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June 26, 2013

Grosse Pointe North girls basketball team receives recognition for academic success

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Grosse Pointe North’s girls basketball team was selected as an honorable mention on the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan (BCAM) Academic All-State team. Pictured, front row, kneeling, from left, Phoebe Dodge, Stavi Varlamos, Anna Giordano and Francesca Ciaramitaro. Back row, left, coach Gary Bennett, Erin Armbruster, Jayla Hubbard, Taryn Kiah, Megan Lesha, Jenna Paglino, Emily Armbruster, Lauren Koeppe, Maria Liddane and assistant coach Joe Paglino.

Fittingly enough, in the same year in which Grosse Pointe North girls basketball coach Gary Bennett retired from teaching after 38 years on the job, his Norsemen team made the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan (BCAM) Girls Team Academic All-State honorable-mention list with a cumulative GPA of 3.656.

That grade point average was tops amongst Macomb Area Conference Red Division teams, and second in the entire conference (Port Huron Northern’s girls team had a GPA of 3.752) for Class A schools.

That kind of academic success doesn’t just happen by accident, and Bennett offered some thoughts as to how his team ended up on BCAM’s list.

“I think we have good kids that care about their school work and motivate themselves to do well,” he said. “The grade point average on the basketball team’s always been pretty good. I’ve been fortunate to be associated with those kids. Sure makes it a lot easier to coach (them) when they understand what you’re doing.

“They get it. They come from families where education is important. It’s emphasized at home, and they do well because they’ve been brought up the right way.”

Success on the court and in the classroom both require disciplined effort, and Bennett thinks there may be a correlation between the two.

“I think it can do nothing but help them on the basketball floor,” Bennett said. “Basketball’s a lot about recognizing situations, making decisions and processing information quickly. I think those kids that do well in school do a little better at that, too.”

Players who make an All-State team for their play on the court and carry a GPA of 3.5 or higher are eligible to make the BCAM Girls Academic All-State Individuals list, and North’s Maria Liddane qualified on both fronts, with an All-State selection and a 4.11 GPA (although BCAM doesn’t acknowledge GPAs higher than a 4.00).

Liddane’s accomplishments don’t come as a surprise to Bennett.

“She’s one of the best practice players I’ve ever had,” he said. “Anytime we work on something, she’s totally concentrating on it — totally focused. She does the exact same thing in the classroom; I had her in class before. She’s just totally focused. It’s incredible.

“You love (having) kids like that because they’re paying attention, not only to what you’re saying to them, but they’re paying attention to what you just said to the other person. They’re making sure they don’t make the same mistake. She backs that up with a great work ethic and great effort. She’s (going to) be very successful, whatever she chooses to do.”

As for Bennett, who began teaching at North in 1983, he expressed appreciation for the role being an educator has played in his life.

“There isn’t a profession that I would have rather been in,” he said. “My profession was (an) awesome profession, in terms of raising a family. My kids were in the same school system, so anytime that we were off of school, we were all off together.  Took some fabulous trips because of that all over the United States. I had the opportunity to coach all my kids. I actually had all of my kids in my class.

“The whole teaching thing gave me the opportunity to work with some phenomenal people — kids I’ve had in class, kids I’ve coached. I’ve been blessed with good families to work with — great parent support. I’m thankful I was able to do it for as long as I was able to do it. I’ve had great memories of great people to work with. I’ve heard from a lot of people. It’s been nice. I’m still (going to) coach and I do a lot of math tutoring. I’m just not (going to) be in the classroom every day now.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.