By Sean Budlong
Schoolcraft High School has a long history of athletic success. In 2014-2015, the Eagles won the league crown in football, volleyball, baseball, softball, track and field, golf, and wrestling. This year, the football, volleyball, wrestling, and girls basketball teams all have earned championships.
A key ingredient to Schoolcraft’s success is encouraging its student athletes to play multiple sports.
A generation ago, it was common for kids to play a different sport in every season. However we live in a time where kids as young as eight or nine years old “specialize” in sports like soccer, baseball, or gymnastics. Travel seasons start immediately after the high school season ends, and may run right up until the high school tryouts begin the next year.
Schoolcraft seniors Zac Sharp, Jayci Suseland, and Hannah Huysken are examples of three sport student athletes that bring pride to the school both academically and athletically. All three Eagles talked about how playing different sports improved their friendships, leadership qualities, and academic success.
Growing up, Huysken played every sport she could. In her years at SHS, she has played volleyball, basketball, softball, soccer, and track and field.
“I’m a better friend, teammate and leader because of playing different sports,” Huysken explained.
“I decided to play baseball because I had played it growing up, and a lot of my friends play,” Sharp said. “I wanted my final months of school to be having fun playing a sport with friends, but I’ve gotten to know some guys that don’t play football or wrestle. Strange to go to a small school but get to know guys in the last couple of months of my career.”
“Every team has a different personality and chemistry,” Suseland said. “Schoolcraft is small, but I get to know people differently by playing sports with them. That impacts the way we treat each other at school.”
Sharp was a Dream Team defensive back in football and a four-time state tournament wrestler.
Suseland was voted All State in volleyball as both a junior and senior. After a successful basketball season, she is playing a new position, mid field, for the soccer team. Huysken was All State in volleyball, and now leads the soccer team in scoring.
Playing multiple sports forces student athletes to become leaders in different ways. “In volleyball, the team does ‘punishments’ together because we win or lose as a team,” Suseland said. “This wasn’t the norm in soccer, and some of us had to teach this idea to the younger girls.”
Sharp’s father, Darryl, both as a parent and one of his son’s wrestling coaches, saw Zac’s leadership skills develop. “His multiple sports taught multiple skills and called for a different style of leadership,” Darryl explained. “As an individual wrestler, he led through example – showing younger guys how much work it takes to be successful. In football, he was a lot more vocal on the field, making sure his teammates were in the right position before the snap.”
Playing multiple sports does put a strain on free time, and can create academic issues if the students are not disciplined. Sharp, Huysken and Suseland have not allowed their grades to suffer as their athletic careers blossomed. Suseland accepted a volleyball scholarship to Grand Valley State University. Huysken will attend Grace College in the fall and plans to play volleyball. Sharp will study chemical engineering at WMU.
“You learn to study whenever you can,” explained Suseland. “Late nights, early mornings, on the bus. You have to get the school work done.” Huysken agreed, adding “if you are failing your classes you won’t be able to play the sport you love.”
The impact these seniors have is not just on their teams, but also their teammates. Sophomore Kennedy Leighton played varsity volleyball and basketball with Suseland and Huysken, and plays varsity softball. She watched her older brother play multiple sports while at Schoolcraft, and sees the benefits to her future.
“I look up to the older players like Hannah on and off the court,” Leighton said. “I see how different sports let me meet different players, coaches, even the fan bases are different. I am forced to be a better student if I want to stay eligible and continue to play varsity sports.”
Matt Leighton, Kennedy’s father, explained the benefits he has seen with both of his kids playing multiple sports at Schoolcraft. “They have learned the benefits of hard work, persistence and determination,” he said. “Mental toughness can be an asset, and teamwork is essential to success – both in school and life.”