No helicopter parent, nor school administrator, nor community bigwig ever should be allowed to tell an athletic coach who to play and who not to play and when. The coach was hired to make those decisions, and like an old friend of mine used to say, “Sports is not a democracy.”
That said, it is still reasonable for any follower of Wayland High School basketball to raise questions about some puzzling aspects of a very successful program that perhaps have shown a chink in the armor of Wildcat hoops. Indeed, there was that surprising and disappointing loss Friday night to Middleville Thornapple Kellogg, but that pain very likely can be temporary. But an even greater disappointment occurred Thursday when the Wayland junior varsity boys’ basketball team dressed only seven players and was soundly thrashed by the Trojans.
Not long ago, I dissed the WHS football program for dressing only 20 players for a varsity game, but now we have to turn our attention to basketball to determine why the jayvee numbers can get so bad. To be sure, influenza played a role in this development, but we know something’s happening here that may be more serious in its impact on the program.
The 2014-15 Wayland basketball season started with five sophomores on the varsity. At the same time, 11 players were listed on the jayvee team, one of whom was ineligible, already reducing the ranks and setting the stage for the debacle of last Thursday.
Of the five sophomores on the varsity unit, virtually no one can argue with the presence of 6-6 Zac Nieuwkoop or guard Avery Hudson, both of whom start and make major contributions. Mitchell Dykstra could go either way — He was brought up to varsity as a freshman midway through last season and did a creditable job during the tournament run.
But two sophomores, Mike Velting and Jake Holtz, aren’t getting a lot of playing time and their services would be very welcome at the JV level, where they would get a lot of playing time to help develop their skills.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. The 2011-12 varsity coached by Justin Aten featured no fewer than five underclassmen, including freshman point guard Dilon Aten and sophomores Quentin Sweeney, Jack Phillips, Keagan Ritz-Smith and Dominic LaHuis. By the time they were seniors, all four of those sophomores were relegated to limited playing time.
Last year’s team saw the call-ups of Hudson, Nieuwkoop, Dykstra and Michael Kelly. The last of this foursome actually didn’t get all that much playing time last season.
And now we see five sophomores on the varsity. So the question has to be: Why are so many basketball players leap-frogging past the junior varsity to the varsity? I counted 11 of them over the last four years.
Customarily, the process of bringing up underclassmen to the big show involves a varsity squad lacking enough talent to compete, but certainly this is not the case for Wayland, which until Friday night’s “upset” was ranked No. 4 in the state Associated Press Class B poll.
One of the huge problems with bringing up so many freshmen and sophomores is that it discourages juniors and seniors who feel like they’ve paid their dues and deserve a fair shot at playing time.
I have absolutely no intention of suggesting who coach Mike Hudson should or shouldn’t play. I believe deep in my heart he’s forgotten more about basketball than I’ve ever learned.
But I have serious questions about why the jayvee unit has low numbers while the varsity is bulging at the seams with underclassmen who do bench-sitting.
It has been suggested to me that some helicopter parents don’t want their “special child” playing for the junior varsity coach for whatever reason. It also has been suggested to me that the hovering parental units insist their child is good enough to be a member of the varsity, even though that call should be made only by Hudson.
It certainly leaves me with the annoying question about who’s in charge here. And it comes at a special time in Wayland basketball history, one in which the Wildcats are coming off their first regional championship in 59 years and still entertaining hopes and dreams of a state championship.
Some will maintain this kind of talk should be swept under the rug for the sake of the team. I disagree. I think some kind of explanation from the administration or athletic director should be forthcoming.
“Why isn’t my kid playing more?”
PHOTO: Coach Mike Hudson in his customary blue shirt.