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Peterson: What it takes to be elite

I’ve seen many high school athletes who could be considered to be either great, very good or just plain good.

But to be classified as elite is to reach the upper plateau of sports.

Now, I know the word elite is one of the most overused nowadays — especially in the world of professional sports.

The category in high school has to be applied very carefully.

I’ve seen more than a few individuals who had the stats to qualify. But stats can sometimes be misleading and I’ll cite the case of a basketball player (no names) who played a couple of decades ago.

He averaged well over 20 points a game, a gaudy figure in most cases. But he was just an average defensive player and shot free throws at an under 40 percent clip.

When I think of great players I’ve seen, I think immediately of names like Don Mattson of Chassell, Mike Usitalo of Calumet, Brady Schaefer of Houghton, Chris Givens of Hancock and Allison Bailey of Ewen-Trout Creek.

All of them, of course, had the stats to be in the class of great athletes. All of them gained all-state honors, a must.

But each and everyone of them had impeccable practice habits.

Mattson, perhaps the greatest leader of the group, used to play basketball every day, He would often travel to neighboring towns to find a game. Dedication like that led to multiple state championships for Chassell.

Usitalo possessed perhaps the hardest shot of any local hockey player. It was a shot he practiced on endlessly by shooting at an old bed mattress in the basement of his home. He took the skill to Michigan Tech.

Schaefer was another player who practiced endlessly to perfect his skills, whether it was in football or hockey. He vowed never to be outworked by anyone.

The same was true for Givens, another multi-sport standout. He made his first splash on the local scene by learning to kick a football better than anyone else. That earned him a Division I scholarship to Central Michigan University.

Bailey became the first girls basketball player in the U.P. to total more than 2,000 points in a career. Legendary E-TC coach Nancy Osier often said that Bailey was “the first at practice and the last to leave.”

There are many other local athletes who fall into this category. Don Michealson of L’Anse, Houghton’s Brad Simonsen, Ewen-TC’s Dave Besonen, Angela Guisfredi of Lake Linden-Hubbell and Keith Kentala of Dollar Bay are just a few.

Genes play a role, no doubt. But hard work and repetition rank at the top of the list to be the very best.

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