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Importance of coaches underrated/Paul Peterson

October 26, 2011
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

After hearing about the gracious gesture made by Forest Park High School football coach Bill Santilli this past weekend, I couldn't help think about how important coaches can be to the development of young athletes.

Santilli, a gentleman under all circumstances, agreed with Lake Linden-Hubbell coach Andy Crouch to permit injured LL-H senior tailback Brett Beauchamp to score an uncontested touchdown late in the game between the two rivals.

Beauchamp, seriously injured in an auto mishap last spring, missed the entire season. But at least, he had the chance to score a touchdown in his final game. That memory will stick with him forever.

The action reminded me of a couple of conversations I've had with people who had the chance to play under legendary coaches.

Tom Clisch was a basketball standout at Baraga High in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and helped the Vikings to the Class D state championship game in 1960.

Yet, his chief memories of his prep days remain playing for late coach Carl "Cookie" Johnson.

Clisch said that Johnson - widely known as a master tactician - enforced strict rules for his team.

"We weren't allowed to ever question a call by the officials ... he said that was his job," Clisch recalled recently. "And if practice was set for 3:30 p.m., you better be there on time or face the consequences."

Clisch, a talented 6-foot-4 pivotman, remembered the time he dunked in pregame drills before a game in L'Anse.

"Cookie called me over right away and said that if I ever did that again, I'd have a spot on the bench beside him. He didn't believe in showing up opponents," Clisch recalled.

Legendary Chassell High basketball coach Ed Helakoski had a similar code of conduct for his team, according to Don Mattson, the All-State guard on the Panthers teams that won 65 straight games and captured three straight Class D state titles.

One of those rules involved never scoring 100 points in a game.

"I remember one time when we reached 99 points with about four minutes to play," Mattson said a few years ago. "Ed (Helakoski) called a time out and informed us that we were not to take a shot for the rest of the game," he said. "No one was about to challenge him."

Johnson and Helakoski also tried hard to keep their young charges from developing a swelled head.

Clisch said that players on his team were strongly encouraged not to read newspaper reports about their games.

"I didn't even read the newspaper (game account) until after I graduated from high school," he noted. "Hard to believe, but true."

Mattson said that Helakoski stressed team, not individual feats.

"You would think that any young kid would have a natural tendency to think about how many points they scored in a game. That never entered in our thinking," he said.

Both Clisch and Mattson said the coaching they received from their high school mentors played a large role in how they have lived - and forged - successful lives.

I've had the chance to observe countless coaches over the past few decades. While just a handful would fall into the same category as Johnson and Helakoski, I believe the vast majority of them had the best interest of their athletes at heart.

And that is the most you can expect out of anyone in a very underrated job.



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