Yoshonis: Sporty Claus strikes again; Xmas wish list for local sports

Manistee High School’s new track, shown here while under construction in August,  may not be ready to host a varsity track meet this spring. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Manistee High School’s new track, shown here while under construction in August, may not be ready to host a varsity track meet this spring. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

As most of you know, I have not been around here long enough to establish any long-standing traditions.

So, we’ll call this a short-standing tradition: The annual sports editor-as-Santa Claus column, in which I divulge what I would bestow upon the high-school sports community of Manistee County if I shared Santa’s gift-giving powers, and not just his physique.

My first wish is another two-year-old tradition, hoping for a track for Manistee High School’s varsity track teams.

What? you ask, Isn’t there a track in place? It sure looks like something track-like has been built behind the school. What gives, Santa?

Yes, after years of torturous fundraising and political maneuvering, the Manistee Area Public Schools finally pulled the trigger on the construction of a new track, which will be ready — sort of — in the spring.

The fundraising effort, which is still ongoing for reasons I will get to in a moment, emphasized that it will be a community track, welcoming area citizens to use it for walking and running and general fitness. And what is there now will be perfectly adequate for that.

But as it stands right now, Manistee will not be able to host a varsity track meet on its fancy, new track.

Why? Because the money to build the track has been spent on what’s there. Tracks aren’t cheap, folks.

What is not there is a pole vault pit, an adequate number of hurdles, timing equipment, bleachers, a press box, all things that high-school tracks need to host varsity meets in the 21st Century.

Without those things, or at least some of them (about $50,000 worth, by most estimates), the facility is simply inadequate and will not be able to serve as a venue for competitive track meets.

There are two meets tentatively scheduled for Manistee to host, but if they cannot, contingency plans are in place to move them to Ludington.

Think about that. If that happens, if the optimism and excitement on the part of the Chippewa athletes of finally, FINALLY having a track meet at Manistee becomes nothing more than a cruel joke, the school will have to go hat in hand to its arch-rival to rescue it from its own failure.

A senior class of athletes, who expected to be able to run in a home meet before graduating, and who can look out classroom windows and see just how close they are to it, may very well end up feeling like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football, with the humiliation of being bailed out by Ludington of all places added in for good measure.

I wrote a column in July of 2015, just after moving Manistee, in which I hoped that the proposed track would not be done on the cheap, that the new facility not be the victim of neglect even before the instant of its creation.

Back then, I warned against “a bare-bones, slipshod, almost willfully temporary fix to a longstanding problem.”

Santa wishes for not that. Again. Still.

Manistee Catholic Central’s athletic fortunes are on something of an upswing, with the Sabers fielding a baseball team again, boys basketball poised to turn a 1-win catastrophe right around into a winning season and a three-year spell of steady improvement since going to 8-man football, among other things, so finding things for MCC’s stocking will take a minute.

Santa guesses that all the school really needs is more bodies. The MHSAA lists MCC’s enrollment at 44 kids in grades 9-12, which makes any athletic success that much more remarkable, but which will almost certainly put the kinds of results the school has enjoyed over the years out of reach.

I get a glimpse of the school’s sports history every time I walk into the gym, and Santa would like to see MCC not have to overcome its own enrollment to at least have a chance to experience something of it again.

After Bear Lake’s successful first-ever football season, Santa hopes that the Lakers can find a way to play on a real home football field.

Santa knows that this is premature thinking. The program is obviously in its infancy, and using Brethren’s field is a perfectly adequate place to start.

But if things go well, there will come a point when the team matures, Laker fans get used to the Friday Night Lights and start wishing for a home of their own.

Santa knows this is a long shot. Building a new football field from the ground up would require a major investment, low-to-mid six figures if they want to do it right. Driving to Brethren five times a year seems like a viable alternative, but I do selfishly hope to be able to cover Bear Lake football at Bear Lake at some point.

Brethren just lost its football coach after Bobcat lifer Alvin Rischel stepped down from that post after the end of the season.

While finding someone as devoted to Brethren football as Rischel will be a tall order, darned near impossible actually, Santa hopes the Bobcats find the right guy for his successor.

Santa is somewhat ambivalent about Onekama’s membership in the Northwest Conference, especially in basketball. Both the boys and girls teams go into their league seasons with almost no chance of winning a league championship at this point, with fourth place in the standings being the only realistic goal for both, with so many bigger schools. The Portagers have four league games against Class B schools, Kingsley and Benzie Central, and two more against Class C competition in Maple City Glen Lake.

But a case can be made that Onekama is already reaping the benefits of “playing up,” which has never hurt the likes of Buckley or Frankfort, both Class D schools.

So Santa will hope to bestow some patience for Portager fans who are not happy with watching their team playing for fourth place. For a school that takes its sports as seriously as Onekama higher competition is not a hindrance but a challenge, and rising to that challenge will take a bit of time.

And there is nothing that the school requires other than that time to work its way to the top of the league.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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