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Two island basketball teams, separated by a state line and hundreds of mainland miles, will meet Monday in an epic away game for the Put-in-Bay High School Panthers.
Players from Lake Erie’s South Bass Island will have traveled about 400 miles — by school vans and airplane — when they tip off against the Beaver Island boys basketball team in a game held on the remote Lake Michigan island in northern Michigan.
The co-ed Panther team, made up of 10 boys and four girls, plans to spend tonight on foe’s turf — in sleeping bags on the classroom floors at Beaver Island Community School. On Monday they’ll play their hosts in a morning game and return Tuesday to their Ohio island.
It’s the first game between the two tiny schools surrounded by water, both united by the unique challenges of finding enough players to fill a roster and the scheduling difficulties of arranging flights and watching weather forecasts that can force forfeits.
Craig Schuffenecker, the Put-in-Bay basketball coach who doubles as the junior high and high school social studies teacher at the 74-student kindergarten through 12th-grade school, said the opportunities are worth the logistical hurdles.
Teaching teamwork, emphasizing physical fitness, and providing a wintertime activity are among basketball’s benefits. But there’s also intangibles such as building school pride and giving island teens a chance to experience the hallowed high school traditions of game night.
“[For] all the other schools on the mainland, Friday nights [are] important. We want to try to create that experience for our students as well,” Mr. Schuffenecker said.
Most of the 18 Put-in-Bay high schoolers are teammates as well as classmates. Some years the school has enough girls and boys to field separate teams, but many seasons they combine to form one co-ed team.
When all the girls are on the court together, the players call it the “dream team,” said Patrick Myers, an islander who announces Put-in-Bay home games. He will provide live play-by-play to accompany an online game video stream at WPIB.com.
Put-in-Bay schedules about 15 basketball games each season, facing freshman and junior varsity squads around northwest Ohio from Ottawa Hills to Elyria.
The school matched up before against another Michigan island, Lake Huron’s Mackinac Island. Continuing the island vs. island tradition is “about sharing individual island culture” as much as it is about a game, Mr. Myers said.
Many players hang out on and off the court and have grown up together on South Bass Island, where residents often leave their houses and cars — but not their minnow stashes — unlocked.
“When we come home, it’s nothing to see all the kids around your table eating your pizza,” Mr. Myers said.
The island atmosphere makes for tight bonds, said point guard Cody Porche, a 17-year-old senior.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,” he said. “Everyone’s really good friends and close like brothers and sisters.”
Most Put-in-Bay away games require the team to spend the night on the mainland since island-bound planes don’t fly in dark skies. Students bring laptop computers if they have homework to finish.
The Beaver Island game requires even more planning and time than a typical off-island matchup. Put-in-Bay’s itinerary includes a Detroit Red Wings hockey game on the way up north and a flight from Charlevoix, Mich., to the Lake Michigan locale.
Also squeezed into the trip is time to meet Beaver Island students, battle over board games, and play together during an open gym, said Beaver Island’s Athletic Director Kerry Smith.
Eighteen Put-in-Bay students — 14 basketball players, two cheerleaders, a mascot, and a team manager — will make the trip along with three adults who will drive the school vans, Mr. Schuffenecker said.
The school’s athletic fund will cover most of the trip’s expenses, while Beaver Island will help out with some meals, said Steven Poe, Put-in-Bay superintendent. He didn’t know what the total travel cost would be.
“Even though we are a small school we pride ourselves on giving our students opportunity for learning outside of the classroom,” Mr. Poe said. “Our kids certainly look forward to these opportunities and look forward to competing.”
Put-in-Bay also offers archery, volleyball, cross country, a quiz bowl team, and a fishing team for students.
Beaver Island’s school faces some of the same obstacles because of its small size and remote geography. The high school has two dozen high school students, Ms. Smith said. Its basketball teams compete in a league of small Upper Peninsula schools, and the biggest rival is Mackinac Island.
Away games mean boarding airplanes, and home games bring hospitality duties like letting the opposing team sleep overnight at the school and using locker room showers.
Through sporting events and travel, students learn to branch out, she said, and “to meet new people and be able to be self-sufficient and not so reliant on the island way.”
“It’s a different way of life,” she said.