The Northern Light The student news site of Portage Northern High School Sat, 29 Feb 2020 11:03:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Men’s basketball edges Gull Lake in triple overtime Wed, 26 Feb 2020 13:18:14 +0000 As if two overtimes in the last game wasn’t enough, the Huskies took their next game against Gull Lake into three overtimes before winning in thrilling fashion, 65-64, with a last-second three pointer from junior shooting guard Jaleel Williams.

The Huskies fell into a double-digit deficit after the first half, but a great defensive effort propelled their comeback. “We gave up 4 points in the whole second half,” said head coach Ben Neal. “That defense effort led to baskets on the other end and gave us some confidence.”

On the offensive end, Nate Mason contributed 17 points, junior D’zharion Reynolds put up 15 points, junior Anthony Tyus III had 10 points, senior Jeff Wilson contributed 10 points, and senior Tyler Amos added 8 points. Williams recounts the last moments of the game: “We were down 2 with about 15 seconds when they missed a free throw. Coach Neal called out Victory, which is a short clock situation play we run,” he shared. “I was in the corner and Tyler rejected the ball screen at the top of the key. I knew that if he got into the paint, the guy guarding me would help and I’d have a wide-open three, and that’s what happened. When I released the ball, I instantly thought that it was off left based on how it felt coming out of my hand, but it hit really high off the backboard and slid in. It was just really exciting to hit that shot and win the game. As an athlete growing up, you always dream about having the last shot in an overtime game and hitting the game-winner, so it was really nice to do that.”

The Huskies have been on a tear heading into the end of the regular season, going 8-2 over their last 10 games. “We’re on a mission right now,” said Neal. “We talked about it, to finish the season going into the districts on a roll.”

The team is in action next on Friday, February 28 away against Mattawan.


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Fast forward Tue, 25 Feb 2020 16:16:41 +0000

Johnson’s road to recovery has been difficult, but he has stayed the course with determination. “He’s continued to come to practice and to games,” Neal says. “It’s obvious that he struggles with not being able to play the game he loves, but he’s grown up a lot through this experience.” 

Once he was able to return to school, he did so on a scooter, and then progressed his way to crutches, and ultimately to a boot. Currently, he is able to shoot free throws at practice.  “He is very resilient,” Nieves beams. “Every step is a milestone, as he has to teach himself to walk again. It hasn’t been easy emotionally, but physically he has been shocking and amazing everyone. His physical therapist makes it their job to challenge him during each visit. He cried when he took his first full steps on his own without the boot – I couldn’t be more proud of him.” 

Johnson is optimistic about his healing process. “As time started going on, everything started to get easier,” he says. “At physical therapy, they push me really hard, and it’s tough. I fully accept all the hard work though because I want to get back. I’m just thinking about recovery. Just thinking about getting better for my team, for myself. I don’t let myself get down about it anymore and I plan on, when I’m healthy, forgetting I was ever injured.” 

Johnson’s immediate goals include playing for his AAU team in the spring and then continuing to play basketball in college. “Gonzaga is my dream school, but I will play anywhere,” he shares. “I just want to keep the game in my life.”

He still has the strong support system that he had after surgery. “It was tough on my mom, but she helped me through everything. She’s starting to feel better now that I can do a lot of stuff on my own, but it’s hard on her, I can tell. She’s strong. She stays strong for me. And the rest of my family, they’re just trying to keep positive and be there for me,” Johnson affirms. “After he was hurt, we talked about how he could deal with it, grind through it, and be better because of it,” Neal says. “With discipline and toughness, that will happen.” Wilson agrees: “He’s going to be a different player, a better player, when he comes back.” 

Myles and his family would like to extend a sincere thank you to:

Dr. Post, the staff at South Bend Memorial and EMTs
Dr. Roberts, Bronson Hospital
Ben and Dan and Bronson Rehabilitation
Coach Neal, coaches and PNMBB team
Niles Basket Ball teams and athletic staff those on hand that helped Myles that night
Coach Darryl and Camp Darryl teammates
Portage Northern High School and the other teams that reached out
All of the friends, loved ones and countless others who have reached out to Myles during this time.  


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Stopping the clock Tue, 25 Feb 2020 16:14:16 +0000 The matchup against Niles was close and physical when Johnson was injured early in the game. “He was fouled 3 or 4 times with no call and was frustrated,” Neal recalls. “I told him he was going to have to take it to the basket harder.”

Johnson did take it to the basket harder, coming up with a big dunk attempt but then landing awkwardly on the way down. “I thought he just rolled his ankle,” Neal says. 

The ball went back the other way and the game wasn’t even stopped until a foul was called on the other end of the court. “That’s when I realized he was still down there,” Neal remembers. “I went out to him and he was said, “Why me? Coach, I’m done.” 

Neal noticed blood on the floor, but the trainer was there and had covered Johnson’s leg with a towel. “I thought he was cut,” Neal says. “I asked the trainer, did he roll his ankle? And he just looked at me and said, no Coach, he has a compound fracture. By that time, his mom was with us, and [TJ] Tyus was praying over him.” 

