By ERIC BENAC
News Sports Writer
HILLMAN-Two new faces have recently popped up in Hillman athletics as Chelsea LaPorte and Kayla Nichols have taken over as the Tigers' new track coaches following the retirement of longtime coach Steve Smith.
News Photo by Eric Benac
New Hillman track coach Kayla Nichols observes a runner during practice.
LaPorte, 20, was a relay runner for the Hillman track team and graduated in 2011. She was prompted to apply for the position when she was informed it was still open months after it was initially posted.
"A parent and my cousin Brandon Baur texted me to let me know it was still available. They saw the listing on Facebook and I knew it was open but I had hesitated to apply because I figured I was so young that they wouldn't give it to me. But I put in my application and got the job," she said.
LaPorte began attending Central Michigan University for pre-med after graduation in hopes of becoming a doctor, but financial aide issues prompted her to move back to Hillman until she begins attending another university.
Once she applied for the coaching position, Hillman school board members decided it would be a good idea if LaPorte had somebody a little bit older to help her out until she gets the hang of coaching.
This is where Nichols, 29, comes into play.
"Chelsea is going to be coaching the players on a personal level and helping them get better. I'm here more to do the books and manage the business of the team, so that she doesn't have to worry about that just yet," Nichols said.
Nichols, who is a teacher, was a softball, basketball and volleyball player for Hillman but never ran track. Coaching is a family tradition for Nichols though: her mother Simone Clink has been a youth basketball coach for over a decade and is the current Hillman JV girls basketball coach.
In spite of LaPorte's youth, Nichols believes she is learning quickly.
"She's doing very good. She knows the track aspect of the sport very well and has really adjusted to the role of a coach," Nichols said.
Many of the LaPorte's runners are former classmates from when she attended Hillman.
"It's a little unusual but there isn't any lack of respect. They behave well. You just get the 'I don't wanna run today' sort of attitude that was going on when I was here. If you didn't want to run, why'd you join track? That's what track is!" LaPorte said with a laugh.
LaPorte will try to maintain a strong program that has turned out several Division 4 state qualifiers in the last few years. Two years ago, Hillman qualified two boys relay teams, a hurdler and a shot putter as well as Baur, who qualified in two sprints. Last season, Hillman also qualified two boys relay teams as well as two hurdlers.
LaPorte may be new to the job, but Nichols and other Hillman coaches have offered to help to her.
"Coach (Eric) Muszynski, Kayla (Nichols) and a lot of other coaches and teachers have offered to help me out if there are serious behavior problems. But I have a good group of kids and I don't think we'll have any problems," LaPorte said.
Working a full time midnight shift at Hilllman Haven and coaching in the afternoon hasn't left LaPorte with a lot of free time, but her co-workers have been understanding and have allowed her to have time to coach.
"I don't get a lot of sleep. It's all about balancing your time and I have a lot of great co-workers that understand and are willing to pick up shifts or come in a little early or a little later to accommodate," she said.
During practice, runners call LaPorte and Nichols by their first names, a fact that highlights the one-on-one nature of the sport.
"You spend a lot of time with individual players in track. It's very personal. It's not like in baseball or football where you talk to a whole team. You have to be able to coach each runner in their individual event and the events can be very different," LaPorte said.