Mike Williams had brought Flint Beecher to the MHSAA Semifinals at Michigan State's Breslin Center at the end of both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, and also coached the team that made the Class C Final in 2008. All three times the Buccaneers had to settle with great runs, but losses to end them.
But not Saturday.
Beecher and Williams capped one of the best season's in MHSAA history, becoming the 12th team to finish with 28 wins and claiming the Class C championship. Beecher finished with a perfect record, and the championship was the Bucs' first since claiming the Class B title in 1987.
Williams graduated from Grand Blanc High in 1994 before then getting degrees at Ferris State and Eastern Michigan University. He's led Beecher to a 138-61 record over the last eight seasons, and had some powerful things to say after Saturday's win, both about the Bucs' legacy but also about what the win could mean to the entire Flint community.
"I’m just overwhelmed with excitement. Very humbled by this entire process, by this entire season, by the way our kids performed. Just fortunate to be a part of this. We put in a lot of work to get here. It feels unbelievable. I really can’t describe it with words.
"I know we did everything the right way. And we worked from the ground up"
This is the third time in school history (Beecher) finished with an undefeated season. You yopped the last two teams by one game. How does it feel for you guys to do this?
"It’s incredible. The only thing that I can say is we’ve got the full support of all the Beecher alumni, all the supporters that came out. … Everybody was pulling for us to do this. Like I said, it’s humbling to be considered and to be known right up there with all those great teams that have played in the past at Beecher. And to add to the legacy of Beecher, that’s the main thing.
With all things you guys have been through up to this point, not even just basketball, but off the court, on the court, talk about the feeling you guys have to be able to finish it on top and be able to celebrate a victory.
"I think with the things that our kids have gone through and the things our community has gone through, for me this is more than about basketball. This is about these kids' lives. I feel like I’m their father. The toughest part is that this is over. I won’t get to coach Antuan (Burks) anymore. I won’t get to coach Montana (Gooch) anymore. These are like my sons. I put more into their lives than into basketball. We revert everything back to their lives.
"Because you’re looking at some kids that overcome some things that you can never imagine. For them to make it here and accomplish this, it's setting a standard for all the kids in our city that we don’t have to act up. We can achieve. We can be successful. Because too many bad things are going on in our city, and I want these kids to be representatives of our city, of their generation turning around and being positive. And that’s been the biggest thing. It’s been about their lives. For them to accomplish this, it doesn’t even compare to the things they’ve overcome in their lives.
"So we just want to bring it back home and show everybody we can be successful. We don’t have to be in the streets. We don’t have to do things that are getting written about in paper that Flint is known for. Let’s get back to being successful. And our community and the whole Flint area, everybody supported us. Not just Beecher. That’s what I’m more proud of -- that we get to bring some positive attention to our area."
While fans are settling into another season, Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs has been fully immersed in football for months.
The Jackson Post’s assistant post commander serves as assistant coach for Jackson High School’s varsity football team and for the team at Parkside Middle School.
“I started coaching when my older son was in youth sports, as a way to do something together that we both love,” Gibbs said. “My younger son followed the same path, so I joined his team too. I grew up in Jackson and am grateful to be able to serve my hometown from the sidelines and at our post.”
Some 400 miles north, Lt. Mark Giannunzio is also a familiar face in and on the field. The MSP Negaunee Post assistant post commander and Eighth District public information officer enforces the rules of the game as a high school and college football official, the latter for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I started at the high school level to stay involved in athletics and make authentic connections in the community,” Giannunzio said. “It’s rewarding to help teach the game and share knowledge of the rules. I currently have a full 11-game schedule in the GLIAC Division II college conference, with high school games interspersed during the year.”
The correlation among coaching, officiating and policing translates.
“With my fellow troopers, I want to inspire, motivate and encourage to get the most out of them,” Gibbs said. “I take the same approach with my players to figure out what they need from me, as their designated leader, to be as successful as they can. In both capacities, I do the work alongside them. We do it together.”
This approach is especially important when tough times surface. Lieutenant Gibbs’ high school team experienced tragedy right before its first game when a player died in a car crash.
“We focused on adversity,” said Gibbs, who was in a unique position to talk from a police perspective too. “It’s a benefit to have that insight and background and share it with what they can control – make good decisions and wear your seatbelt.”
Lieutenant Gibbs incorporates his coworkers when he can, like during spring conditioning when fellow troopers join him and his players, helping all involved to make new connections and build strong bonds between the students and officers.
“One of the most important attributes in both careers is communication,” Giannunzio said. “Communication can make or break an official and a police officer. Much like selling a citation to a motorist, I need to be able to sell the penalty in a calm and professional manner. Demeanor and attitude go together on both the football field and when we are out patrolling in the Blue Goose.”
Treating everyone with dignity and respect is something Lieutenants Gibbs and Giannunzio commit to as members of a modern police agency and in their areas of expertise on the football field.
“Both roles afford so many opportunities to develop culture and cultivate teamwork,” Gibbs said. “The best part is watching others flourish and playing a part in their growth.”
PHOTOS (Top) Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs, left, serves as an assistant football coach for the Jackson High varsity. (Middle) Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels. (Below) Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School. (Photos provided by the Michigan State Police.)