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SOCCER: Kraatz family legacy continues at Inter-City (PHOTO)

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Faith and regret have often clashed in the mind of Mark Kraatz, but the legendary high school athlete and now successful coach not only believes in his heart he has chosen the right path but can see it in the young eyes looking back him every day he walks the halls or steps on the field.

Kraatz could be called one of the greatest athletes to ever play sports in the Downriver area without having to break out the hyperbole. Let’s just say he’s in the conversation and we will let the stats and honors and awards he racked up at Inter-City Baptist High School in Allen Park speak for themselves.

When his glorious playing days were over, Kraatz had options.

His path back home and onto the sidelines of the school he led on the field and on the court wasn’t something he planned or even wanted at the time.

“After college I was scheduled to become a grad assistant at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, but that did not work out so I was hired by Detroit Country Day,” he said. “But at the last second the school master hired a relative and backed out of my contract so IC contacted me and I gave them one year.”

And as the story goes, the one year became two, then three and now 24.

Kraatz, now the athletic director at I-C and a physical-education teacher, has spent a big part of his life surrounded by and believing in the word faith. It’s a powerful part of his makeup and one of the main reasons he not only came home, but stayed home.

“I do love this place because it stands for things I believe in,” he says. “They are balanced in their approach to education – they are not overboard with athletics, for example – they won’t cheat. And I love the kids. I always have felt I am dealing with some of the finest students in the area.

“It is a great family atmosphere and a great place to raise a family.”

That’s called faith, and believing so strongly that you are in the right place at the right time doing what you’re supposed to be doing for all the right reasons.

But regret can be almost as powerful as faith and can make even the strongest person wonder – about this and about that and about other choices.

“Having said that, there has been quite a few times where I almost took different jobs because I wanted a new challenge,” he said. “For various reasons things didn’t work out. As the kids got older I figured I did not want to be coaching other kids or traveling on buses to games while my own children were playing. That didn’t make sense.”

Mark Kraatz at Inter-City – that makes sense. In fact, the alternative would be hard to imagine at this point in the game.

With a big kick from Kraatz, the Inter-City soccer program has a record of 221-78-54, winning 15 district titles, eight regional titles and four state titles. Kraatz was a player on two of those state championship teams (1983 and 1984).

With a big assist from Kraatz, the basketball program is 367-174 with 18 district titles, two regional titles and a state championship. Kraatz played on the team that won the state title in 1985.

The Chargers have never had a losing record in either soccer or basketball.

Kraatz went to Illinois State University after legendary basketball coach and scout Will Robinson encouraged his alma-matter to recruit the small kid from the even smaller school.

Kraatz started as a freshman on the D-1 team, but a personality conflict with the coach sent him west. He transferred to San Diego Christian where he helped lead the program to an NCCAA Division 1 title his senior year.

“It wasn’t NCAA Division 1, but I wouldn’t change that decision for anything,” Kraatz said. “We were really close, a good team and won a national title.”

In basketball, Mark was a two-time NAIA All-American and Small College Player of the Year in California (1990). He was second in assists in the nation for two consecutive years.

He holds the Michigan HS record in both career steals and assists as a player. As a coach, he has been named Downriver basketball coach of the year five times and Coach of the Year Class D twice (1996, 1998).

In soccer, Mark was All State three times and named to the All Midwest Team in 1984 as a player. He has been named Coach of the Year AP Association seven times and coached the I-C team to state titles in 2000, 2005, 2006 and 2011.

It’s quite a remarkable resume.

Imagine having to follow in those enormous footsteps. His sons Evan, a senior, and Garrett, a sophomore, don’t have to imagine it – they are living it. And loving it.

It’s difficult for Evan to compare having your dad as a coach to someone else, because his dad has been really his only coach – in soccer, in basketball and especially in life.

“You get yelled at more in practice and he pushes you harder because he knows how far to push you,” Evan said after his team’s dramatic win Thursday over Ann Arbor Greenhills. “But I like that because I know he is doing it to make me better. Everything I can do on the field is a result of him teaching me and pushing me to be better.”

Some coaches who have their kids as players insist that they leave all the coaching on the field and don’t bring it into the house. But it’s not that way in the Kraatz household. Sports is certainly a hot topic even at the dinner table.

“Even after a good game, he will be like, ‘yeah, you had a good game but there are few things you can improve on’ and he will give me a list of things,” Evan said. “He will always tell me that I played a good game but then he will always remind me that I can play better. And I like that.”

Evan and Garrett have heard all the stories about their famous father.

“When I was younger, even when I was a freshman or sophomore people would tell me how good my dad was and whether I think I can be as good as him,” Evan said. “People I didn’t even know would come up to me and tell me how good my dad was in high school.”

Now it’s the other way around. People Mark doesn’t even know are coming up to him and telling him how good his son is.

“Evan is a special athlete, one that I have not coached before,” said Mark. “He started in eighth grade both in soccer and basketball, and played unbelievably well.”

Evan was All-State First Team in both basketball and soccer in his sophomore and junior years. He was All-Regional in baseball his junior year and was voted MVP in both soccer and basketball in the MIAC league his junior year.

Evan was part of the 2011 State Championship soccer team and he is currently on pace to become Michigan’s all-time assist leader during the middle of his senior year in basketball.

So when the conversation comes up about best prep athlete ever in the Downriver area, the name Evan Kraatz certainly deserves a spot on the list – and high on the list right alongside his father.

Garrett, who scored the winning goal on Thursday to cap a great comeback, also is an exceptional athlete.

“Garrett does very well,” Mark said. “He does fly below the radar because of Evan. But before his career is done people will be hearing about him.”

Evan would like to see the Chargers add another soccer banner to the rafters. After all, his father won two state titles in soccer as a player and Evan “only” has one – so far.

“This team has a lot of talent,” Evan said. “My sophomore year we won a state championship and that team had a lot of talent, good senior leadership and a good scorer. In soccer, you need someone who can put the ball in the net since a lot of the games are so close.”

With three freshman and seven sophomores, the Chargers field a young soccer team. But they also have seven seniors to provide experience and guidance.

“This year’s team is one of the most talented teams I have ever played on,” Evan said. “Even the young players are really, really good.”

Mark, who has been married to his wife Susan for almost 25 years, also has a daughter, Jillian, who graduated from I-C in 2012.

“My biggest coaching highlight was also coaching the girls’ teams for her junior and senior years,” Mark said. “We lost both years in the regional championship (heartbreakers).”

So, the million-dollar question. How would Mark’s teams as a player compare to his teams as a coach? Which teams were better?

“Any athlete always thinks HIS team is the best,” Mark said. “The older I get the less I think of myself as an athlete and the more I think of myself as a coach. Both teams were tremendously athletic coming from small schools and the top players are comparable. I think the difference may be in the role players. Today’s role players are much more skilled than our teams.”

Kraatz has proven over the years to be highly skilled, both on the field and on the sidelines. And he has found his home, at home in Allen Park.

“I believe for the most part our kids are team oriented, they have a tremendous work ethic and quite frankly they realize it is high school sports,” Kraatz said. “They have a good perspective of sports. They want to have good teams but in the end they realize it is only a sport and life moves on.”

Last Updated: 9/17/2013 2:49:00 PM EST