By Paul Costanzo
Special for Second Half
Camryn MacGuire remembers watching Kingston varsity basketball games and dreaming about the day she could be on the court.
Evan Neff enjoyed going to games so much as a kid, he kept coming back even after his family moved away for a few years while he was in middle school.
Now both are leading the way for the Cardinals on the court as the Kingston girls and boys basketball teams are inspiring another group of youngsters in their small town.
“I know a lot of little kids come to our games and are huge fans,” said Neff, a sophomore on the boys team. “I know I’ve talked to a couple eighth graders, and they say they can’t wait to play on varsity with me their sophomore year. I think a lot of the littler kids can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Basketball is king in Kingston, and this winter, Cardinals fans have plenty to cheer about. The girls team was 12-0 heading into Wednesday night’s game against Croswell-Lexington, and ranked No. 1 in Class D by the Detroit Free Press and No. 2 by The Associated Press.
The boys started the season on a nine-game winning streak, and are 11-2.
“I think it’s the same thing wherever you’re going to: if you’re winning, if you’re putting a good product out there, you’re going to see a lot of people there,” boys coach Dave Lester said. “In our little town, it seems like everybody is there for the girls games and guys games. We’ve got a great, great student body. Our home games are electric. It’s a fun atmosphere. It’s fun to coach, and it’s gotta be fun to play.
“It’s what high school sports are all about. I think that atmosphere attracts your younger athletes to want to be a part of it. If they’re there and seeing us win, that’s contagious.”
Lester and girls coach Jay Green have been part of it for the better part of the past three decades, first as players for Kingston and now as coaches.
They played together in the late 1980s, and in Green’s senior year, he helped the boys team reach the MHSAA Quarterfinals.
Green returned to coach the girls team and win four District titles in four years – along with his brother, Dave – during the late 90s. Lester took over the girls program in 2003 and coached the team to the Quarterfinal. The Greens came back to the program in 2011, and Lester took over the boys team midway through the 2013-14 season.
“I think there’s probably a little more passion toward what you do, and what you’re trying to instill into the girls and the boys because you are an alumni,” Jay Green said. “I think both of us could say we were successful alumni in the past. And we both learned under coach Leon Westover when we played, then developed our own ideas, and we have that pride of seeing both the boys and girls doing well.”
Green credits his team’s current success, in part, to the parents in the program, who have taken the time to get their girls to the gym for years and been supportive throughout.
“My parents, and a bunch of the girls on my team’s parents were always pushing us, and always getting us to play as much as we could,” the point guard said. “They were always telling us that big things were coming. Our starting five is all juniors, and we’ve been playing together since the fourth grade or third grade.”
Kingston’s girls aren’t focused too much on the rankings, or the record, but more on preparing themselves for the postseason. They’ve already scored a win against Class C power Sandusky, and the game against Cros-Lex will provide a test against a strong Class B program. A game against another Class B school, Yale, was postponed because of weather this past Monday.
“I love playing bigger schools,” MacGuire said. “It gives you more competition, and you get to push yourself even more; then it’s even better if you come out with the win. It’s going to benefit us in the tournament.”
Their classmates are providing plenty of support to both teams. MacGuire said there’s been a buzz in the hallways all season, and both she and Neff said their teams make sure to cheer each other on whenever their schedules allow.
“I never really watched girls basketball until seventh or eighth grade when we moved back to Kingston,” Neff said. “I remember watching those teams, and I was really impressed. My eighth grade year, they had like four or five freshmen on varsity, and I knew they were going to be outstanding. Those girls work really hard, and they’re great athletes.”
“We try to make it to as many (boys) games as we can, even the road games,” MacGuire said. “We support each other both ways. It’s a good atmosphere.”
No Kingston team has ever been beyond the Quarterfinals, but the conference and District championships have piled up through the years. And as dedicated players keep walking into the program, it could just be a matter of time before a group of them breaks through.
“It’s just a tradition here, and our kids know it,” Lester said. “When you walk into our gym, there’s tons and tons of basketball banners. We really talk about tradition and how it would be great to continue that tradition and put up more banners.
“Obviously, we would like to make a long run. At some point, you want to win a state championship, but it’s a process. We’ve got some kids who were playing a lot of basketball, putting a lot of time into it. They want to win, and they want to be a part of that tradition.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kingston’s Carley Smith, left, pushes the ball upcourt while junior Nathan Cloyd, right, launches a shot. (Middle) Gerilyn Carpenter looks for open teammates during a game this season. (Below) Sophomore Evan Neff works to get around a Bad Axe defender. (Photos by Spot On By Shari.)