Steve Stein Contributing Writer
Billy Slobin is 56. For 46 of those years, Farmington Hills Harrison High School football has been a huge part of his life.
His connection started as a fan. He played for the Hawks for three years (1977-1979) and he’s been the program’s volunteer strength and conditioning coach for 33 years.
Harrison football is now nothing more than memories and history. The clock ran out on the state’s most successful high school football program last month when the Hawks were eliminated from the state playoffs.
The end of Harrison football was slow and agonizing, covering three seasons.
The school board for Farmington Public Schools decided in 2016 to close Harrison at the end of the 2018-2019 school year because of declining enrollment and financial pressures.
Farmington and North Farmington high schools remain open.
Slobin has known this for three years, but the reality and now the finality of it have been difficult to grasp.
“This is going to take time to sink in. I need to decompress,” he said. “When our season ended each year, I looked forward to going to work in the weight room to prepare for the next season. That didn’t happen this year.
“After Chelsea beat us (last month in the Division 4 state quarterfinals), I read somewhere that Chelsea ended our program. No, Chelsea didn’t end our program. The Farmington school board did.”
Slobin is reminded every day he goes to work. His office at Mortgage 1, filled with Harrison football memorabilia, is directly across West 12 Mile Road from Harrison’s football field.
“I could hear the whistles from coaches and the marching band practice,” Slobin said.
Slobin’s sons Stephen, 25, and Jake, 23, played football at Harrison and were members of the Hawks’ last state championship team in 2010. Each was named the Jewish News Male High School Athlete of the Year after completing his senior year.
Stephen and Jake went on to play college football and, like their father, they work in the mortgage business.
Harrison’s loss to Chelsea was particularly heart-wrenching because Chelsea scored two touchdowns in the final 2:07 to win 21-14.
But getting that far in the state playoffs, finishing 8-4 for the season and pulling out a miracle win a week before the loss to Chelsea were remarkable accomplishments.
Harrison kept its post-season hopes alive by stunning Detroit County Day 13-10 in overtime in a district title game that saw the Hawks score the game-winning touchdown on a botched field goal attempt that turned into a 5-yard TD pass.
“That was one of the greatest wins in our history,” Slobin said.
Just 30 players were in the Harrison program this season because of attrition caused by the high school’s imminent closure.
“We had no depth,” Slobin said. “It was difficult to practice. You can’t have juniors and seniors beating on the younger kids in practice. I think this was arguably Coach (John) Herrington’s best coaching job.”
That’s saying something.
Herrington, 77, was Harrison’s only football coach. He started when the team started in 1970.
The Hawks’ 13 state championships — the first was in 1981 — are the most for a football team in Michigan High School Athletic Association history and their 18 appearances in the state championship game are the most of any team.
Herrington’s 443 wins (443-112-1) are the most of any prep football coach in state history.
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