My friend Patrick Hayes wrote a great tribute to local coaching legend Jack Pratt in his blog.
Pratt, who coached one sports or another locally since the 1950’s (St. Matthews, Flint Powers, Grand Blanc and Kearsley), died on Monday. He was suffering with Parkinson’s Disease.
In his piece, Patrick mentioned one opportunity he had to interview Coach Pratt about former Powers basketball standout Tom Herzog:
When I talked to Pratt and told him I wanted to ask about Herzog, who he hadn’t coached in about five years at that time, he immediately started telling me how much he loved coaching ‘Tommy.’ Here was the comment I used:
“He’s the kind of young man who will give his all and ask for nothing in return,” said former Powers coach Jack Pratt. “He hasn’t played a lot (at MSU), but he’s been an inspiration to the kids on the basketball team. It’s that innate quality that people sometimes have that make other people respect them.”
Pratt would’ve willingly talked to me about him or anything else all afternoon if I didn’t have a deadline to meet.
My earliest memories of Coach Pratt are, of course, his iconic bright orange — or other bold color depending on who he was coaching at the time. But, Like Patrick, I can remember the last time I interviewed Coach Pratt. It was right after an ugly, ugly football game (a victory for Powers) in the freezing rain. I recall being quite nervous to do a post-game interview, on the field, in such awful conditions — “here comes the big blow off,” I thought. That would have made sense, of course, and I’d would have understood noting that I didn’t want to be out there either.
Well, like Patrick, my last interview with him was as cordial as any I ever had. I remember wondering, as I watched his whole body shake from what must have been the affects of both his physical condition and the weather that night, why this man at nearly 80 years old was still on that field. The answer, I know now, is simple: It was his life. His calling.
I was fortunate to be in the audience sitting next to another local coaching legend, Mott’s Steve Schmidt, at a Rotary Club meeting last spring at which Pratt was honored as a Paul Harris Fellow — the highest honor Rotary bestows. Several people spoke about Coach Pratt’s influence on their lives, and I must say it was truly amazing. Grown men, men in their 50’s, still thinking through life with “what would Coach do?”
A friend of mine, a longtime friend and one of Coach Pratt’s former players, Dallas Gatlin, wrote this to me about his legacy last night:
He deeply influenced the trajectory of my life….as he influenced thousands of other young athletes and coaches and anyone who crossed his path. He was special. Jack was the greatest, by every metric; but, you wouldn’t have to talk wins and championships for that to still be true. He won as a byproduct of doing everything right for young men.
I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to a great coach. He had more wins in the lives of young people than he did on the football field or basketball court; and, as you know, he did pretty well there, too.