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February 09, 2012
By: John Raffel

High school athletes get a chance to take centerstage

Sometimes, it's not who you play that's important, it's where you play



John Raffel

Sports Scene


I'm sitting here in the press room of the Breslin Student Center getting ready to watch Michigan State's men's basketball team crush Penn State in Big Ten action. It occurred to me that within several weeks, the atmosphere will change and it will be time to cover the girls basketball and boys basketball state finals.

It's quite a venue being here at the Breslin. You might take it for granted, obviously, the more times that you're here. But the high school players that make it here for the state semifinals have their eyes wide open when they walk onto the floor and gaze up into the 16,000 seats around the arena.

That's why when the postseason starts, it will be all about making it to the Breslin. The opportunity to play here doesn't happen that often. But it's neat when high school coaches try to arrange to play in various unique venues.

Beal City and Clare, for instance, played a basketball doubleheader in early January at Central Michigan University.

Coleman played Ashley in JV and varsity boys basketball action on Feb. 4 at The Palace of Auburn Hills, which frequently allows prep teams to play on a Friday afternoon or Saturday afternoon prior to the Main Event (the Pistons game, for those of you who forgot that they existed).

“We try to get a new team (to play at The Palace) each year and give them that experience,” Coleman coach Byron Schunk said. “The kids really look forward to it. It's a great experience.”

Schunk explained that this was Coleman's ninth straight season at The Palace. He said the connection to play there has been through an individual with the Pistons that he knew even before he came to Coleman.

Greenville, Cedar Springs and other Grand Rapids area teams have in the past had a chance to play basketball games at Van Andel Arena in GR. Many colleges continue to host holiday tournaments for high school teams.

One Coleman player, Riley Bell, explained why it was so enjoyable to play at home of the Detroit Pistons.

“We go there every year since our coach has connections,” Bell said, adding that the main thrill is “just being on the floor and seeing the players' locker rooms.”

It's all the reason more why coaches and ADS should constantly explore special venues for their teams to use during the regular season. We're not talking just about basketball here. Tri County and Belding, for instance, have played baseball games occasionally at the 10,000-season Fifth Third Park, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, an affiliate of the Tigers. Midland, Lansing and Battle Creek also offer excellent professional venues for baseball

I'm sure this is being done all over the state and hopefully more athletes will have the chance to enjoy unique venues for their high school playing careers.

There is one drawback, especially for sports where admission is charged: you're taking away a home game. But we're taking about doing this just once a year or every two years.

High school sports are all about producing lasting memories for athletes and going to a big-time venue ― whether it be the Breslin Center, Crisler Arena, Comerica Park, Ford Field, The Palace, Joe Louis Arena.....

High school sports careers come around once for each person. Let's make the most of it.