When Doug Periard retired in August, some thought he had done it all as a teacher, coach, mentor and athletic director for Suttons Bay Schools.
Retirement has proven many wrong.
He did intend to stay on as the baseball coach at least thru the 2022 season. He also thought he’d help out some with the bus driver shortage using the CDL (Commercial Drivers License) he’d recently obtained. Substitute teaching sounded good to him too.
So he came back in October. He immediately took on an emergency assignment, coaching the school’s 8-player football team to a win over Manistee Catholic Central. He also drove the bus to the game.
“Doug is that kind of guy ... when there is a need to filled, Doug will fill it for you,” said Andy Melius, principal at Suttons Bay. “The community means a lot to him, and the school means a lot to him. He bleeds red and white.”
Also since returning, he’s served as a K-1 gym teacher, filled in at the school’s front desk and headed up the district’s COVID-19 testing as the Quarantine Officer.
On Tuesday, Periard will coach baseball after driving the bus transporting the Norsemen to Buckley to begin postseason play. It’s no different than what he’s been doing all spring.
However, some questioned if Periard could handle bus driving and coaching on the same day.
“It’s been interesting,” Periard said with a little laugh. “I was a champion at taking a nap (on the bus as coach).
“I would be asleep before we got to the split in the road and wake up when we got there,” he continued. “So, there was some real skeptics out there wondering if I’d be able to both drive and coach when I got there.”
Periard has hopes of hitting the 400-win mark before giving up baseball. He’s compiled a 379-280-18 record since taking over the Norseman baseball program on a “temporary” basis in 1998. It was supposed to be only until another coach was found. He had coached the JV squad the year prior.
And, there’s something else about Periard very few people know. Someone who does is Christine Mikesell, Suttons Bay’s assistant athletic director. Mikesell’s five boys at one time or another played sports coached by Periard.
“Every kid is important to Doug,” noted Mikesell, who is stepping down in June. “He really has a big heart for those that are struggling, and he makes a pathway for a kid to achieve if they take it.
“He is one of those kind of guys you want on your side because he is a team player ... a real team player when it comes to the school and athletics and coaching.”
Mikesell has seen him help lots of high schoolers who end up graduating perhaps without knowing how much help Periard provided. He often made sure kids had a white dress shirt so no one was left out on the school’s game day dress-up tradition. He’s also paid for lunches and arranged transportation for students coming from hard-life circumstances.
“I have seen him go well out of his way,” said Mikesell. “I know a lot of it is his own pocket.
“He has eyes, and he watches,” she continued. “He finds the one that is struggling, and he goes and brings them as part of the team.”
Periard became AD in 2008, a year he will never forget. It was marked by the stock market crash and he, along with his wife Anne, was dealing with his daughter Grace’s new diabetes diagnosis. The economic circumstances also threatened his continued employment as a teacher.
The job loss did not materialize. Grace is now in college. And, she was the 2020 recipient of the Suttons Bay High School Berserker Award presented to Norse athletes who have competed in three sports every year of high school.
The award was created several years back by Periard. Now he hopes his son Hugh, a junior pitcher and three-sport athlete, will follow his sister’s footsteps and be similarly recognized next spring.
“I stole the (Berserker) idea from my little brother who was the AD at Birch Run,” he admitted. “I am proud to have gotten the thing rolling.
“I think playing three sports is vital to a small school and development of young people.”
Periard’s legacy also will include strong co-op developments, including the establishment of NorthBay, and keeping a great football tradition alive while the school struggled with declining enrollment. The co-ops are established for all sports with Northport and include Leelanau St. Mary’s in boys and girls track & field and soccer.
Periard guided the Norsemen’s move to 8-player football in 2017. The previous season, Suttons Bay had to forfeit the majority of its games because it did not have enough players to compete in 11-player.
Mikesell’s son Baylor was one of seniors who missed out as part of that 2016 team. Another son, Lucas, was a star player in the school’s run to back-to-back 8-player Division 2 runner-up finishes the last two seasons.
