Whether deserved or not, there's a stigma associated with alternative education students from Central High School in Grand Haven that their attitudes clash with authority figures, including coaches.
That preconceived notion made 2012 Grand Haven High School graduate Brent Boerema somewhat apprehensive to jump into the head coaching position of the school's varsity basketball team, the Phoenix.
So far, Boerema is glad he took a leap of faith.
“It was kind of a last-minute thing, but I don't regret it for a second,” said Boerema, who was a member of Grand Haven's varsity boys basketball team last season. “It means a lot to these kids to be able to play on this team.”
Boerema said the six Central High students on his squad have shown a greater desire to excel in the classroom, because if they fail, a reward of showcasing their skills on the basketball court would be potentially lost.
“They're working harder, at least getting to school, and they want to be more involved so they can be a part of a team,” he said.
It helps that the Phoenix are enjoying a tremendous start as they’re undefeated through four games.
They improved to 4-0 on Tuesday at White Pines Middle School with a 59-39 win over the Allendale Shooting Stars — an opponent in the Lakeshore Honors League. The Phoenix are a charter member of the league formed in 2008 that also features alternative education school teams, church-sponsored teams and Boys and Girls Club squads.
Aside from the six Central High players, the Phoenix have received a boost from seven Grand Haven High School students who have joined the team, and another, JB Aney, who is a student in the newly-formed Grand Haven Cyber School.
“I think we've had some good influences come over (from GHHS) and we really haven't had any attitude issues or anything like that. All the kids just love to play basketball,” Boerema said.
“(We've been so successful) because of our chemistry,” added GHHS student Hector Chavez, the team's starting point guard. “There's a division on the team, and it's pretty even between Central and Grand Haven kids, but we all have a good time, laughing together and just enjoy playing together.
“Plus, our height is a big advantage, because there's not many big people in our league.”
The Phoenix excelled in the post against the Shooting Stars, including Michael Penland, who played much larger than his listed height of 6-foot-3. Penland, who started at quarterback for the Buccaneers’ varsity football team this past fall, entered Tuesday averaging 18 points per game. He scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, as the Phoenix pulled away after being up just nine, 23-14 at the half.
They outscored the visitors 26-11 in the third quarter.
“We scrimmaged them earlier, the first portion of the season, and they won a majority of it, but today I just think we played more disciplined,” Chavez said. “We didn't let the trash talk get to us. And we swung the ball a lot better and found the open man.”
Alec Osborn and Jake Lovett added six points each for the Phoenix, while Jake Maierhauser added four points and played outstanding defense.
Boerema also highlighted the strong defense of Kenny Pierson.
Like Central students, Chavez said he and fellow GHHS students have valued the opportunity to play for the Phoenix, considering many might have got cut or didn't try out for the Bucs' hoops teams.
“It's been a lot of fun. Especially winning,” he said.
Boerema said he was talked into taking the coaching job by Randy White, a longtime friend who is also Grand Haven's varsity boys golf coach. White is an assistant on Boerema's staff and loves seeing the progression both the rookie head coach and his team continues to make.
“It's really a great mesh of kids. They've been good for each other,” White said. “And Brent, with his leadership abilities, it shows through right away. He shows discipline when the guys aren't listening to him. But he has their respect and they know what he brings to them is going to make them better players.
“Every game they're getting a little more mature in the way they play and that comes from Brent's leadership.”
Boerema said he believes one key to the Phoenix's success has been support from the community, including Watermark Church of Grand Haven, the team's “unofficial sponsor.” The church provides Gatorade and snacks for players after the games and several of the church’s members make it a point to attend all of the Phoenix’s home games.
“Because of that support, the kids are really buying in and want to be a part of this,” Boerema said. “Everyone is working towards one goal.”