By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
NORTHPORT – Dan Stowe wondered how Northport might celebrate the 30th anniversary of its MHSAA Class D boys basketball championship.
Enter Ethan Pino.
The 17-year-old, a forward on the current Wildcats team coached by Stowe, has organized an event for Saturday night that will bring players and coaches off that 1988 squad together for a panel discussion on various topics, including the benefits of playing team sports.
It’s all part of Pino’s senior project.
“People still talk about (the state title) a lot,” said Pino. “It’s one of the great things that’s happened in Northport. It’s such a small town.”
Pino, who will be an interviewer, said he’s eager to hear team members talk about life lessons learned that season and what it took to win an MHSAA Finals crown.
“This was a great experience for them, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I want (to hear) about the dedication they put into it and the legacy they left behind.”
Audience members will be able to ask questions, too.
The team has had two reunions since claiming the title, but the last was 20 years ago, said Gordie Wick, the coach of the 1988 squad.
“I was wondering who was going to (organize) a reunion or celebration,” said Stowe, who hit the game-winning shot to beat Beal City 80-78 in the Final. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen.
“When Ethan suggested he wanted a role as part of his Northport senior project it made a lot of sense. Josh (athletic director Josh Vander Meulen) is his mentor (on the project). I think this is a good opportunity to have those people that were involved in that experience congregate (at the school) for some pointed, and some fun, questions. It will give us a chance to reminisce. Everybody wins.”
Northport seniors are required to complete a project to graduate. There are 17 seniors in this year’s class. Their project topics range from females in the military to drug awareness to the farm-to-table food movement. Pino, who has played five years of varsity soccer and four of varsity basketball, went the sports route. He said playing sports has taught him valuable lessons about teamwork and commitment. Plus, he added, it’s improved his communication, leadership and social skills. And it’s opened the door to lasting friendships, too.
Pino, who hopes to attend Oakland University, was selected as the school’s student athlete of the fall.
“He wanted to focus on team sports because it’s through his experiences with his teammates that he’s been able to grow,” said Vander Meulen. “Sports are a big part of his life. Ethan’s not a boisterous student. He’s celebrated because he’s a quiet competitor who is dependable and trustworthy. He’s not looking to stand out. He’s not looking for a gold star. When you work with him, you know he’s going to do a good job and you’re going to have fun. You know he won’t let you down.”
The 30-year reunion comes at a rather poignant time. Tonight’s game with Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian Academy could be the last home game for players wearing Northport uniforms. Because of declining numbers – the high school enrollment is in the 40s - Northport may have to go to a co-op, like it does with neighboring Suttons Bay in soccer and girls basketball. There are currently nine players on varsity, but only three return next season. There is no JV team.
The Wildcats, 10-4, recently clinched the Cherryland Conference title. The team had won eight games in a row before a loss to Traverse City Christian on Wednesday. That was Northport’s first league loss in two years.
“It’s been rewarding to see how far we’ve come since the beginning of the season,” said Pino.
It’s been a hectic winter for Pino – and Vander Meulen, who has helped him pull his senior project together. There are three components to all projects – a research paper, a formal product and a presentation.
“This (projects) gives all of our seniors a chance to dive into something deeper than maybe they’re allowed to in the classroom,” said Vander Meulen.
Saturday’s event will be Pino’s product, although Vander Meulen said he believes “the planning is the product and the event is the cherry.”
“Certainly we want to pull it off and have it be a great night for everyone involved,” he said. “Planning is so important, and hopefully that’s what Ethan takes away from this. It’s the planning that makes it happen – and good planning takes work.”
Pino and Vander Meulen decided in October that the 30th anniversary of Northport’s title would be a perfect tie-in to the project.
“The 1988 team is the vehicle to drive the message of the benefits (of playing team sports) forward,” said Vander Meulen.
“In our community, they are the team, and that’s capital TEAM. And that’s what this narrative is about. If you ask anybody in our community, who lived here (at that time), they all have a story. To the modern athletes, though, they are mostly unknown so this will be a cool opportunity for our student athletes to see those former players and hear their stories from 30 years ago.”
