Gielczyk: Bear Lake Continuing to Grow in Year 3
It’s a case of good news and bad news for the Bear Lake 8-player football team which is preparing to kick off its third season against Suttons Bay on Thursday, Aug. 29 in Brethren.
The good news is the Lakers continue to draw good numbers and interest for such a small school. Bear Lake’s enrollment is under 100 students, and half of those are male.
Bear Lake has about 20 players on the roster right now, which is about 40% of the student population as far as boys coming out to play football for the Lakers. That doesn’t include cross country runners who compete in the fall as well.
On the other side of the coin, the Lakers have only a handful of experienced players returning. Everyone else is getting their first taste of the game.
“I think the negative that we’re dealing with again is a relatively young program,” head coach John Prokes said. “Especially now because we graduated guys who had experience. We have a lot of guys with inexperience. We’ve got some guys on our roster who’ve played with us since we started the program three years ago, but I’d say the majority of our roster is guys who are still learning the game.”
Bear Lake doesn’t have a lot of guys who have been playing football since elementary school where they start out playing flag football, and then graduate to YMCA Pop Warner, middle school and junior varsity.
Unfortunately, that foundation has yet to be built.
Actually, the Lakers were their most experienced in their first year when they had guys who had played for Onekama in a cooperative agreement and at the very least knew the fundamentals of the game.
Many of those players were gone last year, and the Lakers have been trying to rebuild.
The learning curve has always been an issue for the Lakers, who seem to be constantly starting from scratch with guys who are trying the sport for the first time in their lives.
“Getting the fundamentals in, let alone running a strategic offense or defense is the challenge,” Prokes said. “When you’re trying to get guys to get into proper stances, understand the rules of the game and proper techniques for blocking and tackling it’s difficult to find time to squeeze in fine tuning strategies on plays on offense and defense. “We’re getting there. I’m not complaining at all. It’s the reality of the program. I’m not a very patient person, but it takes time.”
The Lakers have experience at the quarterback spot, though, in Andre Brown who’ll be a senior this year and a key piece to the puzzle for the Lakers. The team rises and falls with how he performs.
Prokes’ biggest goal is to keep Brown healthy and on the field running the Lakers’ offense. Which naturally puts the pressure on the offensive linemen to keep him off his back and give him time to get the plays off.
Clark May is another player who has been with the Lakers since their debut and of whom great things are expected. Dalton Myers will be another key veteran coming back as well as Brayden Alfman, who is entering his third season with the Lakers.
The Lakers were dealt a blow, though, when Tate Aultman fractured his elbow throwing the football during the Lakers participation in a 5-on-5 scrimmage last Thursday in Mesick.
“We’ve got about seven guys who have been with us the three years,” added Prokes. “A couple of the new guys are good athletes, so they should add some depth to our roster.
“Like everybody faces in 8-man football, or any football for that matter, your success is going to be determined by how well you can keep guys on the field, and how deep you can go at a position.”
Bear Lake’s biggest loss, of course, was Zach Belinsky who was named All-State last year and was awarded a scholarship to play at Concordia University in Ann Arbor.
A football version of famed baseball “Iron Man” Lou Gerhig of the New York Yankees, Belinsky played every down, and every minute of a football game.
He never came off the field for the Lakers.
“We don’t have any guys on our roster like that right now,” Prokes said. “We have guys that are going to be able to play hard for us, but we’ve got to be able to give them some breaks out there.
“Just the experience we lost with him … it’s had to replace. In fact, it’s just about impossible to replace. But, we’ll be okay. Our goal is always for the kids to learn the game, have fun and have an opportunity to play a great sport.
“Experience that school spirit, the community spirit that surrounds the sport on Friday nights. Playing underneath the lights … that’s a great experience for any kid to have.”
Right now, the Lakers aren’t focusing on wins and losses, but going out and having fun, while still being competitive and giving the fans something to cheer about every Friday night. Give them some excitement. Score some touchdowns.
“You can’t ask for any more than that at this point, I think,” Prokes said. “The future is there in the program. There’s no question about it. The students like the game. The community supports the game. I think we’ll continue having some numbers going forward. I’m just hoping we can get to that point where you start in August and you’re just quickly reviewing what you learned the previous year, and adding on new things, moving on and getting better with your timing and execution.”
Bear Lake isn’t there yet.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.