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Lake Michigan Admirals end seven-year run in St. Joseph

Tom O’Neill

There will be no three-peat as Midwest Champions of the Premier Basketball League for the Lake Michigan Admirals. Chris Glisson, owner of the Admirals, folded the franchise after funding failed to come through.

            “I actually made the decision November 1”, explained Glisson. The St. Joseph resident said he had hoped for a three-year grant from an out of state group to cover the 2016 season as well as 2017 and 2018. Glisson said he put funding together for last year’s team while waiting on the grant.

            When it became apparent the grant wasn’t going to happen, Glisson sat down with his family and made the decision. “I’ve got a daughter who is a senior at St. Joseph High School planning to attend Grand Valley State.” He added it’s a commitment to his family.

            For Admiral fans and players, it’s been a great seven-year run in Southwest Michigan, beginning in the ABA and then five years in the PBL.  Glisson’s ABA teams were highlighted by a North Central Division Title and 5th place nationally. The team moved up to the PBL in 2011 and discovered a much more talent-laden league. After a rough start, Glisson’s teams were crowned Midwest Champions in 2015 and 2016, falling to Rochester (NY) in the finals both years.

            Admiral coach “Ace” Jackson said Glisson told him a couple months ago there might not be a season. “Last month he told me it wasn’t going to happen. It was a real downer.”

77 former Admirals signed contracts and have played in 56 different countries. 13 of 16 players off last year’s Midwest Championship team got signed, not to mention Nick Waddell and Andrew Christen being picked up by the Kentucky Mavericks for the 2017 season. In that seven-year span the Admirals visited 235 local schools, 83 churches, raised close to $400,000 for local charities and organizations along with 50 basketball camps. His “exposure tours” for Admiral players took him to 11 different countries.

The Olivet College graduate reminisced as he rattled off a list of names such as Rodney Alexander, Courtney Blackmore, Kareem Story and “Pastor” Scotty Samarco. And there were the “big men”, Jermaine “Stretch” Middleton still with the Harlem Globetrotters, Shagari  Alleyne, also a Globetrotter, and “Big Bob” Wegner at 7-foot 8 ½, who would walk around downtown St. Joe having to bend down to get in doorways.

“There were so many good players,” Glisson said. “Courtney represented the underdog player coming out of Coloma, then Lake Michigan College and on to Ferris State before becoming an Admiral. Glisson nicknamed him “Work Horse”. Samarco became a local Youth Pastor and now resides in Indian Land, SC as Teen Director for Transformation Church. “Nick (Waddell) is probably the best power forward to play here.” Ogdra Bobo is playing with the Michiana Monarchs and  Anthony Spencer is expected to have a contract in his hands shortly. Glisson keeps track of all his former players almost on a daily basis.

“Being an entrepreneur, I enjoy starting things from scratch.”  That spirit led Glisson to a new endeavor. He has hooked up with Blossom Trails Golf Club owner, Tim Smith, and a handful of others to introduce GC Visor to the golf industry. First stop will be the PGA Show in Orlando, FL. later this month.

            Asked what he will miss the most, Glisson replied “I’ll miss the fans,” then adding “I appreciate Lake Michigan Catholic High School, Michigan Lutheran High School and all those that believed in our mission and let us play at their facilities.” He was quick to add all of the community groups that provided halftime entertainment, specifically mentioning the Citadel Dance Company.

            Blackmore, who suffered a leg injury prior to last season, said he misses visiting all of the schools and playing in front of the fans. He’s been “working himself back into shape and playing a little bit of ABA ball. I haven’t actively searched after I got hurt, but if the Admirals were back, yes, I would be there.”

            Jackson says it’s the camaraderie with the players, educating them on the game of basketball and teaching life’s lessons. During the past few seasons Glisson rented a home where the entire team resided. Volunteers would come in and cook meals plus handle many of the game day functions.

            That’s how it was working on a shoestring budget. It was week-to-week just to cover the expenses. There are no subsidies trickling down from NBA teams. St. Joseph was the smallest market in the PBL, up against cities such as Dayton (OH), Rochester, (NY), Indianapolis (IN) and Grand Rapids. Glisson hopes to write a book of all his experiences and the lives his Lake Michigan Admirals touched during the past seven years.

            The owner and his coach left the door open for a “someday” return to the courts of Southwest Michigan. “Yes” was Glisson’s reply. Jackson said “Maybe one day we can come back if we get more sponsors in Southwest Michigan. It was a joy to win back-to-back titles. I hate that we couldn’t defend it. It’s so hard to get there.”

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