In Play with Tom Markowski


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North Central closes in on state record for consecutive victories

By: Tom Markowski, January 18, 2017, 7:25 pm

Powers – No day passes in the towns of Hermansville, Powers and Spalding when someone poses the question with regards to or simply mentions the streak.

These three towns, located in the heart of Menominee County in the south central portion of the Upper Peninsula, support and, recently boast about, Powers North Central high school.

The Jets have dominated Class D basketball on the boys side recently. They won the last two state championships and are 8-0 this season after defeating Rapid River 75-42 on Monday.

North Central has been ranked No. 1 by State Champs all season.

North Central will go for its 64th consecutive victory on Thursday when it plays at Cooks Big Bay de Noc, a team that is 0-10 this season. On Tuesday the Jets will host Rock Mid-Peninsula (4-6) and should they defeat the Wolverines North Central would tie the state record for consecutive victories held by Chassell (1956-58).

No disrespect to Big Bay de Noc or Mid-Peninsula but the game everyone is pointing to is the Jan. 27th game to be played at North Central. Bark River-Harris, a team that is 7-1 and tied with North Central at 2-0 in the Skyline Central Conference West Division, is the team standing in North Central’s path toward a state record.

North Central coach Adam Mercier said he and his players don’t talk about the streak but are asked about it nearly every day. They refuse to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

The Jets will have to look that elephant in the eye on Jan. 27.

“You want to live in the moment,” Mercier said. “It’s the same as the state title games. The goal is to treat every game like it’s the same.

“Whatever we do from now on, its house money. The kids have done it the right way. They all have high academics. To be considered one of the most successful teams is unbelievable.”

Here’s the kicker. Mercier teaches at Bark River-Harris. One can only imagine what that day will be like, for him, the students he teaches and those at North Central awaiting his arrival from Bark River-Harris.

Mercier is in his 11th season as head coach and there have been a number of lean seasons paving the way for the Jets’ historic run.

In his first season, 2006-07, the Jets were 1-20. In 2011 North Central won its first district title in 17 years. Mercier’s patience has been rewarded. Two years later the Jets lost in the state final.

“It starts with team attitude,” he said. “They don’t worry about accolades. You can’t say that about a lot of teams these days when statistics are posted on twitter and such. It’s got our team to some lofty places.”

This team is the first to start five seniors under Mercier. His best player, and perhaps the best athlete in the Upper Peninsula, is Jason Whitens. Whitens was the starting quarterback on North Central teams that won each of the last two eight-player state titles. This past season he rushed for 352 yards and six touchdowns on 17 carries in a 58-22 victory over Deckerville in the final. Whitens is 6-5, 210 pounds and is considering playing basketball or football in college. Mercier said some schools in the Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference are recruiting Whitens to play both.

Two others joined Whitens in the starting lineup last season and they are Dawson Bilski (6-3) and Bobby Kleiman. Bilski signed with Michigan Tech to play basketball and Kleiman was the starting running back on the football team.

Marcus Krachinski (6-2) was a top reserve last season and Mercier said it’s quite possible he’ll play at the Division III level next season. Seth Polfus (5-9) is the fifth starter and he made a comeback last season after suffering a torn ACL his sophomore year.

All five are excellent students, the lowest grade-point average of the five is a 3.82.

Many are just recently jumping on North Central’s bandwagon but Mercier points out that this area of the state has had its share of success on the basketball court.

Whitens’ cousin, Bob Whitens, was the head coach for the 1984 Class D title team. Jason’s father, Gerald Whitens, played on the ’84 title team.

Bob Whitens also played on the ’57 team that defeated Michigamme, 77-51, in the Class E title game.

Hermansville also won two Class D titles in the 40s.

All of this begs the question, how can a school of 115 students, from three towns that total fewer than 3,500 residents, boast such a fine group of athletes in a three-year period?

Mercier, who played on Bob Whitens’ last team in ’99, said this period, this phenomenon, is once-in-a-lifetime.

“It’s a group of kids that might come around 50 or 60 years,” he said. “We’ve taken advantage of our talent. They’ve found a way to make the most of it. There have been more talented teams in the U.P. It’s a credit to the kids. It’s a credit to the parents.”