TRAVERSE CITY — Tonight will be one of the rare occasions where Traverse City Central girls basketball coach Heather Simpson is pulling for the opposition right along with her own team.
Simpson’s squad hosts Traverse City St. Francis in the annual Hoops for Hope game — a game where Simpson gets to face the school that she guides in volleyball during the fall.
This is the fifth Hoops for Hope fundraiser, which generates money for Child and Family Services and Girls on The Run. In four years both schools have brought in over $19,000 through T-shirt sales for the game and raffles during the contest. The money is used to purchase athletic shoes for kids in need.
On the court Simpson sees the game as bragging rights between herself and the two St. Francis players she coaches in volleyball — junior Megan Knudsen and freshman Juliana Phillips — as well as the school she helped lead to the volleyball state finals just over a year ago.
“I’m not going to lie, we’re competitive,” said Simpson. “There’s a little trash talk that goes on during the volleyball season about it. The stakes are kind of high. I love those kids, especially when you get to know them so well. I want them to have their best games of their lives, but I want my team to come out with the ‘W.’ It’s hard. I feel a little bit like I’ve betrayed them in a sense just because you get to know these kids so well. You want nothing but success for them and now I’ve got to game plan for how to shut them down.”
While there are only two players on the St. Francis varsity who were on Simpson’s volleyball team this season, she said the school is so small that she gets to know more than just the players on her roster from when they show up for games to cheer on their classmates.