Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 29, 2010

Dennis Chase: A trip down memory lane


---- — George Pratt will return Saturday to where all started nearly 50 years ago.

Pratt, 73, is a volunteer football coach at Bellaire, which travels to Carsonville-Port Sanilac on Saturday for what is billed as the state championship game in 8-man football.

Both teams are 8-0 and won their respective leagues — Bellaire the Bridge Alliance and Carsonville the Mid-Michigan.

For Pratt, it's like a trip down memory lane.

Pratt started his teaching-coaching career at Carsonville in 1961. He spent five years there, left to take a job with a Detroit area school, then moved north to Bellaire in 1972. He spent 28 years at Bellaire — 25 as the head football coach — before retiring.

Now, in an ironic twist, he's returning to Carsonville.

"That was my first teaching job," Pratt said. "Back then in a small school if you were the coach you were the coach. I was the coach for football, basketball, baseball and track. I was the athletic director, too. Plus, I taught. I had five preps.

"But it was a neat experience. I enjoyed my time there."

Pratt was at Carsonville before it consolidated with Port Sanilac.

"They built a new school (and football field) between the two communities," he said. "It's a very nice facility compared to what we had back in the 1960s."

Back then, Port Sanilac was a K-8 school. Students had the option of attending high school in Carsonville, Deckerville or Sandusky.

"I knew a lot of the kids," Pratt said. "They didn't have busing for the kids that went to Sandusky. There were a lot of good athletes that hitchhiked through town (Carsonville) on their way to school in Sandusky."

Despite losing athletes to Sandusky, Pratt was still able to increase numbers in the Carsonville program.

"The first year I was there we had 14 kids show up for football," he said. "Five years later, we had 56 kids on the team. It was just about every boy in the school. The year after I left they won their first (league) championship.

"The team to beat then was Peck. We finally beat them (in 1965) — the first time in 24 years that Carsonville had defeated Peck. It was a big time in the old town that night."

This will actually be Bellaire's second trip to Carsonville this season. The two teams met in a pre-season scrimmage.

"I noticed that one of the assistant coaches at Carsonville is (Joe) Rickett," Pratt said. "I told my wife, sue, that I think I coached his dad. She said, "I think you're going to find out you coached his grandpa.'"

Pratt returned to the sidelines this fall after head coach Ron Bindi asked him to talk to the squad before the season started. Once there, Bindi talked Pratt, who now lives in Gaylord, into serving as a volunteer coach.

"I told him I could probably come over once a week," he said. "But I think I've only missed three or four practices. I've been there almost every day. I try not to get in the way too much."

It's been a decision Pratt has not regretted.

"I enjoy it," he said. "I've had a lot of fun. Coach (Bindi) is pretty good about it. If I decide I've had enough that day, I'll leave early, which I was never able to do when I was the head coach. He (Bindi) has been very liberal with me."

This is Bellaire's first year with 8-man football and Pratt had no idea if he would like it. Consider him a convert.

"At first, I wondered," he admitted. "But, like 11-man, it all comes down to blocking and tackling. I saw a couple 11-man games this year and I made the comment to my wife, 'They've got all these extra players out there and all they do is get in the way.'

"People told me it's a wide open game. But we run the veer here. We like to run it. And we have some good kids. They've bought into the things were trying to do."

Saturday's clash will be a contrast in styles. Bellaire's veer versus Carsonville's spread attack.

Ironically, the last time a Bellaire team went undefeated was in 1962 — and that was playing 8-man.

"I told the kids that, Pratt said. "We've got a lot to live up to."