Multi-Sport Experience 'Special' for Bronson

By Wes Morgan
Special for

February 2, 2016

An increasing number of high-profile athletes and coaches are becoming more vocal about the importance of a well-rounded adolescent athletic experience. More and more parents and athletes, so it seems, are heeding that advice.

That’s the case in Bronson, a town of fewer than 2,500 residents that manages to keep rolling out successful varsity sports programs. Or perhaps it’s that athletes in Bronson never bought into sports specialization as much as other communities in the first place.

Bronson athletic director and Vikings varsity volleyball coach Jean LaClair, who received the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s 2015 Women in Sports Leadership Award, said it’s critical at a smaller school such as Bronson to emphasize participation in more than one sport.

But, through decades of coaching, she’s seen the effects of athletes choosing a narrow focus.

“I think for most schools and most sports, we’re seeing our numbers dwindle,” she said. “I believe that a lot of parents take their kids to travel ball, and it’s taking them out of high school sports. I think club sports are kind of hindering our high school athletics.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association reports that six percent of high school athletes go on to play in NCAA programs, and as of 2012 fewer than two percent of high school athletes earned an NCAA Division I scholarship (of any amount), according to a CBS MoneyWatch report. Fewer than eight percent ever play a varsity sport at any collegiate level, according to a study by

It’s an admirable dream, but an unlikely one. And along with that gamble comes the great possibility of burnout. Some studies have also suggested that young athletes competing in only one sport year-round are at a higher risk of injury. On top of that, specialization doesn’t seem to improve those odds.

“If you want a (college) coach to know about you, just do some work and they’ll know about you,” LaClair said. “That’s how I look at it. If you’re good enough, a coach is going to see you. You don’t have to go to a club tournament to be seen.”

Though participation in multiple sports is commonplace amongst both genders at Bronson, girls sports in particular have reaped the rewards of such commitment.

Look no further than the Vikings’ Division 3 runner-up performance in softball last spring (they lost to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the Final), which seemed to fire up the volleyball squad this past fall.

Bronson’s netters tore through the postseason en route to a Class C volleyball championship, earning some revenge by beating Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in three games.

It was the Vikings second MHSAA title since 2009.

Four athletes who competed on both teams are currently playing basketball: senior Kelsey Robinson, sophomore Adyson Lasky, sophomore Kiana Mayer, and sophomore Payton Robinson. Senior Alexa Ratkowski, an all-state selection in volleyball, also is on the basketball team.

Of the 13 volleyball players who hoisted a trophy at Kellogg Arena in November, six are two-sport athletes and seven are three-sport athletes.

And of the 11 varsity basketball players currently on the Vikings’ girls roster, eight played volleyball and a total of 10 participated in a fall sport.

As Kelsey Robinson’s prep career winds down, she believes playing several sports has made her better at each one. Not to mention she and her classmates find joy in the memories created through a variety of competitive situations.

“It’s just really fun to do different things,” said Robinson, a defensive specialist in volleyball, a former cross country runner, a guard in basketball and a third baseman and centerfielder in softball. “We don’t have a lot of the numbers, but we have the people who are willing to put in the hard work, even if it’s not their best sport. Each season is only three to four months at the most. So it keeps things exciting.”

Some do take part in the club scene on a smaller, more local level. Most take advantage of the coaches at Bronson who are generous with their time.

“I’ll get into the gym with any kid any time they want to,” LaClair said.

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bronson volleyball players celebrate clinching the Class C championship at Kellogg Arena in the fall. (Middle) Then-freshman catcher Payton Robinson prepares to catch a pop fly during last season's Softball Finals weekend at Secchia Stadium. 

High School 'Hoop Squad' Close to Heart as Hughes Continues Coaching Climb

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

July 11, 2024

Jareica Hughes had a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball career playing at University of Texas-El Paso and has played professionally overseas, but her most prized possession is something she earned playing high school basketball in Michigan. 

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosA standout at now-closed Southfield-Lathrup High School during the early-to-mid 2000s, Hughes proudly displays a signature symbol of Lathrup’s Class A championship team in 2005. 

