Billy Slobin has been the strength and conditioning coach for the Farmington Hills Harrison High School football team since 1986.
He hasn’t been paid a cent for 32 years. He’s a volunteer. He said he’s done the job to give back to the Harrison football program, which had a significant positive impact on his life when he played for the Hawks from 1977-1979.
There’s an enormous elephant on the gridiron at Harrison this month as the Hawks prepare to begin practice for the 2018 season.
This will be the final season of Harrison football. The last chapter in the history of one of the state’s most storied high school football programs will be written.
It’s all because of a March 16, 2016, decision by the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education to close Harrison after the 2018-2019 school year because of declining enrollment and financial pressures in the district.
Farmington and North Farmington, the other two high schools in the district, will remain open.
Harrison has won a record 13 state championships in football. The first was in 1981. The last was in 2010. The Hawks made it to the Division 3 state title game last year before losing 28-10 to powerhouse Muskegon at Ford Field, finishing 10-4 after a slow start.
John Herrington, the only football coach at Harrison since the high school opened in 1970, has 435 career wins, the most in Michigan high school football history.
Harrison’s football field is named in his honor.
Legacies and a school closing aren’t on the minds of Harrison coaches as August dawns. Just ask Slobin.
“We don’t care about anything other than the 2018 Harrison Hawks season,” he said. “We have another chance to do something we all love, and we want to win another state championship. We’ll start worrying about the future Dec. 1.”
Only about 50 players are in the Harrison football program. Many have left. The ones who have stayed will get the full attention of Harrison coaches.
Slobin’s connection to Harrison runs deep.
He works across the street from the high school as a senior mortgage loan officer for Mortgage One. He calls his memorabilia-filled office a shrine to Harrison football.
His sons Stephen, 25, and Jake, 23, both played football for Harrison, won a state championship on an undefeated Hawks team in 2010, and went on to play college football.
Stephen played one collegiate season at Siena Heights University before ending his football career and transferring to Michigan State. Jake was an All-State high school player who played four years at Grand Valley State University.
Each was named the Jewish News Male High School Athlete of the Year following his senior season at Harrison.
Their father is far more than the Harrison football team’s strength and conditioning coach. He’s turned the job into a year-round focus that encompasses areas like nutrition, the importance of academics and becoming a well-rounded individual.
“I’ve helped many young men who were having a tough time grow up,” he said. “I’d say weight training is 30 percent of the job now.
“When I first started the job, my goal was to help us win state championships. Now, my goal is to teach these kids how to become the best young men possible.”
One way he does that has been to arrange for Harrison football players to read to elementary school students in the district and talk to students about responsibility and treating others with respect.
“Our players don’t know it, but I’ve been giving them public speaking lessons,” Slobin, 55, said.
They also may not know, Slobin said, that years from now, the wins and losses on the football field will become simply a line item on their life resume.
“The ride will become more important,” he said. “The hard work, the friendships made, the memories.”
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