Farmington Hills Harrison’s Ben Williams breaks away from the North Farmington defense and heads to the end zone Aug. 24 at home. The Hawks won 41-0 in the school’s final home opener.

Farmington Hills Harrison’s Ben Williams breaks away from the North Farmington defense and heads to the end zone Aug. 24 at home. The Hawks won 41-0 in the school’s final home opener.

Photo by Sean Work


Football faithful pack Harrison for final season opener

By: Timothy Pontzer | Farmington Press | Published August 28, 2018

 Harrison coach John Herrington, the only coach in the school’s history, added another victory to his all-time wins record.

Harrison coach John Herrington, the only coach in the school’s history, added another victory to his all-time wins record.

Photo by Sean Work

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FARMINGTON HILLS — A dominating decision over a longtime local rival marked the beginning of the end.

In what was the final home opener in program history, Farmington Hills Harrison topped North Farmington 41-0 Aug. 24. The occasion drew a packed house, forcing Julie Campbell to seal off the main parking lot.

“This isn’t the norm for the first game of the year,” Campbell said while instructing a sedan to find a spot on the front lawn. “We’re expecting really big crowds this year. I’m sure there will be even more fans later in the season.”

Campbell has been one of the main parking attendants at Harrison home football games for the past five years. She also served as an assistant coach on the varsity girls soccer team for the last three seasons, but dwindling attendance due to the looming closure means the Hawks will not field a team this year.

“It’s bittersweet. There’s a lot of people that are sad, even angry about all of this,” Campbell said. “But we have a lot of people coming out because this is the last year. We want to go out on top for coach (John) Herrington.”

 

‘More than we’ve ever seen for an opener’
While cars packed the parking lot and even temporary spots on the school’s lawn, the Hawks found plenty of open grass on the gridiron.

Harrison scored five of six touchdowns via a strong rushing attack. Senior tailbacks Vincent Rawls and Ben Williams each scored twice. 

Rawls put up the first points on a 1-yard plunge in the first quarter. While that proved to be the only points in the opening frame, Harrison tallied 35 more in the second quarter.

“Throughout the year, we believe a lot of people will be here,” said Bud LeBlanc as he took tickets at the front gate. “This is an intercity rivalry. With the weather being nice, we got a nice Friday night, but this is still more than we’ve ever seen for an opener.”

LeBlanc served as the school’s head custodian for 26 years. He retired three years ago.

“You know, they would always say ‘Forever a Hawk,’ and I never quite believed that. But as time went on, I really started to understand that,” LeBlanc explained. “It’s really tough to see it (go) out this way. I’m glad the building is at least being repurposed for the city, but this is tough on a lot of people.”

Joe Peltier agreed. A friend of LeBlanc’s, Peltier has served as Harrison’s groundskeeper for 35 years. He admitted that the installation of a turf field 15 years ago made his job a little easier, aside from fixing loose seams every once in a while. Peltier also said that in past years, the countless cars on the front lawn would be a bother, but he’ll let it slide this season.

“That simply means that there’s a big crowd. I hope we get that every game,” LeBlanc said while leaning on the fence bordering the track. “This year, everything is the last. The last ‘Green and Gold game,’ the last pancake supper, the last home opener, the last homecoming. It makes it harder, but we’ll stand tough like the boys are doing and keep going forward.”

 

‘It really extends past football for me and many others’
Harrison is utilizing a unique approach this season, holding a “homecoming” during each of its six home games. Each contest will honor a different decade, with the opener bringing back students from the 1970s.

A 1977 alum, Jeff Thorne donned his No. 11 jersey for the occasion, the exact same one he wore while quarterbacking the Hawks to the program’s first state title game appearance in 1976.

“It still fits. Hawks gotta stay buff, I guess,” Thorne said with a laugh. “I feel very blessed and privileged to have lived in this community at the time when this place was starting up. To be part of that and then still be around to see it at the end is special. Harrison has been a big part of my family’s life, and it really extends past football for me and many others.”

Thorne was the youngest of three brothers, each suiting up for the Hawks. The oldest, Mike, graduated in 1973 while Dave (1975) currently serves as Harrison’s defensive coordinator. Thorne drove down from Big Rapids to cheer on his brother and be honored at halftime with his fellow alums from the decade.

