TRAVERSE CITY — This doesn’t have a happy ending, in part because the end isn’t yet here.
It almost was, but fate wouldn’t allow the basketball careers of Traverse City West High School’s Sierra Perkette and Becca Bohrer to end without a fight.
Funny, because their long path together started with one.
The two faced off on the hardwood in elementary school, with Perkette’s Montessori team clashing with Bohrer’s Westwoods squad. As the top players for each, a rivalry developed that turned into hostility.
“When we played in fifth grade, we didn’t like each other,” Perkette said. “If I heard we were playing Westwoods, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m playing Becca’s team!’ It felt like a West-Central rivalry. It was just there. We just didn’t know.”
A Westwoods player collided with Perkette and ended up with a broken arm. That’s where Bohrer said the bad blood started.
“We hated each other,” Bohrer said. “I was 9 years old and this random lady came up to me and said, ‘You guys are going to be teammates some day. You better make it work.’”
That lady was Perkette’s mother, Heather.
Fast forward seven years, and the two have been through a roller coaster ride at Traverse City West Senior High School that’s included disappointment, change, death, more change and redemption. Now they’ll continue the ride as teammates at Alma College, making new memories while unable to shake the old ones.
High school didn’t go as planned for the duo that helped lead the Titans to a bit of a renaissance after several down years. Five coaches in four years and a lot more losses than wins dampened the spirits of a class with big expectations.
West’s senior basketball class of Tacey Looze, KK Roman, Grace Miner, Maia Walters, Perkette and Bohrer came into the halls of Traverse City West Senior High with sky-high expectations, buoyed by their middle school success.
“In eighth grade, we thought we were unstoppable,” Bohrer said.
Three years into their high school career, the varsity’s record sat at 9-50. The Titans finished last or next to last in the Big North Conference each season.
Any number of reasons can be pointed at. Injuries. Expectations. Coaching changes. A combination of all of the above.
Miner missed the last two seasons with injuries. Haley Disbrow tore her ACL as a junior. Walters tore her ACL last year. Perkette suffered four concussions playing basketball, several of those in high school.
“I wasn’t 100 percent I wanted to play, what with all that went on in high school,” Perkette said. “It was not the normal experience most high school athletes experience.”
The talented freshman class saw Titans head coach Dave Ginsberg retire the summer before their high school careers started.
Rebecca McKee took over the Titan program, and Perkette and Bohrer almost immediately clashed with the new coach. West and McKee parted ways seven games into the girls’ junior season.
“Our philosophies just differed and we parted ways,” West athletic director Jason Carmien said at the time.
The Titans were 1-6 when McKee resigned, and 5-23 over the previous year and a half. Both Bohrer and Perkette said they were ready to quit basketball. This wasn’t what they were expecting.
“It’s hard, mentally and physically,” Perkette said. “Every coach does it differently. It was not easy at all.”
Junior varsity coach Mike Wilde was promoted to finish the season.
Perkette played on varsity as a freshman, while Bohrer played her season under Wilde on the freshman team.
Wilde also coached Bohrer in the sixth grade, and the two became close.
He coached Perkette’s three older brothers — Sawyer, Shale and Tyler — in football.
Wilde could yell with the best of them, like many coaches, McKee included. But that yell would frequently be followed by a big bear hug from the gentle giant.
He coached all over Traverse City, in boys and girls basketball, football and track at varying levels and at different schools for decades. Every athlete in the Traverse City area seemed to know Mike Wilde from one place or another.
“Going from having a coach get fired and then to go to Wilde, it was so awesome,” Bohrer said. “He got me through it when nothing else would. He told us how great we were going to be as seniors. Then it all came crashing down.
“Then he died.”
Wilde passed away in his sleep the morning of his 59th birthday. Girls basketball team members were called over the public address to meet in room C102.
Bohrer and Perkette distinctly remember the room number.
“You don’t really know what to do,” Perkette said. “It’s the most unexpected thing to hear.”
West canceled a league games against Petoskey and Alpena as the team tried to cope with the loss of Wilde.
Hundreds attended a memorial at TC West days after his passing to share stories, hoping some laughs could muzzle sorrow.
“Professionally, it was one of the most difficult things I went through,” Carmien said.
Wilde and Carmien worked together when the future West athletic director was still in high school in 1988-89. Wilde managed Mainstream Sports in Traverse City, and Carmien worked there while Wilde also coached at TC St. Francis.
