PLYMOUTH – You could actually say that there aren’t many people in Plymouth who don’t know Park Superintendent Mike Hite in one way or another.
He is the longtime face of the Plymouth Park Department which is one of the jewels of the city. He is also a former Kizer Award winner (Plymouth’s outstanding senior, male athlete). He has also met many of Plymouth’s football and baseball players as “Coach Hite”.
He is one of those Hometown Heroes who decided to make his hometown, his lifetime home.
“There was never any doubt that I was coming back to Plymouth,” said Hite. “There is something about the people. Everybody knows everybody and that can be good or bad, but there is a hometown feeling. I remember talking to a lot of guys in college from Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo, that never had that community pride. I liked that.”
Hite is literally a part of several generations of Plymouth athletics.
“Is that good or is that bad?” he said with a laugh. “I guess I just had ‘Big Red’ in my blood.”
A three-sport athlete for most of his life, Hite not only won the Kizer Award at Plymouth High School but also won the Beabout Award which is given to the outstanding athlete at Plymouth’s Lincoln Jr. High. It is an achievement that is pretty rare.
“That’s what they tell me,” he said. “I do have to admit I’m kind of proud of that.”
When Mike graduated from Plymouth High School he was given an athletic scholarship at Albion College in Michigan. Obviously not wanting to be bored with college life he was a two-sport athlete there in football and baseball.
“It was just Div. III, it’s not like it was the University of Michigan or something,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong there were a lot of great players in Div. III. It was an eye-opening experience. After my sophomore year, I decided football was just too much to balance in college.”
The decision was made easier by the fact that baseball has always been the sport Hite has gravitated to.
“Baseball without a doubt has always been my favorite,” he said. “It was the sport I was most comfortable at. I felt I could play it better than the others. I guess since I thought that was my best sport it was my favorite.”
Hite actually started playing with B-League (10-12-year-olds) baseball in Plymouth.
“I didn’t play C-League, we didn’t have T-ball then,” he said. “My first real memory is Ed Hess and the Plymouth travel teams.”
Like many Plymouth baseball players, Ed Hess was an influence that would last a lifetime, not just on Hite, but on Plymouth baseball as a whole.
“He was a mainstay, he was known by everyone,” said Hite. “The structure he gave me at that point in my life I can’t repay. If you played on his team you stayed in line. You followed his lead, on and off the field.”
Later when Hite began coaching it was a strong influence.
“Patience,” said Hite. “Patience with people is what he taught me. It wasn’t always about winning. It was about the effort. If you gave that, did all you could to win, it was OK with him.”
The rigors of being a three-sport athlete were different for Hite in the late ’70s and early ’80s at PHS.
“You didn’t think about it,” he said. “You went from one to the other. The emphasis now is on specializing. We didn’t really think about it that much. One night you finished basketball and a week later you were at baseball practice. It must have been tiring but you didn’t really have time to think about it.”
Things are different now in his eyes.
“It’s a lot harder now because there are so many outside forces pressing kids to succeed,” he said. “We played because we loved to play. Now you start at a really young age and it’s all about being a star at the next level. Be a star at jr. high or at high school and getting that college scholarship. It’s not about the love of the game it just seems to be all about a career.”
Hite moved into the coaching realm after coming back starting at the Plymouth baseball 10-12 travel team.
“I came back from college and helped Paul Hurford coach that team and when he retired it just seemed like the natural thing to do,” said Hite.
After that, he moved on to be an assistant on Tony Plothow’s baseball staff and shortly after joined John Barron’s football staff.
“It was John’s first year (as head football coach) and Mike Kershner and I were good friends, we coached together in baseball and we’d been through a lot together and he was going to be John’s offensive coordinator,” said Hite. “The job came open and they offered it to me and I took it.”
“I just felt like it was a way to give something back,” said Hite of his coaching career. “I had a lot of really good coaches who gave me a lot and I felt like it was a chance for me to give back a little bit of what I had been given.”
What’s the most rewarding part of coaching?
“Winning,” he said with a laugh. “Winning seems to make everything a lot better. It’s not the only thing it is the elation of your players when they win that is the thing that means the most to me. That’s the best part about winning.”
Ask Hite what he’s most proud of and it has nothing to do with sports.
“I’m most proud of my daughter and seeing the kind of person that she has become,” he said. “And my grandkids. That’s what makes me proud.”
In sports, it’s something else.
“I think it’s that the players I have coached respect me,” he said. “Maybe they even enjoyed playing for me, but I don’t recall a player that didn’t have respect for what I was trying to do and that means a lot to me.”