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. 

From MSP Post to Postgame: Lieutenants Return to the (Football) Field

September 27, 2023

While fans are settling into another season, Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs has been fully immersed in football for months.

The Jackson Post’s assistant post commander serves as assistant coach for Jackson High School’s varsity football team and for the team at Parkside Middle School.

“I started coaching when my older son was in youth sports, as a way to do something together that we both love,” Gibbs said. “My younger son followed the same path, so I joined his team too. I grew up in Jackson and am grateful to be able to serve my hometown from the sidelines and at our post.”

Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels.Some 400 miles north, Lt. Mark Giannunzio is also a familiar face in and on the field. The MSP Negaunee Post assistant post commander and Eighth District public information officer enforces the rules of the game as a high school and college football official, the latter for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“I started at the high school level to stay involved in athletics and make authentic connections in the community,” Giannunzio said. “It’s rewarding to help teach the game and share knowledge of the rules. I currently have a full 11-game schedule in the GLIAC Division II college conference, with high school games interspersed during the year.”

The correlation among coaching, officiating and policing translates.

“With my fellow troopers, I want to inspire, motivate and encourage to get the most out of them,” Gibbs said. “I take the same approach with my players to figure out what they need from me, as their designated leader, to be as successful as they can. In both capacities, I do the work alongside them. We do it together.”

This approach is especially important when tough times surface. Lieutenant Gibbs’ high school team experienced tragedy right before its first game when a player died in a car crash.

“We focused on adversity,” said Gibbs, who was in a unique position to talk from a police perspective too. “It’s a benefit to have that insight and background and share it with what they can control – make good decisions and wear your seatbelt.”

Lieutenant Gibbs incorporates his coworkers when he can, like during spring conditioning when fellow troopers join him and his players, helping all involved to make new connections and build strong bonds between the students and officers.

Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School.“One of the most important attributes in both careers is communication,” Giannunzio said. “Communication can make or break an official and a police officer. Much like selling a citation to a motorist, I need to be able to sell the penalty in a calm and professional manner. Demeanor and attitude go together on both the football field and when we are out patrolling in the Blue Goose.”

Treating everyone with dignity and respect is something Lieutenants Gibbs and Giannunzio commit to as members of a modern police agency and in their areas of expertise on the football field.

“Both roles afford so many opportunities to develop culture and cultivate teamwork,” Gibbs said. “The best part is watching others flourish and playing a part in their growth.”

PHOTOS (Top) Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs, left, serves as an assistant football coach for the Jackson High varsity. (Middle) Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels. (Below) Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School. (Photos provided by the Michigan State Police.)