By David Schriemer, MD
Some students take a direct path to graduation. Others “wander in the wilderness” a bit, learning life lessons along the way until they reach the “promised land” of graduation. Trae Williams, of Kalamazoo, is one of those students.
He was a decent student. However, his first two years in high school did not go so well. He fell behind in classes and was far too familiar with the principal and the in-house suspension room. He never did anything mean or malicious but could never seem to get out of trouble. He briefly attended an alternative high school but that was a disaster. He quit that school and tried to go back to his original high school, but they refused to readmit him. He was already behind on credits. Now what was he going to do?
His mother read about the WAY program in Vicksburg. Students do projects online at home to receive high school credits. They are assigned a mentor and must attend the learning lab at the administration building weekly. Students progress at their own rate. Because they can do projects day or night, students can make up credits and catch up to their peers.
When Trae enrolled in April, 2013, he was working 47 hours per week in a factory through a temp agency. He had quickly learned it was hard to work for more than minimum wage without a diploma.
Even though his academic progress was slow, he stuck with it with the encouragement of his mentor, Holly Hawke-Jordan.
Trae loved sports and had played basketball and baseball at his previous high school and on summer league basketball teams in Kalamazoo. So, he asked WAY program director Steve Fryling if he could play basketball for Vicksburg. No one in the WAY program had ever participated in school sports, so he checked with athletic director Mike Roy, varsity basketball coach Shawn McGuire and other administrators.
Per Michigan High School Athletic Association rules, Trae would not be eligible to play until the second semester which is halfway through the basketball season because he transferred to Vicksburg Schools but did not reside in the district. He would also have to meet academic standards to stay eligible. He would be required to log on to the program regularly and complete four projects every two weeks. If he met academic standards, he could play. The ball was now in Trae’s court.
So, Trae reduced his work hours and picked up the pace academically. He went to tryouts without knowing any other students. After a bit, he figured out who the varsity players were and gravitated towards them.
“Dalton seemed to know everybody so I kind a hung around him,” he said.
Varsity basketball player Dalton Ketelaar laughed when told what Trae said and added, “Trae is just a great guy.”
Trae quickly won the players over with his energy and enthusiasm. When they realized he drove his grandmother’s car from Cork Street to practice every day all winter, but could not play in the first 10 games, he earned their respect.
Trae became eligible to play in the game against Paw Paw. The team was well behind when Trae got his first opportunity to play. He immediately stole the ball, scored, and was fouled for a three-point play.
His energy lifted the team and impressed the Vicksburg fans who had traveled to Paw Paw. Trae became a favorite of the Vicksburg student section. When they started to chant, “We want Trae. We want Trae” at subsequent games, he was shocked.
“It was an amazing feeling,” he said, as he shook his head in disbelief.
Coming off the bench, Trae was an integral part of the team. He scored a personal high 17 points against Comstock at home.
At the end of the season, the team went out bowling. As usual for teammates, there was the requisite amount of trash talking about each person’s skills. Trae was a willing participant. When Trae rolled a ball that jumped the gutter and knocked down pins in the next lane, the guys realized Trae excelled in basketball and bravado but not bowling. They couldn’t help but like him.
Assistant varsity basketball coach Scott Gajos said, ”Trae always gave 100 percent. He was always respectful and played hard.”
Coach McGuire said the coaches and team respected Trae’s willingness to practice hard knowing he could not play in the first 10 games.
“He provided instant energy,” McGuire said. He awarded Trae the “Spark Plug Award” for his intense play.
WAY director Steve Fryling said Trae has kept up the pace of his schoolwork since basketball ended and is on track to graduate next fall/winter. He will have completed about two years of credits in 18 months.
Trae has passed on his newfound discipline in academics to his fourth grade sister Amarra, who was refusing to read an assignment even though she was an excellent reader. Trae knew she looked up to him, so he told her she needed to read and do her schoolwork. If she did, he would play basketball with her. She read and they played.
After graduation, Trae hopes to get a better paying job, hopefully at Bronson Hospital, and possibly attend KVCC and maybe try out for the basketball team.
Trae has learned the value of a diploma through his work experience. He has learned the rewards of hard work and perseverance through basketball. He is succeeding academically with that same hard work and perseverance. His mentors, coaches and teammates love him and are proud of him. When he graduates, they will celebrate too.