Filppula was ‘salt of the earth’

One often hears the term “salt of the earth” when a person is being talked about.

The late Harvey Filppula was one of the few people I know who actually fit the description.

I remember the first time I had the chance to talk to Harvey. It came after his Dollar Bay High boys basketball team had been hammered by a L’Anse team by more than 50 points..

Now, this was the 1966 defending state champion Hornets, who could put up 100 points on just about any team. They featured such LHS all-time greats as Gerry Gerard, Deane Kent and Bob Fredrikson.

“L’Anse has great players,” he said after being asked about the Hornets. “Someday, we’ll have great players.”

That was typical of Harvey Filppula, a person who told it like it was.

Basketball and sports ran deeply in his veins. He grew up on a farm near Mass City and watched the Rockets win two state championships in the late 1940s.

Being short and not possessing great athletic talent, Harvey instead became the team manager of the 1956 Mass team that won another state title.

He watched that talented team and how they were coached by John Wilson and Leno Colla. He observed how the fundamentals were emphasized daily.

Wilson had come to the U.P. from Indiana and brought a fast-breaking style of hoops with him.

When Filppula had the chance to coach the Dollar Bay team in the mid-1960s, he followed the same blueprint.

The Blue Bolts (their name back then) had success under him.

When prep girls basketball was introduced in 1973, Filppula chose to handle the coaching duties. The late Jim Bronczyk was hired as the boys skipper in Dollar Bay and would record nearly 400 wins over the next 25 seasons, thanks to the foundation set by Filppula.

Harvey always put the fundamentals and hard work first.

When his team went 20-0 in the 1980 season, it was led by his oldest daughter (he also coached his other two daughters), Karen, who would gain all-state and All-U.P. honors.

When asked what was the secret to his daughter’s success, he had a quick answer.

“Hard work,” he said. “She worked on the outside court on a daily basis …. without me having to say a word.”

Filppula stayed interested in the success of the school had served as an educator, administrator and coach.

When last year’s DBHS team nearly upset state champion North Central in the regionals in Negaunee, he was there, despite less than good health.

In one of my last conversations with him, I asked him about the success of the Jesse Kentala-coached Bolts.

“Those kids really work hard, they’re want to play basketball,” was his answer.

And that summed up the way he lived his 80 years of life.


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