Several of those players were also part of the school’s Class D championship soccer team in 1986. But it’s that magical March basketball run in 1988 that captured the attention of northern Michigan.
“Football and boys basketball, at least in northern Michigan, drive the dialogue,” said Vander Meulen. “All sports are important and valuable, but public interest in those two can capture a community, ignite not only a town but a region. When I watch highlights of the Buckley boys on the news you can’t see a place to sit. That’s the same energy that was once there with the Northport boys.”
After completing his research paper in late November, Pino reached out to former players and coaches about the idea and to see if they would be able to make it. Seven players and two coaches are planning to attend.
“Some are living out of town and are busy and cannot come,” said Pino. “Some we could not get ahold of. Overall, though, they were pretty excited to hear about it.”
Two dates were considered before Saturday was agreed upon.
When asked how much time he’s put in on the project, Pino paused.
“Mmm …, hours wise, I’m not exactly sure,” he said. “But it’s all good.”
Stowe appreciates the fact Pino and Vander Meulen went the extra mile.
“I think they’ve gone way over the top on this one,” he said.
And they’re still making sure everything is set for Saturday.
“Since we got back from (Christmas) break it’s been logistics, logistics, logistics,” said Vander Meulen. “We don’t want to invite people to Northport and have it be a sloppy presentation. We meet every day. In fact, I don’t know how he feels when he sees me in the hallway now because I always have a new idea. It’s ‘Ethan, we should be tackling this’ or ‘Ethan, did you take care of that?’ We hope we’re not leaving any stone unturned. We feel pretty good, but we’re still turning stones to see if there’s not more we can do.”
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Northport’s Ethan Pino squares up for a shot during a game this season. (Middle) The 1988 Northport boys basketball team remains legendary in its community. (Below) Pino winds up during this past soccer season. (Top and below photos by Dan Duffiney.)
Matt and Derek Seidl have a lot to talk about these days.
The father and son duo both have highly-ranked, undefeated basketball teams going into the first full week of February, something neither of them saw coming.
“We were hoping for a season like this, but you never think about winning this many in a row,” said Matt Seidl, the father and head coach of the 15-0 Olivet Eagles. “When our season ended last year, we knew our top seven players would all be returning.”
About 50 miles south of Olivet, in Jackson County, Derek Seidl has the Napoleon Pirates off to a 14-0 start. They are sitting on top of the Cascades Conference.
“We have a really talented group right now,” Derek said. “We were 19-3 last year and brought six guys back. Having that experience has been very valuable.”
Olivet is ranked No. 2 in MPR in Division 2 while Napoleon is No. 9 in Division 3. Both are top-10 teams in the latest Associated Press polls as well.
Matt Seidl, 60, graduated from Ypsilanti Lincoln High School in 1981 and went to Eastern Michigan University to become a sportswriter. He didn’t begin teaching until he was in his early 30s, but, by then, was already a veteran coach.
“It was getting difficult because I was always leaving my job to go coach,” he said. “I decided to go and get my teaching degree.”
He wound up in the classroom, which enabled him to dive deeper into coaching. He spent several years coaching at the middle school and high school levels, boys and girls, with stops at places like Pinckney, Ypsilanti, Manchester, Willow Run and Romulus. He was the JV boys basketball coach at Dexter when his son, Derek, made the team as a freshman.
By then, Derek already knew he would be on the bench one day as a coach.
“I played for my dad in youth travel stuff, and he was on staff for one year my freshmen year of high school,” Derek said. “He was a varsity coach all growing up. I was always at games. I loved talking to him about the game, the strategy of it, the Xs and Os. Even when I was younger, I thought about coaching someday. Growing up if you would have asked me what my dream job was, it would have been a teacher and coach.”
Derek, 27, graduated from Dexter in 2014. He played four years of college basketball at Lawrence Tech University. After getting his master’s degree and teaching degree, he got his first coaching job as an assistant coach at Chelsea, under Josh Tropea, who also had coached with Matt.
Derek’s first teaching and head coaching job came at Springport in 2019-20. This is his third year at Napoleon.
“It’s been a really good fit here,” Derek said. “Before I started looking into the job, I barely knew anything about Napoleon. It has worked out well.”