“I have my state championship ring on me right now,” said Hughes, now an assistant head coach for the women’s basketball program at UTEP. “I wear this ring every single day. Not so much for the basketball aspect. Inside of the ring it says ‘Hoop Squad.’ It’s more the connection I’ve had with those particular young ladies. Friends that I’ve known since I was kid. Every once in a while when we talk, we go back in time.”

Believe it or not, Hughes and her high school teammates next year will have to go back 20 years to commemorate a run to the title that started when they were freshmen. 

It was a gradual build-up to what was the first girls basketball state championship won by a public school in Oakland County. Lathrup, which has since merged with the former Southfield High School to form Southfield Arts & Technology, remained the only public school in Oakland County to win a state girls basketball title until West Bloomfield did so in 2022 and again this past March. 

Lathrup lost in the District round to Bloomfield Hills Marian during Hughes’ freshman year, and then after defeating Marian in a District Final a year later, lost to West Bloomfield in a Regional Final.

When Hughes was a junior, the team got to the state’s final four, but a bad third quarter resulted in a heartbreaking one-point Semifinal loss to eventual champion Lansing Waverly. 

A year later, when Hughes and other core players such as Brittane Russell, Timika Williams, Dhanmite’ Slappey and Briana Whitehead were seniors, they finished the job and won the Class A crown with a 48-36 win over Detroit Martin Luther King in the Final.

However, the signature moment of that title run actually came during the Semifinal round and was produced by Hughes, a playmaking wizard at point guard who made the team go. 

Trailing by three points during the waning seconds of regulation against Grandville and Miss Basketball winner Allyssa DeHaan – a dominant 6-foot-8 center – Hughes drained a tying 3-pointer from the wing that was well beyond the 3-point line. 

Lathrup went on to defeat Grandville in overtime and prevail against King.

Hughes said the year prior, she passed up on taking a potential winning or tying shot in the Semifinal loss against Waverly, and was reminded of that constantly by coaches and teammates. “I just remember in the huddle before that shot, that just kept ringing in my mind,” she said. “That was special. I cried for weeks not being able to get a shot off (the year before) and leaving the tournament like that.”

Growing up in Detroit, Hughes got into basketball mainly because she had five older brothers and an older sister who played the game. In particular, Hughes highlights older brother Gabriel for getting her into the game and taking her from playground to playground.

“I’m from Detroit,” she said. “We played ball all day long. Sunup to sundown. When the light comes on, you had to run your butt into the house.”

Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center.Hughes played for the Police Athletic League and also at the famed St. Cecilia gym in the summer, developing her game primarily against boys.

“My first team was on a boys team,” she said. “I was a captain on a boys team.” 

The family moved into Lathrup’s district before she began high school. 

Once she helped lead Lathrup to the 2005 championship, she went on to a fine career at UTEP, where she was the Conference USA Player of the Year twice and helped lead the Miners to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Hughes still holds school records for career assists (599), steals (277) and minutes played (3,777). On Monday, she was named to Conference USA’s 2024 Hall of Fame class. 

After a brief professional career overseas was derailed by a shoulder injury, Hughes said getting into coaching was a natural fit. 

“I had to make the hard decision, and I knew as a kid I wanted to be around basketball,” she said. “Once I made that decision (to quit), I knew I was going to coach.”

Hughes started coaching in the Detroit area, first serving as an assistant at Southfield A&T from 2016-20 and then at Birmingham Groves for a season. She then served as interim head coach at Colby Community College in Kansas before being named an assistant at UTEP in May 2023, a month after her former coach Keitha Adams returned to lead the program after six seasons at Wichita State.  

While fully immersed in her job with UTEP, Hughes’ high school memories in Michigan certainly aren’t going away anytime soon – especially with the 20th anniversary of Lathrup’s championship coming up. 

“We are still close friends because we all essentially grew up together,” she said. “They are still my friends to this day.”

2024 Made In Michigan

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Southfield-Lathrup’s Jareica Hughes drives to the basket against Detroit Martin Luther King during the 2005 Class A Final; at right, Hughes coaches this past season at UTEP. (Middle) Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center. (UTEP photo courtesy of the UTEP sports information department.)