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Lifelong lessons from local coaches – By Calli Newberry

By Calli Newberry

My dad was my first coach. I was in third grade and participating in the Upwards basketball program at the Croswell Wesleyan Church. I don’t remember much about that season, I just remember laughing a lot and being excited to do a sport with my dad. 

Many dads become coaches, some at higher levels than others. And many coaches become dads, whether they have children of their own or they become father figures to the athletes they coach. Regardless, they have an important job as they impact the many young lives they’re entrusted with each season. 

This year, local coaches and their teams won nearly 20 league titles across male athletics, boasted dozens of all-state athletes, and will send many more on to the next level. But even more important than these athletic achievements, these coaches have helped develop strong character and taught many important lessons. 

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As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, I wanted to share some of the ways several of our coaches have impacted the young men who’ve recently completed their high school careers: 

Andrew Badder, who played basketball for Don Gauthier at Imlay City, said: 

“Coach Gauthier taught me a lot. He taught me to battle through adversity, like if we were down a couple of points or if I was missing some shot, he would tell me ‘next play’ or ‘next one is in.’ He would always coach me hard so if I wasn’t doing something right, he would tell me and I would try to fix it and that taught me to strive for better and not settle for ‘good enough.’” 

Ryan Collins, who played basketball for Brian Jamison at Port Huron Northern, said: 

“I think a particularly significant lesson that Coach Jamison has taught me is to face challenges and push through adversity. As we all know, Covid was a tough time for all of us. Fortunately, we were able to play basketball throughout my junior year, however, you can imagine how difficult it is to practice without being more than 5 feet away from your teammates. On top of that, we were dealing with masks and no fans to cheer us on.”

“Despite this, we had a great time and won a majority of our games. After many hardships, we were still able to enjoy the season and each other. All in all, Coach Jamison and I have spent plenty of time together, both in the classroom and on the court. He is an awesome guy and someone students and players genuinely appreciate and like.” 

Hudson Davenport, who played baseball for Scott Evans at Richmond, said: 

“A life lesson that Coach Evans taught me would be that nothing is handed to you, that you have to earn everything. It might take a while, but if you work hard and don’t give up, you will earn what you’ve been working for.”

Eli Lohr, who played baseball for Nick Black at St. Clair, said: 

“Coach Black always has preached to do the small things right. As it was our in-game philosophy, it also translates to all facets of daily life by also creating good habits. Another lesson he taught was to get your work done early. This was emphasized during practices and always being prepared in games. Like anything, getting your homework, work, chores, and practice done early is good discipline.” 

Kevin McKiernan, who wrestled for Brandon Day at Richmond said: 

“Coach Day has taught me that a strong mindset and hard work will get you anywhere in life.” 

Cristian Rojas, who wrestled for Tony D’Ambrosio at Imlay City, said: 

“Coach has taught me to always believe in yourself and you can do great things.” 

Derek Ruiz, who played baseball for Nate Manis at Port Huron Northern, said: 

“Baseball isn’t going to be the only place you’ll face adversity in your life. Sometimes as athletes we get caught up in, ‘Oh, it’s just a game, it’s just the struggles in the game,’ but then you go home and you realize there are also struggles in other aspects of life.

“Coach Nate and the integrity he has every day as a coach is just something that I’ve always been thankful for. He puts us guys in a good position on and off the field…He’s one of my favorite people in baseball and is someone I’ll always stay in touch with.”  

Logan Sheffer, who played hockey for Chris Jones at Port Huron Northern, said: 

“I think a very significant life lesson Coach Jones has taught me over the years is that it won’t be easy, and it’s not supposed to be. Whatever you may be doing in life, there will be times when what you love doing is not the most fun, or is not what you thought it would be. 

“Through these times, Coach Jones has taught me to embrace challenges, address failure, and trust the process. When Coach’s 6 a.m. workouts translate to 10-hour shifts at work in the years to come, I will remember that the bigger picture of all of these tribulations was life and that you cannot get to the enjoyment of success, without the displeasures of discipline.”

Braxton Shutko, who ran cross country for Greg Whitican at Yale, said: 

“Coach Whit has taught me many lessons but the one that has made the most impact on me is how to be a leader. I was a captain for my junior and senior years in cross country. In the early season of junior year, I was faced with a setback in my running career when I had a stress fracture. I had to help lead my team without running with my teammates. He taught me how to still make an impact on the underclassmen while not being able to compete and practice.”

“He also taught not only me, but all of my teammates, how to work hard to achieve your goals and be successful in not only running but everyday life.” 

Saige Slanec, who played football for Mike LeGrow at Cros-Lex, said: 

“Coach LeGrow taught me that you have to work for the things you want. Putting in the work in the offseason and during the season leads to success on game days, and hard work pays off for everything in life. If you want anything in life you have to work hard for it.” 

Jake Townsend, who played basketball for Lance Campbell at Cros-Lex said: 

“Coach Campbell always taught us the importance of never taking anything for granted and cherishing all of the moments you have with your friends, family, and teammates.” 

Sam Vitale, who ran cross country and track for Tom Brenner, said: 

“Coach Brenner has taught me pretty much everything I know. I wouldn’t be the person or the runner I am today without him. He has taught me countless things about running and racing, but more importantly, he’s taught me how to be a hard worker, how to overcome adversity, how to never give up, how to see the positive side of everything, how to put others before myself, and overall how to take on life.” 

Wyatt Walker, who played football and baseball for Daryn Letson at Marine City said: 

“There are a few things the DLet (Coach Letson) has taught me. One thing is to get in the weight room, it’ll be your best friend. Although I really hated lifting, he would push me hard in the weight room and it made a tremendous difference in my strength. 

“Another thing he taught me is to have fun. Baseball is a game that is played for fun, and my freshman year on varsity, I don’t think he had fun coaching because he was so stressed out and yelling. This year, he was calm and just went with the flow. He had fun and enjoyed his time this year.” 

He said Letson even hosted a pool party at his house before the district tournament as a reward for his players for winning the MAC-Gold title. 

“One last thing that Coach has taught me is to be prepared for anything. In football, some games I had no idea what position I was playing on offense because he’d just call my name and tell me to get out there…I messed up on a play on offense at the beginning of my junior year. I got told, ‘You’ll never play offense for me again,’ but I knew that was his way of saying, ‘You better get prepared or you’ll get punched in the mouth in a big game, and your season will end short.

“I loved having DLet as my coach. We formed a special bond that will last forever.” 

Eric Whiting, who played baseball for Tony Moncrief at Port Huron High, said:  

“I would say that Coach Moncrief has taught me a lot about not letting things weigh me down when I’m struggling to allow myself to push through the obstacle in front of me. Another one would be patience. This is something that I struggle with and a big thing that he says is, ‘Let things come to you,’ and this has helped me because I’m so eager to jump into things.”

Through adversity and discipline or even in the fun, these young men are better equipped and prepared for whatever lies ahead, thanks to the leadership and examples these coaches have provided. 

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