Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Two coaches from differing generations earn amazing memories


Two coaches from differing generations earn amazing memories
November 26, 2007



Life is made up of moments -- some are so magical you want to preserve them in your memory and cherish them for the rest of your life.

Ken Hofer is more than twice Peter Stuursma's age, but both enjoyed that kind of moment Saturday evening in Ford Field.

Hofer, 73, watched his Menominee team win its second straight Division 5 state championship with a 21-7 win over Jackson Lumen Christi, and Stuursma, 36, saw his East Grand Rapids team repeat in Division 3 with a 46-39 victory against Orchard Lake St. Mary's in a record five overtimes.

Stuursma, one of the state's bright young coaches, was not supposed to be at Ford Field playing for another title this year, not after losing 20 starters.

But there his Pioneers were, battling a St. Mary's team with terrifying speed and taking them into overtime.

No state final had ever lasted more than two overtimes and no playoff game had ever gone more than four, and this one almost didn't either, after St. Mary's faked a conversion kick and passed for a two-point conversion for an eight-point lead to begin the fourth overtime.

"It obviously put more pressure on us, but it doesn't change the way we go about our play calling or the plays we have to make," said Stuursma. "Our kids got us here to this point and at that point you have to let them go make a play. At that point it was our players making plays, and they did."

East did make plays to score a touchdown and add the two-point conversion before scoring again to take a seven-point lead to begin the fifth overtime. When a St. Mary's fourth-down pass fell incomplete, the longest game in playoff history was finished.

"It's a shame that someone had to lose the game," Stuursma said. "That team played so hard -- Orchard Lake played so hard, our kids played so hard. It was a classic, classic display of high school kids playing their hearts out.

"You can't write a script like that. Never seen anything like it."

Stuursma was gassed but still wide-eyed with amazement 40 minutes after the game. He realized what had happened was special, especially when you consider this might be the least-heralded of the four championship teams he has coached, making the moment one to remember forever.

"I just had the privilege of coaching an unbelievable group of kids that just didn't feel like losing," Stuursma said.

This had been a difficult five-week playoff for Hofer. The Wednesday before the playoffs began he was blindsided at practice and broke his right leg. A plate and seven screws were inserted during surgery, and he still cannot put any weight on the leg.

He coached the first four playoff games from the press box, but Ford Field's press box is seven stories above the playing field and from there it is often difficult to determine who has the ball without looking at the gigantic screens in each end zone.

"There's no energy up there," he said. "I like to be on the sidelines. The two guys up there with me were probably ready to throw me out because I'm not a very patient individual. When you're on the sidelines, that impatience can come out in a positive way so things can happen."

But the press box was the only safe place for Hofer during the game, so he hopped in a wheelchair that close friend and athletic director Dale VanDuinen pushed to the elevator and then to the coaches' booth in the press box.

"Without his legs and these wheels," Hofer said, "I'd certainly be lost in the shuffle."

At halftime, it was back to the elevator and down to the field level to the locker room to speak to the players before heading back upstairs again.

"It's a long ways up there, I'll tell ya," Hofer said. "You look down there -- I like to see football players down there, but it looks like a bunch of mice running around, they're so small.

"I was fortunate I had people who were my eyes and ears and mouth and could relay the message of what we wanted to get done. But it concerned me because I've been there so long and, let's face it, I have a little pride in my esprit de corps of what's going on, too."

Over the years, Hofer had always praised the work of his varsity assistants -- Ron Englund, Joe Noha and Jamie Schomer -- but he gained an even greater appreciation for them these last five weeks.

"My associate coaches and the coaches on the freshman and JV level have been tremendous," Hofer said. "When I think of what our varsity coaches have done without me there -- they've taken the bull by the horns and run the practices and done the things that had to be done. They warrant the greatest of cheer for what they did for this Maroon team during a tough time. They picked up where they had to and made it work."

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, there was one more trip down the elevator. VanDuinen wheeled Hofer down the steep ramp toward the field.

As he hit the field, the public address announcer said: "And here comes the coach." The players turned and began cheering madly, as did the fans, and Hofer raised his right arm in triumph. At that moment, Hofer was no longer a guy in a wheelchair. He was the king of Menominee.

"That was one of those real special moments in a coach's life," Hofer said. "To be upstairs where you are in a sterile situation, and come down and start across the field and have your team turn to you and cheer, along with the fans, that was a very, very special moment."

Stuursma understands what Hofer was talking about.

Detroit Free Press
600 W. Fort
Detroit, MI 48226


No comments: