By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Rockford’s Lyle Berry Berry received the MHSAA’s Vern L. Norris Award on Saturday for his contributions to officiating, mentoring and officials’ education.
An educator and official beginning in 1960, he also has officiated cross country and basketball, and has been a long-time member of both the West Michigan Officials Association and the Association of Track Officials of Michigan – having served both as president and rules chairman.
Berry also coached football for 36 years, with 32 at the high school level at Tawas, Farwell, Wayland and Wyoming Godwin Heights before spending four seasons as an assistant at Grand Rapids Community College. He was a head coach for 27 of those high school seasons, and was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
What keeps you coming back?
Just working with the kids, basically. There was a time, a turning point, when I did not know if it was as ego thing or an obsession. At some point, it was just a thing I wanted to do. It became so much fun, I didn't want to quit.
What was that turning point?
Ten or 12 years in officiating, I was in the process of building a career and wanting to take the next step each time. I got to the point where I was doing varsity basketball, and I got established there and wanted to move to the college ranks. And I did that. But 12 or 13 year in, there was a Grand Rapids City League game that went to double overtime. The two teams were undefeated at the halfway point (of the season), and it was a tight ballgame. After the game, we used to stand in front of the scoring table waiting for the books to get finalized. I looked over and saw the coach from the losing team talking to his kids, and the next thing we know, a few of them are coming over toward me. I’m thinking “Oh boy; here we go.” But the kids came up and said their coach wanted to make sure (they) congratulated (us) on a job well done. And the next thing out of their mouths was, “Wow, was that a great game?” And that’s where they left it. They said thanks and left. I thought I would’ve worked that night for nothing. And it just went from there.
What do you enjoy most about officiating?
It’s being with the kids more than anything. I do college track, high school track and junior high track, and some of the most fun situations are with the junior high kids. … Those kids either don’t know what’s going on, or keep you hopping, keep you on your toes. Being around them, it helps keep me a little young.”
You’ve been a teacher, coach and official. Are there similarities among the three?
All three blend together really well. You get to look at coaching as having the ability to teach kids how to have fun, and officiating you look at as watching kids have fun. Those two things go hand in hand. And teaching, of course; I was in the physical education field and I’d see all these kids and athletes who I’d eventually be coaching. Being around them all the time was just a bonus.
Is recruiting officials tougher now than it was in the past?
It’s a little bit tougher now. At the banquet the other night, there were only seven or eight 50-year people. Ten or 15 years ago, we didn’t even have a 50-yard award. And when that came in I thought it would be great because there would be a lot in that class. Last year I got my 50, and there were only 12 or 13 of us. The 40-45 (year) class had only 20 or 25. It just seems like the numbers are dwindling. You don’t see the commitment to carry on.
You see the same thing in coaching. I coached football 36 years, and you don’t see that. You see coaches get out after 10 or 12 years, burned out. I don’t know what the situation is causing that, but it’s definitely getting hard.
What advice do you give to young officials?
At this point in time, I’m working in the O-K Conference as a basketball observer of officials. Over the last six or seven years, I’d gotten 10-15 young guys. I like to go watch the JV, the freshmen guys, talk to them at halftime or after the game, like having a mini clinic with them. I encourage them to go. Last year I saw a dozen of those guys move on to the varsity ranks. Basically, I just tell them just to stay with it. And when the opportunity comes, you’ve got to jump in with both feet.
PHOTO: (Below) Lyle Berry speaks to the audience during Saturday's Officials’ Awards & Alumni Banquet at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)