home” school or “host” school of a student-athlete is responsible for concussion documentation.

Further complicating co-ops is that not all financial arrangements are created equally. Periard said the fee Suttons Bay pays to send tennis players to the Glen Lake-sponsored Leelanau team is one flat rate, but that the agreement between Suttons Bay and Northport is based on Northport enrollment, regardless of how many Northport students choose to participate in sports.

Tom Spencer, who coaches both North Bay soccer programs, made note of another challenge.

“There’s really no identity,” Spencer said. “We’re united for the sole purpose of playing soccer. It’s tough to get three schools united in that goal of winning a state title.”

It seems co-ops can certainly create headaches — but most county coaches seem to support the effort.

Spencer is among them.

“Co-ops are critical for opportunities,” he said. “None of our three schools would play soccer otherwise, and that was not true until this year. Suttons Bay always had enough numbers to field a team, but not this year. We only had five. The future is challenging, too. We’re losing nine of 20 boys (to graduation).”

Spencer said he hasn’t quite gotten the results he’s hoped for from the North Bay boys — who finished second behind Leland in the six-team league standings this season — but that the talent is there, without question.

Leelanau tennis coach Tim Sutherland, meanwhile, welcomes talent from Glen Lake, Leland, St. Mary, Suttons Bay and The Leelanau School in his up-and-coming program.

“With five schools involved, we are the poster child for successful co-op programs,” Sutherland said. “It gives kids a chance to play a sport in high school that maybe they grew up playing but their school does not offer as a sport. A huge positive is how it brings different kids from different socioeconomic backgrounds and environments together. When there is so much exclusion in today’s society, this program really promotes inclusion.”

The tennis team recently capped its fall campaign with a 7-4 doubles record, its best in years.

It’s a similar set-up for the Glen Lake ski team, which has certainly embraced the family atmosphere.

“It’s a really cool sport because most the time you’re just involved with kids at your school,” said senior Jessica Pershinske, a Leland student. “It helps to meet some people and branch out a little more in the county. I love having friends in different schools.”

Pershinske, a member of the Northwestern Alpine Ski Academy, lives in Maple City. She said she’s become close friends with a number of Glen Lake students like Klara Teubner and Hanna VanDuzen.

“I’d never have an opportunity to be on a ski team if we never co-oped with them,” Pershinske said. “For me, it’s huge. That’s my main sport. The schools are definitely intense rivals for other things, but this has helped create something to bring us more together. Before I joined the team, I had a preconceived notion of what it would be like to be on a team with Glen Lake kids. It definitely helped me be more open-minded, and things change when you’re on the same team. Now they’re the ones supporting you and helping you through everything.”

Periard made an interesting point about co-ops regarding the distinction between playing and competing. Teams lacking internal competition for playing time tend to have issues, he said.

Northport Athletic Director Josh Vander Meulen summed up the co-op conversation with one simple notion: It’s all about the kids.

“We’re all together in celebrating good teams with good students that we’re proud to represent,” Vander Meulen said.

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Actually, Buckley finished

Actually, Buckley finished 2nd in the conference this year behind Leland with 1 loss as Northbay had 2 losses.