By Greg Gielczyk
MANISTEE–Kenn Kott began his coaching career guiding the freshman girls basketball team at Manistee High School about 1987. He worked his way up the ladder when he stepped up to the junior varsity team and finally took over the varsity job in 1995.
Over the years, Manistee’s girls basketball program won conference, district and regional championships with Kott at the helm.
Then, in the summer of 2019, Kott suffered a stroke. It paralyzed the right side of his body for a time and he faced a far more important challenge than coaching … regaining his health.
“It was June 3,” he said. “It was a Monday morning, I was getting up for work. I took a shower, got everything ready. Right before I got ready to leave, it happened while I was in the living room.
“Thanks to the first responders and everybody, they got me to the hospital really quick,” he said. “They gave me the one shot they give people that have had a stroke, it cleared right up, and I was totally fine.”
But that was just temporary.
“I felt good.” Kott said. “So, it was ‘whew! you dodged a bullet there.’ But they wanted to find out why it happened so they were going to take me to Traverse City and find out at Munson what happened. As soon as they put me in the ambulance, it (the paralysis) came back.”
Since he already had the shot, there wasn’t anything more the medical personnel could do. A second shot was not an option.
The paralysis subsided and recurred twice more that day, the last time around 8 p.m. and this time it did not come back. Kott, 64, still has a noticeable limp and they never did find out the cause of the stroke.
“You wake up one morning and realize that you can’t do the things you used to do,” Kott said. “Your whole right side is paralyzed and you’re thinking, ‘Wow, is this going to be the rest of my life.”
Thoughts of having issues the rest of your life and quickly cause other issues.
“I was pretty depressed at first,” Kott said. “I went from running four or five miles a day, playing basketball with 20 year olds, and doing everything … and all of a sudden, I couldn’t do any of that. It was quite a shock.
“Think about coaching. I used to show everybody what they needed to do,” he said. “Now, I won’t be able to show them because I can’t move. I wondered if I would ever coach again, much less work.”
But Kott resolved to fight his way back, and when he was told he was an excellent candidate to rehab at Mary Free Bed Hospital, he agreed.
After a week at Munson, he was transferred to Mary Free Bed and he spent a month there. He saw that others there were in far worse condition and was determined to work harder than ever to recover.
“The therapists were wonderful up there,” said Kott. “Three hours, four hours a day … I had to have everything, because I couldn’t walk and my right arm didn’t work at all.
“My speech was slurred,” he said. “Here I am, a radio broadcaster. I’ve done games on the radio. All of a sudden, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, am I going to be able to do a game again? Am I going to be able to yell out instructions to a team again?’ All of that stuff.”
But, with speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy every day, Kott pushed forward. Later, he received in-home therapy and then received insurance approval to visit Manistee hospital for therapy.
It was a long road.
“The school was really great,” Kott said. “They knew the situation I was in and they said ‘Take some time off.’ I found out that I needed to take a full year off.”
Kott began receiving cards and phone calls from former employees, former players, former coaches and others. He was touched by the outpouring of support he was receiving from so many people.
As well as the moral support, Kott was also helped by his son, Kevin, who is a physical therapist and his daughter, Emily, who is in graduate school studying to be an occupational therapist.
Kott returned to school in the fall of 2020 and resumed his duties as an assistant principal.
Chelsea Mately Burns, the junior varsity coach at the time, had agreed to serve as interim coach while Kott recovered. Then she gladly stepped aside when he came back to coaching in 2021.
“I think the most interesting thing about it was we had a really young team that year, so it was going to be a growing situation for the team, and it was a growing situation for me,” Kott said. “We all got to grow together. All of a sudden, I started to get back to doing the things I did before. So it was kind of like we were watching each other grow.”
Stepping onto the court for the first day of practice was an emotional moment for Kott, who also is the school’s athletic director and runs the bus garage.
“I was pleased with myself,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get back there, ever. When I finally walked back in that gym, and I wasn’t 100 percent at that time, just the feeling that I accomplished something. I didn’t let the setback keep me back.
“It was kind of a feeling of relief and kind of a feeling of tremendous joy. I felt like I belonged there and I was so glad to be back.”