Tuesday, July 14, 2009


BEAR LAKE, Mich. – Patrick Spalding doesn't wear his varsity jacket much.

It's not that he doesn't have reason to – the Bear Lake junior plays four different sports.

Manistee News Advocate
Spalding golfing for Brethren
However, it would likely raise a few eyebrows and force Spalding into answering a number of reasonable questions about the different letters on his colorful coat.

The red and white "BL" is for Bear Lake.

The dark blue and yellow "O'' is for Onekama.

The light blue and white "B'' is for Brethren.

How many schools has Spalding attended, anyway?

Actually, the same one since kindergarten.

It seems confusing, but is actually quite simple.

He runs cross country for Bear Lake in the fall and plays basketball for the Lakers in the winter. In the spring, Spalding does double duty, playing golf for Brethren while competing in track and field for Onekama, both of which co-op with Bear Lake.

"It's different competition in each one," Spalding said. "Golf is more of a mental game. Basketball and track are more just athletics – who's the better athlete. It's just fun to get all aspects of the sports."

Spalding might not don his varsity jacket much, but he can't hide from his role as a poster child for cooperative sports.

"I can't think of too many situations out there where a kid is literally wearing the school colors for three different schools and has the great opportunity to play high school sports," said John Johnson, communications director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association. "Cooperative programs have opened the door of opportunity for schools and for kids. It's about giving kids as many meaningful opportunities as possible."

Spalding has taken full advantage of his opportunities and adjusted to stay busy all year.

"After golf switched to the spring, I had nothing to do in the fall, so that's when I started running cross," he said. "It gets me in shape for basketball."

Once the snow thaws, Spalding splits time with the Onekama track and field team and the Brethren golf team.

"It's kind of unusual to be able to do that," said Brethren golf coach Tom Anderson. "But he's a very dedicated young man. He works very hard at it.

Manistee News Advocate
Spalding then plays basketball for Bear Lake
"If he played one of them during this season, would he be better? I'm sure, and it wouldn't make a difference which sport – he'd be a little better at one. But he's committed to helping all three schools out one way or another."

Spalding admits that spreading himself out over two sports at once has its consequences.

"My scores (in golf) have kind of shown this year that I've struggled a little bit trying to do the two of them, practicing both," he said.

"But I find time. Golf is more of an individual sport, so you can practice it on your own."

Clearly, Spalding has done more than squeeze in bucket of balls on the range or a few minutes on the putting green. He's been the Bobcats' top player in most matches this season and qualified as an individual for a Division 4 regional, while also competing for Onekama in the high jump and hurdle and relay events.

Oh, and he also carries a 4.0 GPA.

"There's a few late nights here and there," he said with a laugh when reflecting on the balance between academics and athletics.

Spalding said he plans on playing all four sports again his senior year, an opportunity that not everyone is afforded.

He lives in the Benzie Central school district, where his older sister went to high school. But he's been at Bear Lake since kindergarten because his mother, Kathy, is a teacher there.

"I like it at Bear Lake," Spalding said. "I like the smaller school."

Bear Lake may be one of the smaller schools in the state, but its co-op sports have provided Spalding with a full slate of athletic possibilities.

And, someday, Spalding may get a chance to pull his varsity jacket out of the closet, knock off decades of dust and explain to his grandkids exactly what all those different letters and colors mean.

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