The moment happened equally as slowly for Johnson. “The ball went the other way down the floor, so I looked down that way to watch,” he remembers. “I thought about getting up, and I couldn’t. That was when I looked down at my leg did a double take. I couldn’t believe it, because I couldn’t feel anything other than that I couldn’t move.” 

Nieves was in the stands watching the game. “Any time I have to relive this exact moment I still get emotional,” she shares. “I do recall Myles and I making eye contact, and him shaking his head back and forth as to say no and I knew it wasn’t good. My heart dropped. He started pounding the floor and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Someone asked if I was his mom and that’s when I assumed it was serious.” 

 When Johnson saw his leg, he knew how significant his injury was. “When I first saw it, I just put my head back down I was just thinking that it was over,” he says. “Then the trainer came and put a towel over it, and that was strange. Even though it was small, that towel felt like the heaviest thing.” 

By that time, Nieves was already with him on the court. “When I made it on the court, there was a lot of blood and someone had a towel up so that I couldn’t see his leg, but I was more focused on Myles at the moment. He seemed to be in shock and kept saying, ‘Mama it’s over, my career is over.’”

Leading up to Johnson’s injury, the game was a fast-paced and intense, but the sobering event brought perspective to both teams. “The team was visibly shaken,” Neal says. “Their hearts and minds were with Myles.” The Huskies went down 9 immediately before coming back for a late lead and ultimately losing the game 49-50.

“It was heartbreaking, honestly,” recalls Wilson, shaking his head. “To see his season taken from him instantly, for him not to be able to show how hard he worked.”  

While the Huskies played and prayed for their teammate, Johnson was on the way to South Bend, Indiana, which was the location of the nearest facility that could handle the severity of his injury. There, he had surgery to repair his fractured leg. 

Johnson had the support not just of his teammates, but of his entire school and the West Michigan community, who supported him either by visiting him in Indiana or sending him positive vibes on social media.

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Rewind Tue, 25 Feb 2020 16:07:07 +0000 While Johnson had played for the Huskies the previous two seasons, this year was different. “Myles was, to me, was experiencing one of the best moments of his life. He advanced from the JV basketball level on both the PNMBB team and his Camp Darryl AAU team to Varsity in the same season, and rounded off that season by winning a championship with his Portage Northern Men’s BB team at Grand Valley State University,” shares his mother, Deirdre Nieves. “He began getting invites to college-level camps, and he felt the upcoming season would be his break out year.” 

Basketball wasn’t the only way Johnson was positioning himself for success, either. “I was really focusing on my grades first,” he explained. “I was even on the honor roll for the first quarter.” His mother, Deirdre Nieves, noticed his hard work: “He would spend many late nights working hard to keep his grades at an honor status,” she shared.  

Johnson had also practiced more diligently than ever before. “I practiced all summer just preparing for the season,” he said. “I was really dedicated. For the month of August, I think there were 3 total days I wasn’t in the gym.” His commitment was not lost on his coach, Ben Neal. “In 25 years as a coach, I’ve never had a kid work harder in the offseason,” he shares. “He would text me and we would get in the gym as often as we could.” These extra practice sessions would be one on one or with teammate senior Jeff Wilson. “We played travel together, so we built a bond around a common goal,” explains Wilson. “We wanted to be successful, play at the next level, have a good season. We knew what it took to get there.” 

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Huskies hand PC their second loss of the season Tue, 25 Feb 2020 13:23:54 +0000

Portage Northern vs Portage Central Basketball 2020 from Absolute Video on Vimeo.

Headed into Friday night’s game, the Portage Central men’s basketball had only lost once. By the time they left the Igloo, their loss column had increased by 1 when the Huskies defeated them in double overtime by a score of 69-66. 

After 32 minutes of heated basketball, the Huskies were tied 50-50 against rival Portage Central heading into overtime. 

“I knew our guys weren’t gonna quit,” said head coach Ben Neal. “PC could keep coming, but our guys were refusing to quit and I never really doubted the fact that we were gonna get it done.”

Four more minutes wasn’t enough, as the Mustangs forced a second overtime with a last-second layup after the Huskies led for the entirety of overtime. 

Finally, in the second overtime, the Huskies prevailed. As PC’s desperation heave glanced off the rim, the Huskies celebrated after a 69-66 double overtime win. It was only Central’s second loss of the year, and was Northern’s 7th win in their last 9 games following their 61-45 loss to PC. 

Senior Nate Mason, who led the Huskies with 17 points, was confident from the moment the game started. “Nothing really surprised me,” he said. “It seemed like we had the win before we started.” Mason also stressed the importance of the team’s mental preparation before an upset win. “All we had to do was play better than them that night,” he said. Senior Cesar Campos also had a big night, putting up 15 points of his own. 

