Greenfield - For anyone tired of hearing about athletes who think only about themselves and their own statistics and who are constantly complaining about not getting enough shots, carries or at-bats, here is some relief.
Meet Stephen Pelkofer, a senior wing for the Whitnall High School boys basketball team.
Pelkofer is a versatile player who can score in many different ways, including driving to the hoop, hitting the medium-range jumpshot and netting 3-point field goals. He averaged 16.5 points in the 2010-11 season for the Falcons, leading them to a 17-8 record.
Before the 2011-12 campaign, Pelkofer had a meeting with head coach Kent Kroupa, and what he said completely goes against the common perception of today's athlete.
Instead of asking Kroupa to feature him more in the offense and give him more scoring opportunities in his senior season, Pelkofer asked for exactly the opposite - he told him he would be willing to sacrifice his own statistics to make the team better.
"I said I would do anything to get us as many wins as possible," Pelkofer said. "I wanted to use my ability to make my teammates better. I don't care about the individual stats."
As a result, Pelkofer's scoring average dropped to 12.8 points per game, but everyone else's average went up, and so did the Whitnall victory total.
A team player
Luke Mentkowski wound up at 13.6, Ian Ray 12.4 and Bryan Nagy 8.9, and the Falcons finished 22-3, winning the Woodland Conference Black Division championship outright at 15-2. Their three losses came by a total of seven points.
Pelkofer also contributed in many other ways, averaging 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists and playing shutdown defense against the opposition's top threats.
For these accomplishments, he is part of the NOW Newspapers All-Suburban Team for the second straight season, and he adds these honors to his two selections to the NOW All-Suburban football squad as a wide receiver.
Kroupa, who called Pelkofer one of the best players ever at Whitnall, marveled about his unselfish, team-first attitude.
"He could have averaged 20, 25 points if he wanted to, and he could have been a 1,000-point (career) scorer," the coach said, "but he was thinking about the team. He is just a quality leader and a quality young man, the kind you build a program around."
Kroupa said Pelkofer's decision to help out his teammates whenever possible made Whitnall extremely tough to defend.
"Coaches told me they didn't know who to stop," he said.
Following his lead
Pelkofer was also renowned for his extreme work ethic, and he made sure that others followed that example.
"He not only kept guys involved during practice, but he helped them work on their games at the YMCA and at the Princeton Club after practice and on the weekends," Kroupa said. "They would work for an hour or two, and they didn't just shoot around. They worked on what did not go well in the previous game.
"Stephen started it all, and I have never had a kid who did something like that. The kids followed his example."
Pelkofer knew going into the season that the veteran-heavy Falcons had a good chance to accomplish something special.
"I knew we would be a good team, because everyone had worked hard in the off-season," he said. "We ended up having that good year. It was because of our balance, and our defense, which was one of the top ones in the area. That is coach's main philosophy.
"We were consistent; we usually went into halftime with the lead, and that came from our balanced scoring. If somebody had an off game, other guys would pick him up."
Basketball career not over
Pelkofer, who was also the Woodland Black Division Player of the Year and made honorable-mention all-state, is now on his way to Northern Michigan University, having received a full scholarship.
He is looking forward to the new challenge, and Kroupa knows that NMU is getting a special player.
"He plays with total dedication to the program, and he got better each year here," Kroupa said.
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