Balancing academics with athletics

Physical education and athletic programs at the Academy off to a rousing start with new athletic director.

Athletic director Kevin Richards comes to The Grosse Pointe Academy after 13 years in the Romeo, Mich., school district. He’s also been coaching varsity girls basketball at nearby Grosse Pointe South for 12 years.

The Grosse Pointe Academy is widely known for its outstanding academic program and how well it prepares its graduates for the educational demands of high school and college. But what many may not know about GPA is its comprehensive athletics and physical education programs.

Academy students typically are introduced to athletics and the spirit of healthy competition at a young age through physical education classes and after-school intramural sports. In grades 6-8 (and in some cases as early as grade 5) students are eligible to participate in competitive interscholastic athletics, which include regular contests versus other independent schools in soccer, tennis, cross country, basketball and lacrosse for boys, and volleyball, cross country, basketball, tennis and soccer for girls.

The school’s PE program begins for students at a very young age, including those in GPA’s Early School Montessori program. Physical education for the youngest students not only provides exercise and develops motor skills, but encourages cooperative play through organized games and physical activities. According to school administrators, the program focuses on physical, as well as social, intellectual, and psychological, growth that enables space and body awareness, and the all-important social skills.

For Kevin Richards, who is the Academy’s new athletic director and head of its physical education program, he wants to make sure he maintains that healthy balance between academics and athletics.

“My philosophy with any age group of students is to get them active,” said the Grosse Pointe Park resident. “I want students to take advantage of having physical education as much as they can. When most schools are taking PE away, I was so impressed that GPA puts such an emphasis on it. That’s another reason I was attracted to this school.”

Richards says that whether it’s on the basketball court or outside on the field during PE class, he expects his students to set goals for themselves and to meet and even exceed them.

Richards came to the Academy in September after 13 years at Powell Middle School in the Romeo Community School district where he taught PE, healthy living and health education. He also has 18 years of head varsity basketball coaching experience, which includes his current position as the varsity girls basketball coach at Grosse Pointe South High School, where he’s coached for 12 years. In fact, he led the Blue Devils to back-to-back Class A state final appearances and has twice been named coach of the year — by The Detroit News in 2012 and the Associated Press in 2013.

Richards also is recognized throughout the state for his work with the BCAM (Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan) where he once served as president and currently is on the executive board as the basketball clinic director. He’s also very active in the Grosse Pointe community and runs the youth basketball program, the Grosse Pointe Lakers, and is the Lakers’ camp director.

‘Amazing students’

Richards is a very busy guy, which is another reason he’s happy about his new commute to work every morning and the school that awaits him.

“I love the commute compared to driving to Romeo,” he said. “The staff has been great and welcoming and while there was an adjustment with the students and my expectations, they are now buying in and I am seeing real success. There are some amazing students here and I look forward to getting to know them and their families as we go through this school year.”

Richards also cites a number of other factors that clinched his move to the Academy.

“I had been looking for the chance to work closer to home for a while, but it just never worked out until now,” said Richards, who lives in the Park with his wife, Kara, and his five children, Kamryn, 13, Karter, 12, Koop, 9, Korver, 6, and Keke, 3. “I also saw an opportunity to grow professionally and to have an impact on both the school and community. I’ve also run basketball camps at GPA the past four years and simply fell in love with the school.”

Richards added that he has a few previous connections with a couple of other GPA staffers.

“Having known (head of school) Tommy Adams for a few years after coaching his son in AAU basketball, and (assistant head of school) Didi DeBoer after coaching both of her daughters at South during the past 12 years, I felt comfortable moving schools,” he said. “I am confident with their leadership and very excited with the direction of the Academy.”

Richards says the commute to GPA from his home in Grosse Pointe Park is far more manageable than his previous commute to the Romeo Community School district.

As far as him coaching any teams at the Academy, Richards plans to take a less is more approach, at least initially, although as AD, he oversees all of the school’s coaching staff.

“But I will be officially ‘directing’ all of the basketball teams this winter,” he said. “Head of basketball development, if you will. And I’m hoping to coach the varsity boys basketball team as well.”

Setting goals and Bulldog pride

Richards also said that whether it’s on the basketball court or outside on the field during PE class, he expects his students to set goals for themselves and to meet and even exceed them.

“I always tell the kids that it’s not where you start, but where you finish,” he said. “For the GPA athletic department in general, I want to build the most competitive private school program in southeast Michigan while also providing teams for students who want to learn the games. We aim to teach the lifelong skills that sports provide, but especially, I want the students here to wear the GPA Bulldog athletic uniforms with a strong and healthy dose of pride!”