Battle Creek Central and Lakeview renew a football rivalry that goes back to the 1960s.
One person who has been around it, in different capacities, for all of those years is Al Leibert.
The 87-year-old Leibert is currently an assistant coach on the Battle Creek Central football team. But he has also been a coach in the Lakeview system over the years.
Overall, Leibert has been a coach and a teacher in the city of Battle Creek for almost 60 years, since first coming to the Cereal City in 1953. And as he thinks about when he finally might hang up his whistle for the final time, he talks about what has kept him involved for so long.
“I just enjoy working with kids and I’m a sports freak. I always felt like I could do a lot more for the kids by teaching and coaching,” Leibert said. “I’ve been fortunate that I have taught and coached at Battle Creek Central, taught and coached at Lakeview and also coached at St. Philip.”
Lakeview hosts Battle Creek Central tonight in one of the longest-running football rivalries in the city. Lakeview won the game last year and the Bearcats won the year before, which is also the last victory BCC has enjoyed over the past two seasons.
Wearing the Bearcats colors these days, Leibert was on the field this week helping to coach up Battle Creek Central for the big game.
“It’s invaluable to have him on the staff,” Battle Creek Central head coach Lorin Granger said. “Every time the guy speaks I listen because you never know what you are going to learn from him.
“When you think about where it is you want to go, understanding where you have been is important and he’s a guy that has all the knowledge about what has happened here before. He knows who has played here before and has knowledge of the history, the tradition and the pride at Battle Creek Central. We need to have a guy like that.”
Bearcat assistant coach Jeff McGinnis has been a part of Battle Creek Central sports and has been coaching at the school for a lot of years himself. But even he was coached by Leibert at one time.
McGinnis, who played junior high football under Leibert in 1965, is now on the football staff with his former coach with the Bearcats.
“He’s probably one of the most beloved men ever at Battle Creek,” McGinnis said. “What makes him such a good coach and teacher is that he takes a personal interest in everybody. He knew your parent’s names, he knew the members of your family. And that’s been going on for 50 or more years. He still knows people who are in their 60s that he still asks about family members by name.
“Something he used to say a lot. It’s not about the Xs and the Os, it’s about the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s. And he remembers all the Jimmy’s and Joe’s and when they played and what they did.”
Knowing multiple generations of athletes at Battle Creek Central and Lakeview gives Leibert a chuckle.
“I have grandkids of men I coached years ago,” Leibert said. “It makes it pretty interesting.”
Granger tries to make sure his players realize what kind of resource they have in Leibert.
“I wish the kids would listen to him more, I wish more of them would take time to talk to him one on one,” Granger said. “He has a hard time talking to groups because he talks so soft nowadays.”
Those physical limitations are what has Leibert thinking about stepping down, whether it’s at the end of the season or after a few more.
“I have had three back surgeries and it is really starting to act up – there’s a lot of pain,” Leibert said. “But I won’t know for sure until after the season if this is my last year. Whenever that time comes, I will just miss being here every day with the kids and the fellow coaches. I don’t know what I’ll do with my time.
“But all the years have been great. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. A lot of good, some bad, a lot of wins and some losses and a lot of memories.”