“My son lost his senior year because we were still 11-man, and we couldn’t field a team,” she said. “Doug is a problem solver and comes up with solutions outside the box.
“He did tons of research on it to get us in a place (where) we could participate in football because he saw that the risk of losing football here at the school, what a damaging thing it would be.”
Periard is most proud, however, of the behavior of the student body during athletic contests. His game management included a “bristle” – a knowing look – passed on from his grandfather to his mother and ultimately to he and his brothers.
With his simple bristle he was able to instantly, and non-verbally, communicate to the students they’d better stop what they’re doing.
“They bought into my stern look when they were in any way at all not cheering for their team,” he said. “They knew they should be cheering for their teams and not being disparaging against their opponent, and only treating opponents with class.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Doug Periard enjoys a moment surrounded by enthusiastic Suttons Bay student fans during his tenure. (Middle) Periard, also the baseball coach, with son Hugh, daughter Grace and wife Anne a few years ago. (Below) Even in retirement, Periard remains a mainstay in Suttons Bay. (Top and middle photos courtesy of Doug Periard; bottom photo by Tom Spencer.)
There is a crisis in Michigan schools today that centers on one problem:
Not having enough people.
In discussions with school district personnel, we are being told there has never been a more difficult time for finding people than today. All of us are searching high and low to find coaches for athletic teams, and officials, referees and umpires to administer those games in an orderly and safe way. Dig a little deeper, and school districts are desperate to find those willing to serve as substitute teachers and bus drivers.
Because of this current reality, we continue to be dumbfounded over the approval of Public Act 184 this past summer. This created a new set of retirement rules stipulating that a retiring teacher or administrator cannot be rehired to serve as a coach until after a nine-month waiting period. Even more frustrating: Individuals who had served as high school coaches for many years, who retired from the classroom last June but had planned to keep coaching for a few more seasons, are being told they cannot do so. Those coaches are sidelined, and for no sensible reason.
Cheri Ritz has been the varsity softball coach at Wayland High School since 1995. Cheri has won numerous championships, and has been a model coach and great leader of students throughout her career. Cheri retired as a teacher in June and planned to keep coaching the softball team for a few more years, making a small fraction of what her classroom salary was before retirement. Under the “old” retirement law, Cheri could have retired in June and been detached from the district for 30 days, and then returned and worked for the district in any capacity as long as she was making less than 30 percent of her compensation at the time of her retirement. Under PA 184, this scenario can no longer happen.
In the state of Michigan, we have hundreds of recently-retired school people who want to continue to be some of our best coaches, making pennies on the hour for their time. Now they simply aren’t allowed to do so because of a law that had no intention of impacting coaches and school sports. Cheri is just one example. The same issue has found several more longtime, successful coaches including Northville’s golf coach Chris Cronin and cross country & track field’s Steve Porter at Milan High School.
For the past few months, the MHSAA has met with the Office of Retirement Services, representatives from the Governor’s office and even the bill sponsor of PA 184. Every single conversation revealed the fact that coaches were not even part of the discussion when this new retirement law was passed. In other words, recent retirees continuing to coach were not the issue, but yet this new law now treats coaches as some sort of enemy with zero phase-in period, modification or even the ability to seek a waiver of this new law which became effective immediately on July 25, 2022. We have tried to work within the system to seek some commonsense approaches and solutions to this problem, but to no avail as of yet.
We need your help. We need you to contact the Governor’s office and your State Representative and State Senator’s offices. Let them know PA 184 needs to be fixed now. We need to find a way to let these individuals continue to coach and lead our student-athletes. Let them know our kids cannot play their games without individuals who want to coach, and let them know our kids will miss out on learning valuable life lessons if these coaches are not allowed to continue.
And let them know that PA 184 could not have been passed at a worse time given our most valuable resource – people – is at an all-time low.
PHOTO: Wayland softball coach Cheri Ritz, front right, accepts the Division 2 championship trophy in 2015.