BENZONIA — Benzie Central lost a legend this weekend.
Eldon "Pete" Moss passed away Saturday.
The longtime coach, who turned Benzie Central into a running powerhouse, died at the age of 90.
"Coach Moss is Benzie Central cross country," said three-time state champion Jake Flynn, a runner under Moss' tutelage from 1997-2000. "He may have passed, but the legend will live on forever."
Moss coached for more than 50 years at Benzie Central between cross country, track and field, basketball, football and baseball. The lifelong Benzie County resident taught at the school for 30 years.
"He walks on water in these parts," Benzie cross country and track and field coach Asa Kelly said. "There's probably nobody who doesn't know him."
Moss started the Benzie Central boys cross country program in 1972, with the girls team added a few years later, and guided the team to eight state championships — 1984, 1985, 1986, 1995, 1997 in boys and 1982, 1983, 1998 in girls.
His honors are numerous.
Moss was three times named Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association (1984, 1998, 2009).
"Pete Moss took me under his wing my first years of coaching and gave me so much advice," TC St. Francis cross country coach Julie Duffing said. "Best advice I ever got was to always write down and tell kids we were doing more than I actually wanted in a work out, so that when I got what I really wanted out of them they thought I was going easy on them. He also told the best jokes. I used to look up jokes before meets so that when I got there I could tell him a joke."
Moss is survived by his wife, Sally Jo, three sons — Todd, 60; Blair, 63; and Peter, 66 — and four step-daughters. Todd ran track at Michigan State, Blair coached Benzie Central basketball and led Buckley's basketball team to back-to-back state finals appearances and Peter became superintendent at Boyne City Public Schools.
"The outpouring of support, it's been obvious the impact he had," Peter Moss said. "I knew he had a positive impact, but everyone has shared an anecdote and you chuckle and say, 'Yep, that's dad.' It's very heart-warming that kids from years ago have reached out."
Pete Moss worked a factory job in his 20s, then quit the to go back to college, graduating from Michigan State with a bachelor's degree and starting a teaching career at Benzie Central at age 33.
He quit high school and enlisted in the United State Marines at the end of World War II before returning to finish his schooling.
"He was the school," Kelly said. "He was such a huge part of the community. Everybody knows him, or their parents or grandparents had him as a teacher."
Moss' son Todd was the school's first all-state cross country runner.
Between 1982 and 1986, the Huskies won a state title in either boys or girls cross country.
Kelly worked as a volunteer assistant coach under Moss from 2003-07 before they were co-coaches in 2008, when the girls won another state championship. Moss paid Kelly $50 a year to be an assistant.
"What he gave me, as far as experience, is greater than any amount of money," Kelly said. "He taught me how to coach, how to get inside the athlete's mind."
The Benzie cross country course and the team's biggest home meet are named after Moss.
"He left the cupboard fully stocked," Kelly said. "A lot of coaches leave after that great class goes through."
Since Moss' retirement, Benzie's running programs rang up seven more state championships in cross country and track, plus another seven runner-up finishes.
Kelly said one of Moss' fears was that he'd be forgotten. Kelly assured him that will never happen in his lifetime.
"I will talk about (Pete Moss) to the day I die," Kelly said.
Moss was named 1993 Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Assistant Coach of the Year, earned induction into the Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1999, was a 1999 National High School Coaches Association finalist for Coach of the Year for both girls and boys cross country, 2001 inductee in the MITCA Hall of Fame, was the 2003 boys cross country Coach of the Year from MITCA, 2007 inductee into the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame and took honors as the 2009 National Federation of State High School Associations' National Coach of the Year for girl's cross country.
He was assistant coach for the 1999 girls Class C track state championship, as well as the 1987 boys basketball state runner-up team.
"He’s known throughout the state as a no nonsense militant style coach with a 'nothing is ever good enough' and 'only the strong will survive' attitude," Flynn said. "Other teams fears him, but we (his athletes) knew that behind all of that fire, was love. He loved us, and expected us to work at a higher level than we even knew we could.
"I am who I am in many ways because of the way I was coached. I had the fortune of having very loving supportive parents. So although coach may have told me I wasn’t any good and remind me, despite my success, that I hadn’t accomplished anything, I could go home to loving parents who would tell me I was the best. But truly, coach couldn’t have gotten away with half of the things that he said to us both the boys and the girls if there wasn’t such genuine love behind his intentions."
Flynn, now a doctor in Interlochen, had Moss as one of his regular patients.
“We did OK, didn’t we Jakers?” Flynn recalls coach Moss saying during a visit. "I said, 'Yeah coach, we did pretty well,' and he apologized for being so hard on me over the years but finished with, 'But you know what? I’m proud of ya, and I love ya.' I replied, 'I know. I love you, too.'”
A celebration of Moss' life is being planned for a date in July through Bennett-Barz Funeral Home in Beulah.