Kalkaska and the rest of the Lake Michigan Conference may not know much of the basketball family history of Harbor Springs point guard Olivia Flynn.
But likely they know all of her high school basketball history.
Flynn, just a freshman for the Rams, has already racked up three 30-point plus performances – over just five career games – entering tonight’s LMC game at home with the Blazers. The Rams are off to a 5-0 start under first year coach Amy Flynn, also the mother of the Rams’ emerging star.
And, the Harbor Spring boys are off to a 3-1 start under first year coach John Flynn, Olivia’s father. The boys suffered their first loss Thursday, to Kalkaska, 51-48.
Last year, Olivia was an eighth grader at Petoskey. She transferred to Harbor to be a part of the growing Flynn family basketball history. Her grandfather, Joe Flynn, is a member of the Harbor Springs High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Joe Flynn began working for Harbor Springs schools in 1968 as a middle school social studies teacher. He left a lasting impression shaping and molding many Harbor student athletes’ lives during a career spanning more than 30 years.
John Flynn starred for the Petoskey boys basketball team for three years and coached the Northmen the last three seasons. He’s a member of the Petoskey High School Athletic Hall of Fame and the Northmen went 43-16 under his guidance. But he grew up and spent most of his years in Harbor Springs.
The Rams girls varsity helm is Amy Flynn’s first high school head coaching job. But she’s no stranger to coaching youth basketball, and both she and John played at Grand Valley State. She and her husband also coached at East Grand Rapids High School.
Olivia urged her mom to apply for the Rams vacancy, knowing of her 1995-1999 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference record-setting basketball career and all the knowledge she had gained from her mother’s previous experience.
“I wouldn’t want anyone else besides my mom coaching,” Olivia said matter-of-factly. “My mom’s always been there to help me get better.
“She has high expectations of me, so there is no other coach I would want.”
The 30-point performances, the most recent 38 in a lopsided win over Harbor Light Christian, is putting a little pressure on the freshman star. But the first-year coach is not feeling it.
“I don’t feel like there is pressure, just because when Olivia gets out there on the court it’s just so natural,” Amy Flynn said. “There is nothing forced. The game comes to her.”
Credit for Olivia’s fast start in high school also needs to go AAU coaches Rob Ruhstorfer, Jermain Smith and Jake Voelker, both Olivia and Amy noted.
“They had a huge impact on Olivia’s career,” Amy said. “The (Michigan) Mystics have been a great team for her and all the experiences.”
Amy Flynn has watched her daughter’s growth and feels blessed to have a team of players wanting to grow in the game of basketball. Athletes with a winning attitude and desire to learn were awaiting when she took over the Rams.
“Whether she continues to score 30 points or not, her game just will come along and she will bring her teammates along with her,” Amy said. “These girls are amazing – it was all there for me — already set more or less.”
Making the move to Harbor for the Flynn coaches was the best thing for their family, which also includes their second-grade son and boys team manager Johnny, fifth-grade daughter and girls team manager Alaina, and eighth-grade son and member of the Harbor middle school basketball team, Braeden. Another factor was the boys coach’s fond memories of playing for his father.
“I was apprehensive to take this position just because I didn’t know how Olivia would feel about it,” Amy Flynn said. “When she came to me a said, ‘Mom there is a girls opening in Harbor Springs and I want you to take it,’ I said, ‘You want to transfer from Petoskey and you want me to coach … are your sure about this?’ And she said, ‘Yep, and I will learn more from you and this is something we’ll never forget.’
“My husband (John) was on the same page,” the girls coach continued. “He said, ‘These are going to be four short years of her life and our lives. We’re going to do this as a family. If you want this, we’re all in.’”
So far, Olivia is loving high school basketball at Harbor. She’s expecting more difficult challenges ahead though, as she steps on the court each night sporting her No. 33 jersey.
“I am excited I started off on this foot, but I know we have some bigger games coming up too,” she said. “So I have to dial in and focus and get prepared for those games.
“They are going to be tougher competition, so I have to get ready for those.”
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 [email protected] 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) Harbor Springs’ Olivia Flynn (33) has a spring in her step as she comes off the floor during last Friday’s win over Grayling. (Middle) The Flynn family, from left: Alaina, Amy, Olivia, Braeden, John and Johnny. (Below) Olivia and Alaina share a fun moment. (Photos by Sarah Sheperd.)
HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.
It reads "In Jesus' name we play."
Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to God.
"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.
Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.
The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.
Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.
With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.
"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."
Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.
The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.
"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.
Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.
"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."
Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.
"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.
Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.
"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."
In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.
"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.
The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.
"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”
Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.
"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.
"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”
"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."
Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.
During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.
The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.
Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.
"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."
Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.
"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."
The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.
Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.
"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."
Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.
Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.
Scott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)