When kids get caught in the middle the results usually aren’t too good

ANALYSIS

If you ask me, it is an all-around disaster.

And if you ask a lot of other folks as well, they’ll say the same thing.

I’m referring, of course, to the recent goings-on in the Muskegon Heights school district. The state has decided to take over the Heights, allowing a for-profit charter school company to operate the district while relieving it from the enormous debt it accumulated under the previous school board and administration.

That’s the political side of the story. And whether or not you believe the state’s direction is correct is beyond this particular column.

This piece won’t take sides in that battle.Instead, I’d like to focus our attention for a moment on the human factor.

While for many years academics at the Heights certainly haven’t lived up to our expectations, the athletic side has been a source of pride, not just for the Heights proper, but for the entire county.

The school’s long and rich athletic history has given student-athletes, fans  and the entire community a reason to cheer for – to fight for – the struggling school.

Yet it seems, that may soon be a thing of the past.

While reports have suggested the district’s Emergency Manager is willing to let some sports programs remain, no one is really sure what its football team, let alone its basketball team, will look like when it is all said and done.

Rumors have swept through the community in this respect, placing some student-athletes at Muskegon High School, others at Mona Shores. One rumor I heard had a large contingent of players moving on to Reeths-Puffer, though Rocket athletic director Tony Schmitt said last week that remains to be seen.

One thing is certain, however: whether or not the school will field sports teams this fall, the school’s sports landscape will look dramatically different.

I have a personal stake in this process. As some of you may know, as assistant track coach at Muskegon Catholic, my runners often trained at the Heights’ track. I was shocked when one day three different Muskegon Heights’ students came up to me to say they planned on attending MCC in the fall.

Each time I answered that we’d love to have them, but I couldn’t help feeling like our gain would be ill-gotten treasure.

Reports have suggested Heights’ student-athletes, if they choose to transfer, will have to sit out the first semester.

So, either Heights’ student-athletes take their medicine and stay in a program that lacks much certainty, or transfer and take their medicine by losing half a year.

That, to me, seems like bad medicine all around. That is, it seems to target the wrong group.

As I said, my runners occasionally drove to the Heights’ track to train, especially as the state meet loomed.

Often times, we shared the track with the Heights kids who were likewise preparing for the state meet. One of those runners, Jasmine Jackson, the squad’s lone female runner to make it to state, often could be seen training alone.

I couldn’t help but admire Jackson’s steely determination, her dedication toward a sport few even acknowledge, let alone celebrate for its level of sacrifice. And yet there she was, everyday, preparing for her turn to make waves at the state meet.

Jackson, who finished third at the regional meet, nabbed an automatic qualifying time in the process, didn’t place at state, in a very competitive 400 meter field.

But, I guarantee she learned the value of seeing something through to the very end.

That makes me wonder which lessons Heights’ student-athletes will have the opportunity to learn in the future.

And it makes me wonder how much we adults will do to make sure those opportunities remain.

You should be wondering that too.

Mark Lewis is a contributing writer for Local  Sports Journal who has covered area sports for 10 years.

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