Even when faced with serious medical problems last fall, Mike North's duties as coach of the Westland High School softball team were never far from his mind.
North, 62, was admitted to Doctors Hospital on his birthday, Oct. 2, with a herniated stomach and, while being prepared for surgery, a heart condition that needed immediate attention was detected by the medical staff.
North's heart rate was slowed by a virus and he was placed on medication to help strengthen his heart muscles. During that time, he developed an intestinal issue because of the herniated stomach and underwent successful surgery in November.
While preparing for surgery, North emphasized to the medical staff that he needed to recover quickly so that he could continue offseason conditioning with his team in preparation for this season.
"When I was in the hospital, every other word that came out of my mouth was, 'I have to get out of here because I have softball practice,'" he said.
Assistant coach Kelsey Kincade, who is a former Cougars player, and athletics director Greg Burke received updates on North's condition and relayed that information to his players.
"It definitely affected us," junior outfielder/infielder Kaitlyn Willming said. "We were really worried about him. I guess we really didn't realize that things seemed off last year and we really didn't notice it until he came back well this year. We were a lot more focused this year and worked a lot harder in the offseason this year because of that whole situation. It drove us to do better."
North said he was nearly fully recovered when practice began Feb. 25.
"I'm back healthy again," he said. "I'm as strong as I've ever been. I thank God every day that I'm still around, still doing what I'm doing and I'm still healthy enough to do it."
Westland, which returned only three starters from last season when it finished 3-15, is off to a slow start. The Cougars were 0-6 before playing Hilliard Davidson on April 11 and had been outscored 74-12.
North is breaking in a pair of new pitchers in senior Ashley Haulter and sophomore Hunter Hay. Haulter started at third base last season when 2012 graduate Ashley Collins was in the circle, and Hay is a first-year varsity player.
"We're playing like we're inexperienced," North said. "Our pitching has not held up. We're just getting beat. We're getting run-ruled. Where we should be getting beat 5 or 6-0, we're getting beat by 11, 12, 13 (runs) or more. Our hitting hasn't come through, either, except for maybe a couple innings in the first five games. It's just going to be a day-by-day process."
The Cougars opened OCC-Central Division play with an 11-0, six-inning loss to visiting Marysville on April 8.
"The kids haven't given up," North said. "Right now, we're just not playing well together and it's not due to a lack of effort. It's from a lack of continuity that you get when you've played a lot and you've played in your position and you're not playing out of position. They're learning their trade the hard way."
Track teams prepare for Best of South-West
The track and field teams are preparing for the 11th annual Best of the South-West Invitational, which will be held Friday, April 19, at Franklin Heights.
"Our goals for Best of the South-West are to run hard and be a great representative of the Westland community," coach Tim Eckard said. "It is a chance to show the rest of the (school) district that we run a class program with great kids and great coaches. I will let the chips fall where they may with regards to the score. If we go to the Best of the South-West and compete to the best of our ability and show class and sportsmanship, I will be happy."
Last season, the boys team scored 56 points to finish behind Grove City (70.5), Central Crossing (70) and Franklin Heights (56.5). The girls team also scored 56 points and finished fourth, behind Franklin Heights (92.5), Grove City (71.5) and Central Crossing (69.5).
Westland competed in the Newark Invitational on April 6. The boys team finished 16th (1) behind champion Independence (80) as 16 teams scored and the girls team did not score as Westerville Central (114.5) won and 14 teams scored.
Baseball team earns first victory
The baseball team picked up its first win the season April 6, defeating Fisher Catholic 6-5.
Westland was 1-8 overall and 0-1 in the OCC-Central before playing Thomas Worthington on April 12. Its league game at Marysville on April 10 was suspended in the second inning because of bad weather, with the Monarchs leading 3-1.