Prep basketball: High participation helps hoops programs expand at Republic-Michigamme

REPUBLIC – There’s no complicated formula or closely guarded secret for the newfound basketball success at Republic-Michigamme High School.

Numbers that would be the envy – or maybe a headache – at bigger schools are the reason that this small district straddling Marquette and Baraga counties was able to expand from one team to three this winter.

The boys added a JV team this season, while the girls were able to field their own squad after sending one or two players to Ishpeming High School for the previous three years.

Not only that, but the boys varsity won seven games, nearly double their best previous mark of four wins that dates back to the 2005-06 season.

“A lot of us have been playing on the varsity since we were freshmen,” junior Cody Carlson said.

While the girls managed just one win in 14 games, it’s something they can build on as they get their program up and running again.

“One of the things we take pride in at R-M are the number of students who participate in our different programs,” Superintendent Paul Currie said in a written statement.

He mentioned that 68 percent of the district’s high school students play on the school’s basketball teams, as do 81 percent in the middle school.

“To me, that is amazing and something our school should be proud of,” Currie said.

A institution like Marquette Senior High School could never find enough gym space for that kind of participation, which would calculate to 650 or 700 students.

But in Republic, those kinds of numbers are a boon to the programs, with 31 of 46 students involved in grades 9-12 at the high school and 25 of 31 in grades 6-8 at the middle school. Those numbers come from school officials.

“When you have a little success, there’s more students who want to join the teams,” said boys varsity coach Bill Radcliffe, who just completed his third year at the Hawks’ helm.

He added that while high school players may not know all their elementary and middle school counterparts, just about all the varsity players are celebrities in the eyes of the younger students.

The coaches hold a number of basketball camps on weekends to help spur youth interest, such as one that has been going on Saturday mornings this month with a number of varsity players assisting Radcliffe and girls coach Matt Davidson.

Radcliffe has a simple reason for his team’s winning ways – limiting turnovers.

“The last couple of years, we’ve been getting 35 or 40 shots a game, but this year it was closer to 55,” he said. “That’s because we’re limiting our empty possessions.

“Our shooting percentage may still be a little bit down, but we’re getting a lot more chances.”

Davidson said low participation from one class can do damage for years.

“I think we should be able to keep the varsity team going,” he said. “The interest is there. It’s difficult if you happen to have one small class without any participation.”

He had a freshman and an eighth grader on his 11-player unit with the rest being sophomores, juniors and seniors.

One factor that should help both squads is next season’s switch from the Skyline Conference to the Copper Country Conference.

For example, the Hawks boys were only 2-12 last season in the rugged Skyline. But in six other games against future CCC foes, the Hawks won five, sweeping Dollar Bay and beating Baraga, Chassell and Ontonagon once each while losing their only meeting to league champion Lake Linden-Hubbell.

“There actually isn’t any more travel involved, it’s just in a different direction now,” Davidson said, explaining that R-M was at the northwestern edge of the Skyline but is now at the southeastern end of the CCC.