Mick Phelps was growing so fast in high school that his body couldn’t handle it.
The 6-foot-5, 270 pound Kiona-Benton senior has missed more games than he would like in football, basketball and baseball because of a myriad of injuries stemming from his growth spurt.
“My freshman year I got hurt a lot. I’ve broken both my ankles. I broke my metatarsal and the growth plates in both feet. I cracked my fibula and tibia, and broke my pinky,” said Phelps, who is currently healthy (knock on wood) and preparing for the Bears’ Class 1A regional basketball game against Seattle Academy at 4 p.m. Saturday at West Valley High School in Yakima. “It sucks seeing your team play without you, especially when you think you could’ve made a difference.”
Even when he’s not playing sports, however, Phelps is still trying to make a difference, and he hasn’t stopped growing — at least not as a person. He’s an active member of Kiona-Benton’s “Buddy Club”, a big-brother-type program designed to help special needs kids feel included in the school’s social fabric.
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“We’re proud of them. On Mondays we get our lunch and go spend time with them. When they see us in the halls, we don’t want them to put their heads down,” Phelps said, citing his own family as his motivation to help others. “I’ve been pretty gifted with family. We haven’t had any major problems. If I ever needed a pair of shoes, I always had one.
“I’m thankful for what I have.”
So is Bears basketball coach Jack Rose, who has been grateful for Phelps’ steady contributions to the program. In fact, Rose had mentally penciled Phelps into Ki-Be’s starting lineup before he even took the floor as a freshman.
“He’s an extremely smart player, and it shows in his passing. He’s one of our leaders in assists and rebounds,” Rose said. “When Mick misses a game, we’re not nearly as good as we can be. I tell him every game not to get into foul trouble. If he does, it usually means it’s going to be a long game or a loss for us.”
Phelps’ teammates also recognize his importance on the floor, enough to vote him team captain each of the last four seasons. His role is not unlike that of Ray Lewis, a linebacker for recent Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. He may not score a ton of points (he averages about 10 a game), but he serves as the emotional core of the team.
“He motivates us. He’s the one who gives the speeches,” said fellow senior Cristian Aguilar, who recently became Ki-Be’s all-time leading scorer. But he credits Phelps with helping set up a lot of those points.
“Me and Cris have one play where I’ll pop up to the high post and he’ll be on the wing. When I get the ball, he’ll cut back door and I’ll bounce it to him,” Phelps said of the play known simply as ‘Beaver’. “I kind of like our play. I told Rose when we graduate, he’ll have to retire that play.”
Phelps got sick enough over Christmas break that he needed three bags of intravenous fluids to keep him hydrated, forcing him to miss significant time on the floor. The brief illness didn’t concern coach Rose so much as keeping Phelps’ motivation on track.
“We had to sit him down with me, Cristian and (assistant) coach Stephens. He wasn’t as integral a part of our offense as we needed. We wanted him to be more selfish,” Rose said. “We all wanted him to step up, and he has.”
The next game after that meeting, Phelps scored 16 points in a 63-36 win over Connell.
“(The sit-down) was heated, but it was productive,” Phelps said. “It lit a fire under me.”
Phelps has been to state in each of the last two seasons with the Ki-Be baseball team. He’s a power-hitting first baseman who has thought about playing either baseball or football in college. But he’s also excited about starting his own car restoration shop.
“I drive a ‘79 Cougar. It isn’t the rarest car, but it has its own flavor,” he said. “I like old things. My dad says I’m an old guy trapped in a kid’s body.”
And one who can’t wait to keep growing.