BY ED WRIGHT
July 8, 2010, 10:15 p.m.
Of all the teachers' offices in the Plymouth-Canton School District, Mark LaPointe's may have the coolest wallpaper.
Technically, it's not wallpaper as much as it is a wall-to-wall photo album of students LaPointe's unique brand of teaching and coaching has touched over the past 37 years.
Some of the photos are black-and-white, most are color.
The common thread each snapshot shares is that all the people in the photos are smiling - a testament to the inspiring impact LaPointe's style has had on kids who've passed through the halls of Central Middle School the past four decades.
"He really cares about his students and the kids who he coaches," said Steve Kaptur, who played multiple sports for LaPointe from 2000-02. "He'd sign your yearbook and then he'd read what he wrote to you because he wanted to see your reaction. When my grandfather passed away last fall, he was a big help in getting me through it.
"As a coach, he has high expectations for his athletes, but he gets the best out of each and every one of them."
Ashley Kretschmer, a senior-to-be at Salem High School and former basketball player and track-and-field athlete at Central, echoed Kaptur's sentiments.
"He's always there to help his students," said Kretschmer. "I remember when I played basketball in eighth grade, our coach taught in a different school, so Mr. LaPointe would get the team going until our coach got there. He's just a really nice man."
If LaPointe had any doubt about how much he is adored by the school's students, it was erased this past spring when he popped in for visits while on a temporary leave after having his left hip replaced.
"I was out for 10 weeks, but about a week after the surgery, I missed the kids so much that I hobbled up here and sat in on a class," LaPointe said, smiling. "Jimmy Reddy was subbing for me and he did a great job.
"When I walked in, the reaction from the kids was marvelous. They came up to me and talked and gave me hugs. It was very gratifying."
The teaching/coaching bug bit LaPointe at an early age and his passion for the profession hasn't diminished one ounce, he said.
"When I was 14, my parents took me to an Adrian-Albion college football game, and somehow I got to stand on the sidelines," LaPointe reflected. "As I stood there, taking in the whole atmosphere, I said to myself, 'You know, I'd like to do this some day.'
"My dream developed into a mission and I vowed to come back to this school (it was Plymouth High School at the time) to teach and coach someday, whether it was a high school or a middle school. And it happened. Not too many people in their lives can say they've done something like that."
Central -- the oldest building in the school district -- is much more than mortar and bricks to LaPointe, who is diligent about making sure the front-hallway showcases are updated with large team photos of the school's most-recent championship squads.
"I try to sell my kids on the passion I have for this building," said LaPointe. "We get a lot of transient kids in here who come and go. It's hard for them to develop any kind of affinity for the place or a historical timeline or perspective, so I try to share my stories with them.
"The one question I ask my kids at some point in time during the school year is: 'How many of you have parents who don't like their job?' A lot of hands usually go up. Then I tell them how I get to come in here every day and play with kids, have fun, work with them and motivate them. I tell them I'd do it for free, but I get paid to do it."
As LaPointe talked, Don Wells, Central's building engineer for the past 14 years, popped into his office.
"This man here is a fixture at Central Middle School," said Wells. "He's the heart and soul of this building."
After graduating from the old Plymouth High School in 1970, LaPointe attended Eastern Michigan University, where he played football (as a walk-on) and wrestled for two years.
His post-college athletic resume includes a brief semi-pro football stint in the Midwest Football League.
"I played offensive tackle for the Pontiac Arrows," he recalled, flashing a broad grin. "They paid us about $150 per game, but we weren't in it for the money. We played because we loved the sport."
During his 37 years with the school district, LaPointe has coached just about every sport known to man. From wrestling, to volleyball, to basketball to baseball, to track-and-field -- you name it and he coached it.
Several of his athletes eventually moved on to play sports in college; many more excelled at the high school level.
"I wouldn't even want to begin to tell you who the best athletes were that I've coached because I know I would leave someone out, and I don't want to do that," LaPointe said.
Along with coaching, LaPointe earned high marks as a high school baseball umpire, a gig he gave up last year due to his hip.
"I loved umpiring games," LaPointe said. "But the past few years I grew disenchanted with the behavior of some of the coaches and the parents, and it was only getting worse. You couldn't make a call without hearing something from one side or the other."
LaPointe fondly recalls serving 23 years as an assistant baseball coach under former Canton High School coach Fred Crissey, whose teams regularly contended for league, regional and state titles.
"He was a tremendous baseball coach," asserted LaPointe. "No one I know knows more about baseball than Fred Crissey."
Judging by the enthusiasm in his voice, LaPointe's coaching days will stretch well into the future.
"I love coaching here," he said. "Some schools struggle to get enough kids to field a team, but we'll get 100 kids out for track, 100 kids out for swimming, 80 out for basketball."
Kaptur, who is an assistant football and track-and-field coach at Salem, said LaPointe is one of his coaching mentors.
"He was great at getting us relaxed during tense moments in the game," Kaptur remembered. "For instance, in volleyball, he'd call a time out before the game-deciding point and have us all laughing on the sidelines. Then we'd go out and win the point and win the game."
Ed Wright can be reached at (734) 453-1980 or email@example.com.