Matt is also the athletic director at Olivet. If he would have had his way, Derek would be coaching at Olivet.
“Derek did a really good job at Springport, and we had an opening and he interviewed and was recommended for the job, but before they offered it to him, Napoleon hired him,” Matt said. “He would have been the perfect choice to teach math and coach basketball.”
With Derek no longer in the running, Matt came out of coaching retirement and was named head coach.
“It was going to be a one-year deal, sort of a band-aid to get us to the next year,” he said.
Instead, Matt’s stayed on and put together quite a successful team. The Eagles have gone 47-6 since the start of the 2020-21 season. This year’s team has taken a big step.
Junior Bo Lincoln, a 5-foot-11 junior point guard, leads the team in scoring (17.1 points per game), assists (3.6 per game), steals (3.0 per game) and free throw percentage at 78 percent.
Drew Priddy, a 6-5 senior center, is averaging about eight points and seven rebounds a game, and junior guard Bryce Wine is averaging nine points a game and leads the team in 3-pointers.
“We had quite the youth movement a few years ago,” Matt said. “We go 8-9 deep now and have a lot of experience. Having those young guys play a couple years ago is paying off.
“We are a good team, but we’re not a 70-possessions-a-game type of team. We know who we are.”
Derek also knows plenty about his dad’s team.
“I definitely keep track of them,” he said. “We talk on the phone on a daily basis – 30 minutes about Napoleon and 30 minutes about Olivet. We bounce things off each other. We run a lot of the same stuff as far as systems. We’re very connected on things.”
Matt and Derek’s teams tried to have a good old-fashioned scrimmage, or exhibition, last year but – with Derek’s team ahead – Matt received two technicals and got kicked out of the game. It’s a fun story for both to tell now.
“That was wild,” Derek said. “It was a cool thing we had going. We were winning so I was enjoying it, but that put a whole different spin on the situation.”
Matt said they probably won’t do that again. Probably.
“My wife said no,” he said. “Derek and I have talked about it, but I don’t know that it would ever happen.”
Derek said one day he’d like to coach with his father.
“I’m very energetic and into it, just like he is,” Derek said. “There are some similarities. I played for him and watched him a lot. I try and pull some of the things he does, being prepared. We get along super well. I don’t know if I could trust him to not get technical fouls.”
He’s kidding, of course.
Napoleon has a core group of four players with a ton of experience.
Devonta Habern is a 5-11 junior who is on the varsity for the third year and runs the show at point guard. Six-foot-5 senior Trent Jester is one of the best big men in the conference. University of Michigan baseball commit Grant Bradley is a three-year varsity starter and outstanding athlete. Holden Vanpoppel is an all-state track athlete who has turned into a pretty good basketball player.
“Grant is super steady and having a great year,” Derek said. “He looks like he’s been in the weight room since he was 5 years old. He can guard anybody. Vanpoppel is an unbelievable run and jump athlete. All four of these guys are averaging in double figures. They are really good athletes who have invested in the program and put the time in.”
“We’ve got a very talented group,” Derek said. “They are a little looser than I am. I tend to be very calculated, kind of analytical and serious. They like to goof around a little bit. They keep me even-keeled. They know when to get serious. It’s good for me to have a group like that.”
Derek said his squad wants to exceed expectations this year.
“We talk about that after every game – don’t be satisfied just because we are undefeated,” Derek said. “There is plenty more to accomplish. Last year we went 18-2 in the regular season and 19-3 overall, but we didn’t win a league or a District. Our guys have bought into that mindset. That’s helped us get to where we are.”
Matt is keeping a close eye on not only his team, but Derek’s as well.
“I probably get more stressed watching his games,” he said. “I’m really proud of what he has been able to do.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Father Matt, left, and son Derek Seidl are leading undefeated boys basketball teams this season at Olivet and Napoleon, respectively. (Middle) Senior Brayden Wine makes a move toward the basket for the Eagles. (Below) Derek Seidl instructs his players. (Olivet photos courtesy of Olivet High School; Napoleon photos by Jeff Steers/JTV.)