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.)
It wasn’t long ago that Alpena boys and girls soccer opponents took their long bus rides to play the Wildcats expecting an easy win, and most likely by securing the victory by the eight-goal differential rule, commonly known as the “mercy rule.”
Worse yet, the Wildcats also had to take those trips across the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, as well as northern and southern journeys of two hours, dreading thoughts of experiencing yet another shortened game.
Those expectations started to change in 2011, when Tim Storch, arguably the most decorated coach in the history of Michigan high school soccer, took the reins of the Wildcats’ boys and girls programs.
Storch made the move after retiring from Troy Athens as a teacher and coach of the Redhawks’ boys and girls soccer teams.
Slowly but surely, Alpena’s mercy losses disappeared – and wins over their Big North Conference opponents became reality. Under Storch, the Wildcats went from the cellar to challenging for titles.
But now, Storch is showing some mercy on the Big North – perhaps an early Christmas present. The conference schools won’t see him on sidelines any longer. He’s retiring – again.
Storch is doing so after leading the Wildcats to wins over all conference opponents except Traverse City West. The Wildcats did get a tie this fall against the Titans, one of the BNC schools that regularly makes a deep postseason run, as Alpena stayed in the league title race most of the season.
“When I came to Alpena it was about trying to make the program relevant in the school, the community, the area, the BNC and northern Michigan,” Storch recalled. “We got to that point after some growing pains.
“Early on we took our lumps, and we were mercied by everybody,” he continued. “By the end we were competitive with everybody.”
Storch, who started the Athens soccer programs from scratch in 1981, won eight Class A or Division 1 Finals titles with the Redhawks. He’s near the top of the lists of the winningest boys and girls soccer coaches in the state. The last of his 1,109 wins was a 3-1 victory over Bay City Western during this fall’s postseason.
The Wildcats also beat conference opponent Cadillac in their District opener. They finished 14-6-3 on the season.
Storch will be dearly missed in Northern Michigan, veteran Petoskey boys and girls coach Zach Jonker pointed out. Jonker’s Northmen picked up a victory over Alpena in the Division 2 District Final – also Storch’s last game.
"Tim has had a legendary career as one of the most influential figures in Michigan high school soccer over the past 40 years while having an enormous impact on thousands of student-athletes,” Jonker said. “Over the past decade, Tim helped to dramatically raise the overall level of play in the Big North.
“He is one of fiercest competitors I have ever coached against, but he is also one of the most genuine and empathetic coaches I have ever encountered,” Jonker continued. “I feel fortunate to have been able to build a competitive relationship with him and call him a friend."
Storch’s last game with the Alpena girls also was a District Final, a 3-0 loss May 31 to West.
Storch is proud of what the Wildcats accomplished, noting logistics — unlike in southeastern Michigan — were a big challenge.
“We were an island,” Storch said. “We were big school in the middle of nowhere.
“We couldn’t get together and have any kind of summer program with other communities because they didn’t have soccer, and if they had soccer they were at a Class D or C level that was way beneath what we were playing in the Big North.”
Storch’s tenure, which included six years serving as the Wildcats’ athletic director while coaching, drew accolades from his coaches and athletic directors. In addition to Jonker, Gaylord AD Christian Wilson, and West boys head coach and girls assistant coach Matt Griesinger gave high praise.
They are among those who will miss the successful coach.
“Tim leaves Alpena in better shape than when he arrived, and that is the true mark of a great coach and administrator,” Wilson said. “He has been an outstanding representative of Alpena High School, both as a soccer coach and as an athletic director.
“Tim brought a level of stability and expertise and was well-thought of by players, coaches, and community members.”
Griesinger, who has led the Titans to considerable postseason success and upheld BNC dominance since taking over the West program eight seasons ago, was particularly impressed with Storch’s energy and passion for his players evident in every match.
“Tim is one of the most respected coaches in the state, and what he has done for the soccer communities in both Troy and Alpena is not just commendable, but also something that every high school coach should hope to emulate,” Griesinger stated. “Storch is a stand-up guy, and all of us other coaches in the BNC should consider ourselves lucky that our journeys in the sport overlapped.”
Storch is leaving Michigan high school sports as they face a shortage of referees and qualified coaches. He’s not certain of the exact reasons for it, but he points to time constraints and pressures faced on and off the field.
And, he knows the days of a teacher starting a career, coaching sports and sticking with it are long gone.
“My wife has always said I was a dinosaur,” Storch said with a chuckle. “Back in my day, even if you had family and kids, you still made time for coaching.
“Coaching was part of my fiber — it kind of defined me.”
Storch is quick to point out “soccer coach” was just one of three hats he wore, along with history teacher and friend.
“I’m Mr. Storch to my students,” he recalls telling his student-athletes at Athens. “I’m Coach to my kids, and I am Tim to my friends.
“They are three different hats; I learned how to wear them and how to balance them.”
Storch looks back to all the friendships he’s made around the game of soccer – with former players, fellow coaches, and referees – with excitement for the future.
He is also keeping in mind former players, referees and coaches who have passed on.
“It is kind of humbling when I think back all the years (to) coaches, referees and players I have interacted with,” he said. “We’re all here for a finite time.
“We need to make the most of it and hopefully leave the place a better place when we leave.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. 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) Recently-retired Alpena soccer coach Tim Storch, left, talks things over with one of his players. (Middle) Storch, holding the microphone, elevated the Wildcats’ girls and boys programs since taking over both in 2011. (Photos courtesy of Therese Shaw.)