In Benton Harbor, reasons to celebrate have been fleeting ever since the late 60’s. This Michigan town is struggling, and its high school was in no better condition. That is, until the 2015 school year started with a new coaching staff led by once retired, 74-year-old Elliot Uzelac. Strong coaching, guidance, and genuine concern for the kids turned this losing football club, a team that had only won four games in eight years, into a serious contender for the state championship. Lyle Hayden, co-host of this show, is a member of that coaching staff. This week on the show, he and Dan talk about the season, turning points, and the future of Benton Harbor Tiger football, as well as the future of the town the TIgers call home.
The high school didn’t have a football coach until just a few days before summer practice was set to start. Coach Uzelac held positions at the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, the U.S. Naval Academy, and Western Michigan University, among others. He was retired when he became the head coach at Benton Harbor High School.
In short time, Uzelac and his coaching staff had laid out their expectations for the boys. Discipline, confidence, and better grades were top priorities. The players began to see that college was an option, and football, with good grades, was a direct route.
Listen to episode 109 of Flash Past to hear Lyle answer and discuss:
- What were some of the highlights of the season for you, as a coach?
- When did you notice or think that things were turning around for the boys, and they had a real shot?
- How much of the team is made up of seniors?
- Have grades improved?
- Did you coach with Uzelac when he was at St. Joseph High School?
- The team, and especially Coach Uzelac, has gotten a lot of national attention of late; has that made it difficult for the boys to maintain focus?