Romulus Summit Academy Continuing Impressive Climb

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

March 17, 2021

As a co-founder of Romulus Summit Academy, Leann Hedke was intent on creating an atmosphere conducive to academic achievement.

Summit opened its doors in Flat Rock in 1996 for grades K-5, soon expanding to K-12 once the school moved to Romulus the following year. According to Hedke, in the last 10 years 100 percent of those graduating were accepted to a college or university.

Also, according to a 2017 report, Summit had the highest graduation rate among charter schools in Michigan and was ranked in the top 50 by graduation rate during the 2015-2016 school year. Summit, rated No. 17, had a graduation rate of 98.58 percent, nearly 20 percent better than the state average of 79.65.

Mission accomplished.

But something was missing: a competitive athletics program. Often a viable athletic program will enhance academics. A competitive athletic program can generate enthusiasm and give students a reason to be proud of their school, in addition to academics.

Summit Academy North High School didn’t sponsor varsity sports until the early 2000s and, frankly, they weren’t very good, particularly in the sports of boys basketball and football. From 2004-2016 the football team boasted three winning seasons and made the playoffs once (2007). Until the 2019-20 season, the most wins the basketball team totaled was 10.

“Our focus has been on the scholar-athlete,” Hedke said. “We focus on academics. Our GPA (grade-point average) requirements are higher than what the (Michigan High School Athletic Association) requires.”

Hedke said there’s been quite of bit of turnover in the coaching ranks in boys basketball over the years. Part of this is due to the lack of success, as far as wins and losses, but some of this can be attributed to the high standards Hedke and her fellow administrators demand. Swearing is taboo, and a coach is expected to be a stickler for discipline, and must adhere to a strict decorum.

With the backing of Summit athletic director William McKoy, veteran coach Mark White, less than a month before the start of the season, was hired in November of 2018. Summit was 9-12 during White’s first season before showing vast improvement last winter finishing 16-4. Highlighting that season was the school’s first division title (within the Charter School Conference) and a spot in a Division 2 District Final against Flat Rock. Summit has never won a District title so this game loomed as the most important in school history.

Then COVID-19 hit, ending the season.

Romulus Summit Academy North boys basketball 2Summit returned four starters from that team and is off to a 15-0 start with the MHSAA Tournament less than a week away.  Most of its victories have been by double digits including last Saturday’s 71-53 victory over Taylor, a Division 1 school, and Tuesday’s 72-46 victory over Detroit Community in a conference tournament quarterfinal. Summit’s semifinal is scheduled for Thursday.

Two wins stand out in particular, and both came on the road. Summit defeated Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy, 54-51, on March 1 and then upset No. 3-ranked (in Division 2) Detroit Edison, 49-46, on March 8. Edison’s only other loss this season was to Warren De La Salle Collegiate, a Division 1 school, 72-68. Both Chandler Park and Edison are Charter School Conference members and have had strong programs over the years.

White starts one senior, guard Jamel Johnson, who’s averaging 10 points per game and was selected second-team all-conference. Sophomore James Wright averages 17 points and nine rebounds. White’s top player is junior and three-year starter Orlando Lovejoy, Jr., a 6-2 guard who was selected conference player of the year. His 23 points led Summit in its victory over Community. Lovejoy averages 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists per game.

“All of our players got better during the offseason,” Lovejoy said. “(White) is an intense coach. He’s demanding. He’s constantly pushing us. He’s a perfectionist.”

Much of the credit goes to White for the recent success, but one can’t overlook the talented players within the school. Take the recent success of the football program for example. The football team was 0-9 in both 2015 and 2016. The Dragons went 5-4 the next two seasons before finishing 8-3 in 2019, a run which included an 18-12 victory over Redford Union in a Division 4 District opener, the program’s first playoff win. This past regular season was shortened to six games because of the pandemic, and Summit won two playoff games finishing 7-2.

“Summit is an excellent school,” White said. “They’re in line with what I want to be as a coach.

“There are more accolades for a team that hasn’t been that good in the past. (Winning) has never been done before here. I feel the best is yet to come, and not just for the team, but for the school as well. Gaining recognition in basketball helps promote the school. People will find out about how good Summit is as a school.”

Winning is anything but new for White. His first season as a head coach was at his alma mater Detroit Renaissance in 1998. In 2000 Renaissance, which had never played for a Detroit Public School League title, won the PSL defeating Detroit Redford, 41-37, in the championship game. Renaissance won the title again in 2002 and 2003. Renaissance then won two MHSAA Class B titles (2004, 2006) under White.

White left Renaissance after the 2005-06 season to become head coach at Adrian College, another alma mater. He spent seven seasons there before returning to the high school level at River Rouge. White guided River Rouge to the Class B Semifinals in 2017 and 2018.

White said he couldn’t be happier, at this time in his professional life, than he is now at Summit. In addition to his duties as the boys basketball coach, White is also the school’s academic interventionist and assistant athletic director.

Romulus Summit Academy North boys basketball 3Lovejoy is aware of the success his coach has had at other schools. And even though Summit hasn’t achieved that type of success, he said anything is possible.

“We want to win our conference tournament, a District and Regional title, and the states,” Lovejoy said. “To some that’s farfetched, but it is realistic. We’re with a coach who’s done it before.

“This is special. (Summit) has never won a District, and here we are undefeated. We’re soaking it all in. We want to give the school something to cheer about.”

Lovejoy and his teammates recently gave Hedke a gift from their hearts. It’s a poster, a collage of sorts, with photos of the team in addition to pictures the players painted. This was in response to Hedke being a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer this past November and now is cancer-free.

“Mark is a wonderful coach,” Hedke said. “He focuses on what (the players) do well. He talks about who they are and what they represent. He teaches them to be aware. When I was going through my cancer, he told the players that we’re fighting on the court to win a game. She’s fighting for her life.”

The players have since dedicated their season to Hedke.

Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Raevon Thomas (10) gets up a shot during Summit Academy’s Senior Night win over Taylor. (Middle) Summit’s Orlando Lovejoy makes a move to the basket Saturday. (Below) Dragons coach Mark White huddles his team. (Photos by Aaron Goodman.)

E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage

By Jason Juno
Special for

June 28, 2024

Ewen-Trout Creek graduate Jake Witt is playing for a spot on the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster. The memories of high school sports, and the impact they’ve had on his journey to the NFL, have stuck with him through his college days and even now as a professional.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 300-plus receiving yards he went for in a game against the eventual 8-player state champion back in 2017. 

The regular-season basketball game where 3,276 fans turned out to watch his Panthers play just a few months later.

The teamwork prep sports taught him. The family atmosphere he got to be a part of on the high school football team.

“Football was definitely the sport I felt the most family-type feeling with it,” Witt said earlier this week after fishing on Erickson Lake while back in the Upper Peninsula before training camp begins next month. “That’s what drew me back to wanting to play football in college, was my opportunity in high school to play and getting that feeling with the guys and that family-oriented feel.”

Witt played two years of high school football. He lined up exclusively at wide receiver for Ewen-Trout Creek as a junior and then was more of a blocking tight end when E-TC and Ontonagon joined forces as a co-op program when he was a senior.

He ultimately decided to play basketball first in college, at Michigan Tech. But two of his three finalists were football opportunities.

“Obviously playing basketball from second grade on, people would probably assume that I would want to play basketball in college,” Witt said. “I think that just goes to show that football in those two years had a big impact and obviously it led me to where I am when I played at Northern and where I am today.”

Witt played only one year of basketball at Tech. He transferred to Northern Michigan University to attend as a student only before being talked into playing football. 

He was initially a tight end there before moving to tackle because of injuries during a game against Ferris State. He dominated, not allowing a sack or even a quarterback pressure against what was considered the best Division II defensive line in the country. 

