Groves High School assistant basketball coach Steve Claramunt has played, coached and officiated the game at the college and high school level for more than two decades since graduating from the school where he now works with students. But it's through his founding of the Motor City Athletic Club that he places a special focus on youth development and academics.
As a player, Claramunt's college career was cut short due to an ankle injury. Determined to stay on the court, he became a certified basketball official, starting with youth games and later in NCAA and NJCAA games. From there, he went on to coach at the high school level, and later became the assistant coach at Schoolcraft College.
In 2015, while coaching at Groves, Claramunt started the Motor City Athletic Club, which works with less advantaged kids throughout southeast Michigan to compete in local travel competitions.
"The whole idea of the program was not only for teaching basketball, but also to have an academic focus," he said. "I think a lot of programs put too much of the focus on becoming a better athlete and sometimes forget about the academic portion of it."
Middle school and high school students who participate in the program are required to maintain a 3.0 grade point average, which they must be able to show on a report card before trying out, and maintain them during the course of the season.
"If they start to struggle, I'm not going to throw them off the team, but we are going to work to get that grade back up," he said. "On the flip side, we are trying to use basketball to help in school and maintain good grades, and to prepare them for whatever level they want to play next."
For kids whose grades do start to slip, Claramunt makes sure they get the appropriate help, which might involve working with a teacher to make sure they get additional tutoring. Students who fall behind are still required to attend practices, but they must sit out until they show academic progress.
Claramunt said he realized the need for a program that focused on academics when five high school players were forced off his team due to poor grades during his first year coaching in Troy. At the same time, other players brought book smarts, but were lacking in basketball basics.
"To be honest, some of them are smart kids, but they don't know the first thing about playing basketball," he said. "It bothers me, as someone who played basketball from a young age, that some of these kids don't know how to dribble with both hands. They don't know how to make a layup."
While the Michigan High School Athletic Association, which governs sports programs in the state, has specific academic requirements for students, Claramunt said the standards are lacking. "There's plenty of blame to go around in all areas, but it made me think about what we can do," he said.
With the knowledge that some incoming college students might be quitting their athletic careers before they even start, Claramunt decided to put his business education and basketball experience together to help find a solution.
"You might be able to coast by in middle school, and you might be able to coast by in high school," he said, "but when you get to college, if you aren't prepared in the right way, you aren't going to last two weeks."
Photo: Laurie Tennent