2018-06-14 / Front Page

Northport’s storied hoops tradition ends

By Grant McPherson
Of The Enterprise staff

It’s the end of an era.

A little more than 30 years removed from Leelanau County’s last basketball state championship, the Northport boys program is no more — at least for now.

The Wildcats will co-op under the Suttons Bay umbrella — and the Suttons Bay name — this winter.

“The decision to co-op in 2018-19 with Suttons Bay was not easy by any accord,” said Northport Athletic Director Josh Vander Meulen. “We have had many talented young men come through the program that have represented their school and community with pride.”

Northport won the Cherryland Conference championship in each of the last three seasons, going 55-26 in that span, but was slated to have just three varsity returners back this winter.

Wildcats coach Dan Stowe, whose jumper lifted

Northport to an 80-78 win over Beal City in the 1988 Class D state final, declined to comment.

Sander Scott, a teammate on the 1988 team and the county’s all-time leading scorer, said he’s glad the Wildcats will still have an opportunity to compete on the hardwood.

“I’m really happy to see that Northport school would partner with a neighboring school to give the boys the chance to play,” Scott said. “I’m also happy to see Zach Stowe get the chance to play for both his dad’s school, and his mom’s school.”

Zach Stowe, Dan Stowe’s son, was slated to be the only returning starter for Northport this winter.

Vander Meulen said the district will continue to build skills and organize competitive opportunities from kindergarten through eighth grade. In a couple of years, this could lead to a JV team being reinstated, and then eventually bringing back the varsity team.

But, for at least the next two seasons, Northport players will play in Suttons Bay uniforms — and Suttons Bay coach Ron Anderson plans to welcome those Wildcats with open arms.

The Norsemen, who in March beat Frankfort in the district final for the second straight season, will return only one starter, Lucas Mikesell.

“We are looking forward to this season,” said Anderson, who has guided Suttons Bay to a 39-32 record over the last three seasons. “We have to wait to see what the Northport kids can do to see who will emerge as a leader.”

Suttons Bay Athletic Director Doug Periard said he’s looking forward to this winter and seeing what the combined talents of Suttons Bay and Northport can do.

“We’ve been discussing this co-op for a few years,” Periard said. “I’m looking forward to bringing these two schools together.”

Periard said the team will continue to be called Suttons Bay for the time being, but that the number of tryouts from Northport could change the name of the team.

The girls varsity basketball team is currently known as North Bay, as are the volleyball and soccer teams.

“With the number of kids playing for Northport, we wanted to make sure they could still play,” Periard said.

Scott, a 1989 graduate of Northport, and current superintendent of Glen Lake Schools, talked about what it was like to be part state championship.

“I felt like I was part of a great, competitive tradition at Northport,” Scott said. “There was a legacy of really asking the most from ourselves and teammates. That was something I watched and modeled from Rich Stowe, who was Dan’s older brother.”

Scott said he felt honored to be part of a legacy at Northport. He also modeled his playing style after the athletes that played above him. When he was younger, he would watch older players and model his style that way.

“When you come to play the Northport Wildcats, you’re going to have to earn the win,” Scott said. “We didn’t always win, but we always gave it our best shot.”

Northport Superintendent Neil Wetherbee said the district’s enrollment has been on a steady decline for some 15 years, and the number of students who want to be student-athletes is decreasing due to competition from activities such as FIRST Robotics and travel club sports.

Additionally, Wetherbee said, about a third of Northport students are School of Choice, so the logistics of getting to and from the court can be complicated.

“We don’t have enough varsity basketball players to be viable next year,” he said in an email. “We are successfully working on growing our numbers at the elementary and middle school level. In the near future, we would like to turn the boys basketball team into a North Bay model co-op or reestablish our own program. The current plan is the best short-term option available for us. The board had the choice of not offering boys basketball next year or a co-op. They made the choice with which I agree — to co-op.”

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