He stayed at tackle for what was left of that season and then all of his final year at Northern. Despite his limited time at the position, he had the attention of NFL scouts and entered the draft. The attention reached a fever pitch during his pro day at Central Michigan when he wowed with his athleticism. His 9.92 Relative Athletic Score, a way to measure players’ athletic testing while accounting for their size, was one of the best for an offensive tackle prospect since it began being used in 1987.

Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer.He was drafted with the 236th pick, in the seventh round, by the Colts in 2023. 

His first training camp was cut short due to a hip injury, and he was then placed on season-ending injured reserve. But he’s back healthy and ready to go. He practiced at second-string left tackle during the offseason camp this spring and now hopes to earn a spot on the 53-man roster with training camp set to begin in a month.

“I want to go into training camp, play well and then play well enough to where they can’t release me off the 53,” Witt said. “The next goal is to play in a game. And I think that will start with special teams, that will start with field goal. And then from there, obviously, everybody is one week of great practice away from playing with the offense, one injury away from playing in a game with the offense.”

Those who watched him during his high school days in the U.P. likely wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that happen.

Witt is still the only receiver to go for 300 or more receiving yards in 8-player football in state history, according to the MHSAA record book. And he did it twice, a 325-yard game against Eben Junction Superior Central as a junior and the 305-yard performance against Crystal Falls Forest Park as a senior.

The Ontonagon co-op team had mostly stuck to running the ball that season, but looked for Witt through the air against the eventual state champion Trojans.

“I think it was 345 (yards), I think they sent in the wrong number,” Witt said. “That was one game where we switched things up with our offensive attack and threw the ball a lot more, and it ended up paying off for us very well. We were down big at halftime, and we pushed back and we were in a battle with them in the second half. It was a great game. We didn’t end up winning, but it was a lot of fun.”

He enjoyed both years of high school football – even while mostly blocking on the line as a senior despite having shown previously to be a more-than-capable receiver.

Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023.“A lot of the offense wasn’t focused on me anymore, which was great,” Witt said. “It made me a much more well-rounded football player. It made me a much better athlete, it gave me a better perception on things as a football player versus just being a receiver. I think both years were great for different reasons.”

Witt said every sport he played in high school was beneficial to him going forward. Basketball, for example, taught him teamwork and coordination. 

“And just relationship building is huge; for me, it helped me move on to the professional football level,” he said.

No high school game was quite as memorable for him as that regular-season basketball game at Michigan Tech on a chilly Wednesday night in Houghton.

Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay were tied atop the U.P. small-school poll. With that type of matchup, and the chance for fans in the Copper Country to see the 6-7 Witt and his above-the-rim play that’s pretty unique in the U.P., the game was moved from Dollar Bay’s tiny gym to Michigan Tech. (He wasn’t quite 300 pounds like he is now, but he was close – and he came into that game averaging 27 points and 16 rebounds per game with no one able to match his size and strength.)

They expected a crowd; they got 3,276. The latest arriving fans had to sit on the floor on the baseline.

“You don’t see that very much in Division 4 basketball even in the playoffs,” Witt said. “Just having that atmosphere, and especially having it between two of the best U.P. teams at the time, and having the storyline that was behind the game was great – and one of the most memorable events to this day still for me.”

Witt is looking forward to the challenge of training camp and achieving his goals in Indianapolis. But he’s not rushing away a U.P. summer. 

He helped out at last week’s U.P. Football All-Star game. He was happy to provide insight for any players headed off to play college ball, and they helped the Marquette County Habitat for Humanity with the finishing touches on one of their houses.

Over the next month, he’ll still be training, going over the playbook and doing position skill work. As happy as he was to help out last week, he’s happy to be on the lake again, too, fishing like a normal Yooper.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do, that and train,” Witt said. “Just trying to destress before I get back into it.”

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Jake Witt played for Ewen-Trout Creek during a 2018 basketball game at Michigan Tech, and at right Witt takes a photo with area youth baseball players last summer. (Middle) Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer. (Below) Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023. (Photos by Jason Juno.)