“Wilde came in and we were best friends,” Bohrer said, wiping tears from her eyes with a napkin. “Then that happened and it’s still super hard to this day. I never wanted to get back on the court. Wilde was my buddy.”
Once again, the girls had a new coach. Doug Baumann, a Michigan State Police trooper and husband of Titans volleyball coach Emily Baumann, took the reins, coaching the team along with Carmien to finish out the 2016-17 season. A first-round loss to rival TC Central ended the season at 2-16.
The girls weren’t sure about the new coach when Baumann first took over.
The first day, he showed up in his full uniform. He was loud. He often wore cowboy boots.
Players knew they messed something up when they heard the boots stomp on the wood floor, resonating throughout the gym.
Wilde had coached Baumann when he was a freshman. Later, they coached together on Greg Farmer’s staff at West.
“Once they realized I knew Mike for a long time and understood, that was an eye-opener for them,” Baumann said.
The constant was not winning a lot. The Titans ended Baumann’s first season 3-17 and last in the BNC for a second straight year.
But, like with Wilde, the team quickly grew close to Baumann.
“It didn’t take us long to realize Baumann was the best thing to happen to us,” Perkette said.
With Perkette giving the Titans a steady point guard that could change games with outside shooting and Bohrer regularly putting up double-doubles, West rebounded in a big way last season, the final one in a West uniform for both.
A 13-10 record might not sound that great, but in comparison to the previous three years and all those seasons entailed, it helped put things in the rear-view mirror. The win total was four more than the previous three years combined and West bagged a second-place BNC finish and a trip to the district championship game.
In the closing moments of their high school career, as Marquette was about to claim a district championship at the Titans’ expense, Baumann pulled his seniors from the game one at a time so they could be an ovation. Perkette and Bohrer were last to exit the court.
Both were on the verge of tears. Memories of all they went through flooded back as it all seemed to be ending.
Bohrer sat next to Perkette on the bench, put her arm around her former rival’s shoulder and said, “Sierra, you’re forever going to be my point guard.”
“It’s a surreal feeling you’re never going to forget,” Perkette said. “We’ve been through it all together. We started crying and we thought it was over.”
Bohrer averaged a double-double — 13 points, nine rebounds and two steals a game — to earn third-team All-Region and first-team all-Big North Conference honors. Perkette was the top player on the all-BNC second team, and Looze and Roman earned honorable mention. Baumann was named Record-Eagle Coach of the Year, and stepped down after the season to accept a promotion with the State Police.
TO BE CONTINUED
Perkette and Bohrer didn’t plan on playing college basketball, nonetheless going to the same school.
But the bonds forged from shared high school experiences, all those ups and downs, played a part in that.
“I didn’t know if I really wanted to play,” Bohrer said. “Then at the end I realized I didn’t want it to stop.”
Bohrer had been ignoring texts from college coaches, but West assistant coach Amy Drake and Baumann nudged them to give basketball another chance after the season.
Drake put highlight films together and Baumann sent it to schools. The girls, both with GPAs in the 3.6 range, started hearing back within days.
“I realized this is my last chance,” Perkette said. “I figured all the work we put in was useless unless you go on and keep playing.”
West had a signing day April 17 for 13 athletes, including Roman for basketball at Hope College. But Bohrer and Perkette remained unsure of their destination and didn’t attend.
Bohrer was originally set on Adrian. Perkette was leaning in the same direction, until an April 24 visit to Alma changed her mind.
Perkette committed to Alma on May 1, the same day Bohrer visited the Scots’ campus. A day later, Bohrer joined Perkette in the same incoming freshman class. They continue their bond by working together with the Traverse City Pit Spitters and will be roommates at Alma even before basketball practice starts up Oct. 15.
“They have an edge to them,” Alma College head coach Sami Stormont said. “Their outgoing personalities add well to our team. For sure they wanted to be part of a team that wanted to compete and win as much as they do.”
With Looze headed to Grand Valley, Walters to Aquinas, Roman to play at Hope and Miner to Northwestern Michigan College, the senior group will be split up for the first time in quite awhile.
They played together for the first time in eighth grade on the TC Adrenaline travel team. Roman’s dad coached the up-and-coming Titans in their bright blue uniforms.
“Now all six of us are all inseparable,” Bohrer said. “We’ve been through it all. We’re like family. We’ll all have separation anxiety.”
“When we played in fifth grade, we didn’t like each other. If I heard we were playing Westwoods, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m playing Becca’s team!’ It felt like a West-Central rivalry. It was just there. We just didn’t know.” Sierra Perkette