The Huskies are at home for their final 4 games, finishing the regular season with Gull Lake, Mattawan, Coloma, and St. Joe before heading to the district playoffs. The Huskies look to continue their hot streak jump started by their hard work and year-long improvement. “Our guys have been just grinding all year long and buying in to the whole idea of getting better,” Neal said. “When you add five guys out there who have all gotten better, that makes a team who has gotten better. We continue to buy in to that concept of 5 guys each doing their job.”

Update: The Huskies defeat Gull Lake 65-64 in triple overtime with a buzzer beater three by Junior Jaleel Williams.
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Senior Cory Cunningham transfers his skills from the football field to the (student-staff) basketball court Fri, 14 Feb 2020 14:27:12 +0000

Brianna Neuhouser
Senior Cory Cunningham prepares to be announced as a member of the starting five.

Senior Cory Cunningham recently accepted an offer to play football for Saginaw Valley State University, but football was the farthest thing from his mind as he ran up and down the basketball court in Friday’s student-staff basketball game. “I wanted to play because I wanted to prove to everybody that I could still play,” he says. “The game was pretty fun, and it was a great experience.”

Brianna Neuhouser
Cory Cunningham finishes the first quarter against the staff team.

While he only plays football for the school, basketball is close to his heart. “I played in middle school and in AAU,” he shares. “In high school, I had some coaching difficulties freshman year and I had to make the difficult decision not to play anymore.” He still plays pick up ball, and he takes Advanced Basketball class, where he gets to play every day.

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Slow motion: Myles Johnson diligently works his way back from a traumatic injury Thu, 13 Feb 2020 21:46:18 +0000 One second, junior varsity basketball player Myles Johnson was flying through the air for a dunk in an increasingly-physical league matchup against Niles high school. The next second, he was on the ground with a compound fracture of his right leg. 

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Parents, students adjust to an education without E squared Wed, 12 Feb 2020 15:52:30 +0000 This is a follow up to Portage Public Schools to eliminate E-Squared program for gifted and talented elementary students.

Almost six months after the new gifted education program has been implemented into Portage Public Schools elementary schools, there is still debate about its effectiveness. The new program, which replaces E-squared, now takes place inside each individual elementary school and allows a larger number of students to be involved. 

“While acknowledging that no process is 100% perfect, we have been able to integrate enrichment into the schools in order to support more students who may need that added challenge,” said Jessica Winstanley, a technology integration specialist who has worked hands on in both teaching students and instructing teachers about the new learning opportunities.  “Overall, the feedback we get from the students is positive. They enjoy the project-based learning units and push themselves to apply the skills they learn in class to real-world situations. Each student has voice and choice in their projects with no two projects being exactly the same.”

One major advantage with the new system is that it allows more students to receive gifted education. In the E-squared model, gifted students were differentiated using a standardized test. This led to many high-achieving students missing out on gifted education, some by as little as a single point. Stephanie Alkire, whose daughter did not qualify for E-squared, says she is now a part of the advanced math and reading groups and is being challenged and learning more than she did previously. “For kids who are smart but didn’t make it into E-squared, they are now getting the advanced curriculum they never would have got in the past,” she said. 

The entry system also created an equity issue where students coming from higher socio-econimic backgrounds were disproportionately represented in the gifted program. In the last three school years, the percent of E-Squared students receiving free or reduced lunch was 2%, 5%, and 4%, compared to the general school population receiving free or reduced lunch at rates of 24%, 29%, and 27% respectively.


“This implementation leads to a more equitable approach that is able to support the needs and learning goals of more of our advanced students who may have been left behind due to various factors with the previous program,” said Winstanley. The new model also meets the needs of students who may be gifted in certain areas, but not others.  

Despite these positive changes, not everyone is in agreement that the new system is an improvement. Nicole Harlow, whose daughter was a part of the E-squared program, does not believe the new system is offering gifted children an adequate curriculum. “My child is still incredibly frustrated with the elimination of the E-Squared program,” she said. “She misses it a great deal – it was her favorite part of school while it was still in place.” 

However, Harlow says that the problem goes beyond her daughter’s love for E-squared. “They essentially went from a full day of enrichment weekly to a few 20 minute blocks per week,” she said. “She [Harlow’s daughter] doesn’t find the projects very challenging.  She never brings home homework to do for the new program. She always had homework with E-Squared.” 

Despite this, Winstanley says that the enrichment schedule is much more rigorous. “Students at the 3rd-5th grade level who have been identified as needing enrichment and extension of the core curriculum meet 30-60 minutes per day, 4-5 days per week,” she said. “During this time they receive targeted instruction and work independently or in small groups on project-based learning units.”

This disconnect between parent and district perception highlights another important issue: a communication gap between parents and district leadership. This problem began with the sudden elimination of E-squared without any parental input, and continues to be an issue as parents feel continue not to have any input in the educational services that their students receive, making them feel disconnected from the process. 


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Four years: tragedy and triumph Wed, 12 Feb 2020 15:49:44 +0000
Four years: tragedy and triumph
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Winterfest 2020 brings joy through new events Wed, 12 Feb 2020 15:42:36 +0000
Winterfest 2020 brings joy through new events
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