There's definitely a catch to being the best.
For Hamilton girls basketball standout Mackenzie Latt and her family, these have been a trying few days. Word came out Nov. 1 that Latt, the all-time leading scorer in the school's history and the cornerstone of the team's consecutive Greater Metro Conference titles, would be moving with her family to Michigan and spending the remainder of her senior year at Gull Lake High School in Richland, Mich.
It goes without saying that the change will be a big blow to the Chargers' chances at a three-peat. The 6-1 forward, who recently signed a Letter of Intent to play basketball for Davidson University in North Carolina next year, was named first-team All State last year in Division 1 in 2013, averaging 19.2 points per game and 6.2 rebounds.
If Latt were just another player, her family's relocation (father Scott accepted an executive marketing position after 2 1/2 months out of work) may not make a ripple. Instead, the Latts have heard some strong opinions.
"Mackenzie has been so selfless," said her mother, Dee, who served on the Hamilton coaching staff for five years. "She said, 'Now my brother (freshman Chris) can get into a new situation right away, and I can help his transition. It's only half a year for me and I'm gone either way.' It's not that she wants to leave Hamilton; she's played here all her life. It's a difficult thing. She has friends and family in the program. She's heard from people that think she's being selfish. She said, 'It's not even about me, it's so much bigger than me.'"
There are wrinkles to the story that make the circumstances cloudier. Hamilton will be under a new coaching regime this year, led by head coach Bill Scasny, after former coach Dan Carey accepted a position with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee women's basketball program. Scasny, a veteran coach who guided Divine Savior Holy Angels to seven WISAA and two WIAA state-tournament appearances, was chosen over a number of candidates, including Dee Latt and Vance Forrest, both assistants under Carey.
It's hard to tell if the coaching situation had played out differently whether the Latts could have explored makeshift ways to make everything work. But that's not fair to either side. Hamilton moved in the direction it felt best for the program as a whole, and Scasny's experience makes him a superb choice for any program. Meanwhile, it wouldn't have changed the fact that Scott Latt needed a job, and it would have been a lot to expect the family to live separately purely to preserve Mackenzie's role on the basketball team, even if it's technically feasible.
"We almost had to move when (Mackenzie's older sister) Danielle was a senior (two years ago)," Dee said. "He (Scott) had accepted a position in Baltimore, and at the 11th hour (circumstances changed). Two years later, we find ourselves in the same spot. He was offered this secure position, and we just have to take it. You take everything else out of the equation, and we need to have income."
Both Dee and Mackenzie were emotional in describing the situation. This is not something they considered lightly, not a move to respond to the coaching climate at Hamilton and not some way for Latt to increase her profile as a basketball player. If this was a family driven by those motivations, it seems logical Mackenzie's career would have started at a school with a greater track record of success. It may be hard to convince everyone of this, but this wasn't a basketball-driven decision.
Though it's a disappointing reality, Hamilton athletic director Mike Gosz came away with the same impression.
"It was a shock; I had absolutely no inclination this was going to happen," Gosz said. "I didn't know (Scott) was out of a job. When I got call from Bill on Thursday night, I was kind of in a mild state of shock. You don't want to believe it. Aside from her being a tremendous basketball player, she's just a great kid. You're losing a great family, good people in this community. I just wish she could stay for her senior year, but I understand the family component of it, obviously. You have to respect that. I assured them whatever I can do to ease the process through the transition, lean on me. My goal is help her be eligible on Day 1 (in the new school)."
Gull Lake certainly doesn't have a bad program, but it's not as if the Latts were looking around the Midwest for a powerhouse. The school made the move to Class A — the biggest schools in Michigan — two years ago and has been bumped from the infant rounds of the postseason the last two years. The squad went a respectable 13-7 last year and took third in the SMAC East. The team last made the state tournament as a Class B school in 2010, falling 72-39 in the quarterfinals.
Was there a possibility of Mackenzie staying behind somehow while her family relocated? It's been done before. But ask yourself: if your family were suddenly leaving in the next few weeks, or if someone asked to live with you starting in two weeks for the next several months, how easily could you make that transition? In this case, these are the final months Mackenzie gets to spend with her family before leaving to attend college on the coast.
"We just didn't choose to (split our family)," Dee said. "I wonder what people would say if they were faced with that situation. Mackenzie is older and more mature than a typical senior who would be kicking and screaming (as her family moved). It's not that she's not disappointed, but she won't say to us that she's not going."
It's true: Latt is one of the most mature high-school kids you'll find, and she has been since she started as a freshman for the Chargers. In three seasons, Hamilton went 54-17, and she scored 1,135 points — breaking the old school record midway through her junior year. She was at her best when the program won its first-ever conference title in a season finale win over Divine Savior Holy Angels in overtime two years ago. But more than that, she's an eloquent kid who adores the program and her place therein.
She's helped Hamilton become one of the state's best girls basketball teams. She's also strong enough to handle the scrutiny that comes with this change.
"I've been really blessed with some great experiences at Hamilton and as a Charger," Mackenzie said. "I've been a Charger my whole life. I have a lot of special moments from being able to play with my sister, being able to have my mom as my coach, building relationships outside of my blood family ... It's really hard to leave that. We've had some great moments."
I get the outside perspective. There are assumptions to be made. A coaching change, a parent who doesn't get the job, and a star player suddenly weighing his or her options. But this isn't a vendetta or helicopter-parent in action. It's a no-win situation.
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