“I wouldn’t have missed it,” Thorne said. “It’s surreal. I don’t use that word much. But even up where I live in western Michigan, people keep saying, ‘You’re kidding. They’re closing Harrison?’ It’s still hard to believe that we’re at this point.”

Another alum from that era agreed.

“It’s definitely still shocking that they are going to close this place,” said David Turnquist, a 1979 graduate who played tailback for the Hawks. “There could have been other solutions to the issues we were facing a few years ago. But it does give us a chance to really reflect on the greatness of the program and the greatness and humility of Coach Herrington. It becomes more meaningful knowing he will go down as the only coach this program has ever had. That’s an honor that he’s earned and deserves.”

Turnquist can be found on game days up in the press box calling out the happenings for the crowd. He has served as the public address announcer since 1988.

“This will be a remarkable year to look back on the program and Coach Herrington. But he’d be the first one to say that this year is about these kids and what they can accomplish themselves. Each year is special, and the focus needs to be on them. They’ve prepared just as hard as anyone else and deserve that opportunity.”

 

‘Playing at Harrison was the greatest time of my life’
Back down on the field, an old teammate of Turnquist’s also lamented that it was the end.

“It stinks, really. Everybody loves Coach Herrington, and if you talk to him for the first time, he treats you as if you’re the most important person. He deserves better,” said 1980 alum Mark Alcantara. “It’s hard to explain how close we all are here. People have watched this team for 40 years, and now that will all be over.”

An All-State punter in 1979, Alcantara said many of the alums and current players’ parents will congregate at Mr. Joe’s in Southfield following each contest this season.

“We all go there and talk football and share stories,” Alcantara said. “I don’t know the politics of why they closed it. But it’s really sad, because playing at Harrison was the greatest time of my life. Hawk football is a fraternity, and now nobody will get to join that.”

While the Class of 2019 will be the final graduating class, the seniors are holding their heads high. Senior Tiauna West serves as the cheer team captain and said the group will try to help as much as possible from the sidelines.

“We’ll try to look our best with who we have. We know this is our last year, and we want to carry on the legacy of Harrison,” said West, who also runs track. “I hope we have enough kids for a track team later this year. It’s tough because we don’t have a lot of kids. It’s weird and sad knowing that I won’t have a school to come back to.”

Out in the end zone, Tom Benjamin also promised to do his part. The team photographer and videographer, Benjamin held a contraption for the entire contest that held a camcorder atop a 15-foot pole.

“At the meeting last year, Herrington said he’d always hoped he could retire and then come back here and be able to watch football,” said Benjamin, a 1973 alum. “That made everybody cry. It’s sad because he built this and absolutely deserved that. There’s a lot of distractions this year, but the players are (appreciative) and grateful. It’s a great group of kids, but they definitely have an extra burden.”

Standing near Benjamin beyond the end zone was Bob Sutter. An assistant to Herrington for 36 years overall, Sutter served as defensive coordinator from 1977 to 2006.

“We’re obviously disappointed they’re closing the school. I know (Herrington) will approach it like any other year,” Sutter said. “He does practices the same way since 1970, and it’s pretty much the same offense and defense with some wrinkles. It means a lot to us as his assistant to see him earn the recognition he deserves. For him to do it all at one place and really create something great is amazing.”

Herrington hugged Sutter while walking off the field following his 436th career victory.

“It’s great to see all these people come out,” Herrington said. “It means a lot to the team, and I certainly appreciate it. It will be that way every week, but I’m most concentrating on what we’re doing here. We’ll have to go one game at a time.”

Sutter said he had the game circled on his calendar, determined to support a dear friend.

“I’ve got a lot of grandkids now, and fortunately nobody had a game this weekend. But I wouldn’t have missed this game,” Sutter said. “Starting the year against one of our earliest rivals is big. If you sit down and think about it, there’s only eight regular-season games left, forever. It’s sad. North Farmington is young, and this is not indicative of what the schedule will be like. Hopefully, we qualify for the playoffs. (Herrington) deserves to go out like that. It’s just tough, and bittersweet really isn’t the right word. Disappointed is the best word for it.”

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