The earned trophies and championships that line Grand Haven High School’s hallway would make any basketball coach proud and Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer is no exception.
But it quickly becomes clear winning games is not the sole priority for this 1988 Caledonia High School graduate who recently was the recipient of the Caledonia Education Foundation’s 2014 Honored Alumnus. She is the youngest alumnus to receive the award since its inception in 1998.
Being a role model female student athletes can emulate is high on her list of priorities as well.
“When you’re a coach, you can teach kids a lot of life’s lessons, not just how to play basketball,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, 44, who in her younger days played point guard for the Caledonia Fighting Scots basketball team, which goes by the nickname, the Caledonia Sweet Ladies. Today she is a teacher and coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team, the Buccaneers, at Grand Haven High School.
“It’s about character, about being a good sport,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “There’s something about being on a team that requires you to put your ego on a shelf. You learn about accountability and priorities.”
You can’t model character unless you have it yourself. And from an early age, Kowalczyk-Fulmer walked the talk, said Rebecca McKee, who was her basketball coach from 1986-88.
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Exemplifies True Sportsmanship
“She exemplified what you want in a student athlete,” said McKee. “She knew what she wanted and where she wanted to go. There’s a drive and determination she showed as a leader, on and off the court. She had some really good people around her, which made it easier.”
“My memories of Caledonia come from sports, the football games I attended, the good teachers and good atmosphere,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “It’s a very supportive community.”
Among those supportive people were Kowalczyk-Fulmer’s sixth grade teacher and varsity basketball coach during her sophomore year, the late Paul Peterman, who sparked her interest in basketball starting in the third grade.
To this day, she remembers it was him who gave her the confidence to join the school’s basketball team. And his hunch was spot-on. Kowalczyk-Fulmer was already on the varsity team by the time she was a sophomore and Peterman was her head coach until his untimely death.
It was her personal drive that earned Kowalczyk-Fulmer the distinction as an All-State player when she was in high school. She also found time to play flute in the school band, play softball, and was a member of the National Honor Society.
“Mr. Peterman will always be my inspiration for basketball,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “Since third grade, basketball has been my passion. I’ve never known anything else different.”
Kowalczyk-Fulmer credits her education at Caledonia for the future she has been able to pursue and the personal and professional life she’s forged.
“I have great memories and I received a great education,” she said. “I was able to play in high school, in college and right out of college, and I landed a job in education.”
Her First Coaching Job at Caledonia
Kowalczyk-Fulmer played basketball while a student at Hope College in Holland. At the same time, she snagged her first coaching position as the seventh grade girls’ basketball team coach at Caledonia Middle School.
After graduating from college in 1993, Kowalczyk-Fulmer held a variety of teaching and coaching stints at Hastings Area Public Schools for five years, including assistant varsity basketball coach and head coach for three years, from 1995-1997.
Then, in 1997, she was hired on at Grand Haven Public Schools to teach geography and physical education and coach the Grand Haven Buccaneers girls’ varsity basketball team. She also coached girls’ track and field for 10 seasons, including five seasons as the head coach. She earned her master’s degree from Western Michigan University in 2002.
She is now in her 17th season as the Buccaneers girls’ varsity basketball coach at Grand Haven High School and still teaches physical education. In her 17 seasons, her team has had 13 winning seasons that equates to winning an impressive 70 percent of their games.
Her team won the Class A State Championship in March 20, 2012, her team’s first state title.
How to Be a Positive Role Model
“It’s fun to watch your players mature into young women,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “And it’s important to enjoy what you do. I have a passion for coaching and teaching. If you enjoy what you do and are happy, you can be a positive role model. I’ve been fortunate. I have really good kids who are excited that I am coaching them.”
Kowalczyk-Fulmer and her husband, Paul, have a four-year-old son, Drew, but no daughters. At least not biological ones.
“While I don’t have a daughter of my own, I have 12 daughters on my team. Their name is the Grand Haven Buccaneers,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said with obvious pride in her voice.