By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The Blue Water Area Conference, on the eastern side of the Thumb, created this fall a patch it will award to athletes who letter in three sports during a school year.
Winning a high school letter always has been a notable accomplishment. Earning two is a sign of a well-rounded athlete. And in these days of single-sport specialization, we celebrate those who continue to play three at the varsity level.
Then there’s the rare – if not unique – case of Capac junior Nick Geliske.
Earlier this week, he became the first to win the newly-minted BWAC award – after just one season. He finished his fall as an all-league midfielder for the soccer team, an all-league honorable mention cross country runner and the fulltime kicker for the football squad.
“I wasn’t sure how it would work out when I decided to go into it. I wanted to do all of them, but a year ago I wouldn’t have seen myself doing this,” Geliske said. “I was just hoping to help my teams this year.
"I’ve got bigger expectations for myself next year.”
Three-sport letterwinners are not a rarity in Geliske’s hometown. Despite an enrollment of 100 fewer students than all but one of the other schools in its eight-team conference, Capac has the most who play a sport every season. The Chiefs had 41 three-sport athletes during 2012-13, athletic director Arnie VandeMark said, and 33 athletes who earned letters in three sports played as part of the BWAC – 24 more three-sport athletes than the league school with the next-highest total.
Playing two sports during the same season, while uncommon, also occurs from time to time when an athlete can handle the added load and coaches can work out a flexible schedule. But VandeMark never had seen an athlete do what Geliske accomplished this fall – not to mention the success he had in the process. Geliske just kept finding ways to compete – and contribute to Chiefs teams alongside his friends.
He has been a starter on the soccer team for three seasons and captain these last two, and that’s his primary sport. A midfielder, he led the team with five assists this fall to go with three goals as Capac – in its eighth season as a program – set a wins record in finishing 11-8.
Geliske decided to double in cross country this season at the urging of a few friends on that team. Great move on their part, as Geliske ended up the team’s regular second- fastest finisher. He took sixth at his Regional (in 17:52) and was part of the lineup that made the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final at Michigan International Speedway.
But before practice for either of those sports began, Geliske had another request from his best friend on the football team. Capac needed a kicker. Geliske loves football but never had played at the high school level and never had kicked. No matter – two hours before the first practice he decided to give it a try, showed up and won the job.
“Nick was a huge part of our team qualifying for team states. He set an example for others to follow being a very busy athlete in soccer and football,” Capac boys cross country coach Tim Gross said. “He would show up for practice and set the standard for everyone else to follow. He was not only a great athlete, but a very organized person.”
Geliske also holds a 3.85 grade-point average – after earning a 4.0 during the first quarter of this school year – and is involved with Capac’s student council and chapters of the National Honors Society and Business Professionals of America.
Pulling off the above plus participating on three athletic teams takes heavy doses organization and discipline both. Thankfully, the sports schedules just happened to fall into place.
First-year soccer coach Jerry Parisot needed to hold his practices at 6 p.m., leaving the afternoon for Geliske’s other pursuits. Geliske ran with the cross country team from 3-4 p.m. and kicked with the football team until 5 before catching a quick meal and heading to the soccer field.
On cross country meet days, Geliske would run and usually make it back in time for soccer practice. On soccer game days, he’d kick with the football team right after school before switching uniforms.
The biggest challenge came on Friday, Oct 25, when Geliske ran in the cross country team’s Regional at Algonac – an hour trip south of Capac – then had to drive nearly two hours back north for a football game at Sandusky. He made it two minutes before kickoff.
But amid jumping through those hoops, Geliske continued to make academics a priority with study time from 8-10 p.m. most weeknights.
“Usually, for football I’d just talk to my coach and could schedule around because I’m the kicker, and I have awesome coaches. For soccer, my dad is the assistant coach so that worked out pretty well, and the varsity coach coached me at younger levels. And for cross country, he was an awesome guy too. They knew I’d be busy all the time,” Geliske said.
“My mom wasn’t so sure about (three sports), but she said as long as I keep my grades up I can play all of those sports. I gave myself studying time; I didn't want to let my teams or myself down.”
Before the season began, Geliske brought Gross a schedule detailing where he’d be every day over the next three months. Gross credits Geliske's parents for his runner's discipline, and Nick also credits Mom and Dad with instilling that trait – and a lot more.
Cracking the code
Geliske was so competitive as a kid, sometimes he’d get a little out of control and his parents would have to calm him down. That intensity hasn't faded much – “Even during pick-up games and stuff, people get mad that I’m so competitive,” he said. “I don’t like losing ... (but) I have to tone it down a little bit.”
“He's 200 percent competitive,” Parisot said. “It’s not really about winning or losing. It's more about trying as hard as you can.”
That streak was ingrained by his father Barry Geliske, who along with coaching soccer and serving on the school board works on the chain gang for home football games and is “the most competitive and passionate guy about sports,” Nick said.
His athletic side? Geliske believes that comes from his mom Sandra. And then, matter-of-factly, he reveals a family line that backs his theory pretty well.
Among second cousins is former Marquette University basketball standout Travis Diener, who beginning in 2005 played for three NBA teams and now plays professionally in Italy. Sandra Geliske’s maiden name is Thome – as in Jim Thome, another cousin, and a likely future Hall of Famer who hit 612 home runs during a Major League Baseball career stretching two decades.
There’s another cousin, former NFL tight end Dave Casper, who made five Pro Bowls for the Oakland Raiders during the late 1970s. A great uncle named Ronald Jackson played seven seasons of pro baseball with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox from 1954-60.
Geliske will begin basketball practice Monday and plans to play baseball and run track this spring before coming back for all six sports as a senior. VandeMark has had an athlete finish high school with 13 letters – but Geliske hopes to graduate with 15.
That leads to another significant question – how will Geliske display them?
Like at most schools, some Capac athletes wear traditional letter jackets. They receive an actual letter for their first, then a series of pins and medals for each additional year on a varsity team.
Geliske’s mom wants instead to frame the awards. If that’s the decision, Geliske is looking for something sizable – and he’s got to fit that BWAC patch now as well.
It's been a fall full of other accolades too. He made the all-league soccer team and earned an all-league cross country award, and was part of an academic all-state team in the latter as well. But he’s got much higher expectations for fall 2014 since he’ll be settled into his balancing act. And no way does that include picking a favorite.
“I can’t imagine it for myself. I’ve been playing these sports my whole life,” Geliske said. “Sometimes someone might be really good in that (one) sport and stay with it, but I say doing more sports is better. It keeps you active. I just love competing, and that’s the big thing about it.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Capac’s Nick Geliske lettered as part of the school’s cross country, boys soccer and football teams this fall. (Middle) Geliske throws a ball in during a soccer game and turns a corner during a race this season. (Below) Geliske poses with his Blue Water Area Conference three-letter patch after becoming the first to earn the award. (Photos courtesy of Capac athletic department and Geliske family.)