Mike Ott isn’t suddenly going to be a stranger to Binder Park Golf Course.
Quite the contrary, he’s going to be playing more golf now at Battle Creek’s municipal layout, he said, than he has in many, many years.
But he did recently announce that he’ll no longer be the boys’ golf coach at Harper Creek High, something he’d done for the past 30 years.
“I’m going to be 72 years old … and I just felt the time was right to step down,” said Ott, who was also principal at Harper Creek Junior High for 30 years until his retirement from the educator/administrator end of things in 2004. “I’ve been coaching golf for 30 years, I’ve been involved in high school or junior high athletics since 1966, but I tenured my resignation … and now I’m just going to go on enjoying life.”
Dave Van Geison, who has helped Ott coach the Beavers’ varsity and junior varsity programs for about the past five years, will replace Ott at the Harper Creek boys’ golf helm.
“When you replace a legend, it’s just a tough thing to do, and also an honor to do so,” said Van Gieson, previously a volunteer assistant with the Harper Creek boys’ links program who played golf himself at St. Philip in the mid-1980s and who is a teacher at Harper Creek’s middle school.
“Mike has helped me in so many ways for so long, and I consider him to be not only an outstanding educator for so many years, but also a great friend.”
Said Ed Greenman, Harper Creek’s athletic director for 15 years: “Mike has done an outstanding job for us at Harper Creek, not only in athletics but as middle school or junior high principal for so, so long. He stepped right up to the plate many years ago and more or less saved our golf program when we needed a coach. He’s an outstanding person, the kids on the teams loved him, he was firm but fair. He’s well respected, and we’re really going to miss him. But he just felt it was time to pass the torch, and everybody understands and respects his decision.”
Ott was in Lakeshore High’s (now Stevensville-Lakeshore) second graduating class in 1961; he served in the Army for three years (among his missions was going to Germany when the Berlin Wall went up during the Kennedy years); he attended Benton Harbor Community College on a basketball scholarship; and he eventually became a science teacher and was involved in coaching athletics at Olivet High from 1967-74. He then spent the remainder of his career as an educator and coach (including golf and basketball) in the Harper Creek system.
Ott said that when he arrived at Harper Creek, the school system was in need of a boys’ varsity golf coach. He said he then did the job for free for two years before the school system started paying him for his work.
“They were having some financial problems in the school system back then, the golf coach back then got layed-off from the position … and it wasn’t until I had one of the kids there at the school come up to me and ask me to be coach that I even considered doing it,” Ott said.
“But once I became coach, I realized how much I loved doing it. I wound up having lots of amazing kids come through the program through the years, they learned how to play the game the right way and learned an activity that they could keep on being active in the rest of their lives. And one of my proudest things is that all through those 30 years of coaching, never once did I have to excuse a kid from the team for disciplinary reasons.”
Ott joked that he could not find it within himself to keep on coaching until he caught up with another longtime local coach and friend — Tom Reynolds at Marshall.
“Tom’s going to be starting his 42nd year there this spring. I’d have to coach into my 80s to catch him. And there’s just no way that was going to happen,” kidded Ott. “Tom and I are good friends … and I certainly made a lot of friends among the other coaches I met through the years.”
Ott coached Harper Creek in the old Twin Valley Conference and in the current SMAC. His squads made it to the state meet on four occasions during that period, he said, finishing with a high placing of 10th. His teams also won two SMAC East titles, one Twin Valley crown, some all-city championships, plus a couple of district and regional crowns.
He said he’s going to miss being out on the course with his kids on a regular basis this season. He did say he might be an observer or rules official during some prep postseason play at Binder later this spring, but he added that he’s also going to miss being an official track starter, something he’s also been certified to do since the 1960s.
He additionally said that while he and his wife Bonnie of 13 years, his two daughters and Bonnie’s two kids will be able to hang out more together and share more life away from golf course together, that he’s still going to be a frequent player at Binder starting with this spring.
“I told Ronnie that I’m buying a membership this year,” Ott said, referring to Ron Osborne, Binder Park’s general manager and PGA professional. “He laughed, but I was serious. Now I can finally get out to play more.”
Ott said he would like to thank Osborne and former Binder Park pros and workers over the years for their support of the Harper Creek program (Binder Park is the Beavers’ home course); and that he would also like to thank everyone for all of the fond memories he’s gathered during his years.
A couple of Ott’s more recent coaching compatriots also offered some congratulatory comments.
Said current Lakeview coach Tony Evans: “Mike was actually my junior high principal, I almost wound up playing golf for him when I was in high school … and then through the years we’ve become great friends. I know him as a principal, an educator, a fellow coach … and what sums Mike up for me is his integrity. He’s always stood up for what was right on the course rules-wise. He’s a very competitive guy who wants his kids to be successful on and off the course, and just knowing him and being a friend of his for so many years has been a blessing.”
Said Marshall’s Reynolds: “Mike and I obviously go back many, many years, and he’s a very close friend and I’ve always valued his opinion highly. My time to step aside will come someday, and I understand where Mike’s coming from. The thing with Mike is, he’s just a high-quality man and I think the world of him. For Mike it’s all about respect — regarding the game and life. I’m going to miss seeing him at all our (SMAC) meets, but I’m hoping he’ll still come out to see us as much as he can.”
Ott noted that he does not intend at this time to become a “regular” again for Harper Creek boys’ golfing events — “I don’t want to get in Dave’s way now that he’s the coach,” he said — but Ott’s not going to slip away into the out-of-bounds woods, either.
“You’ll still see me out at the golf course a lot,” Ott said, “but now I’ll have my own golf clubs in my hands. I’ll miss what I’ve been doing for so many years, and I’ll miss all the kids and being out there with all the other coaches all the time. But now I’m finally going to get the chance to play as much golf as I want to. And that’s a wonderful thing.”