ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Back in the summer of 1969, Allendale High School leaders were getting ready to launch their new athletic program with kids who had never played the sports to which they were about to commit many hours.
Ken Pierce eventually became a well-known, successful coach for boys’ basketball and cross country. But first he was an assistant football coach, the first year the school had a team. He recalls that the players were farm boys who didn’t know anything about the game.
“We didn’t have weight-training programs like they do now. But the kids were big, strong kids because they threw bales of hay all the time,” he said.
He and football coaches from that first year until now all got together for breakfast at Murphy’s Restaurant in Allendale ahead of the first game of the season.
They remember a time when they kicked extra points over the tree line because they didn’t have goal posts. It was a time when there were no stadium lights, so they played their games on Saturdays in the daylight. In those first few years, it was also a time for losing.
Allendale didn’t win its first football game until the 1971 “new coming” — now known as homecoming — game against Hopkins.
“They would get beat up really bad but the next Monday, they were back at it again,” said Pierce.
It didn’t take long to build up the department. The boys’ basketball team was already making it to the state championships by the time they had seniors for two years.
Ben Burk is the current coach, although he is no rookie. He has been with the program for 20 years and remembers the “old” Allendale.
“When I first got here, Lake Michigan Drive was a two-lane road. There was one bridge that went through, and the town was way smaller,” he said.
It certainly has grown, with twice as many people as there were in those old days.
Burk hopes to honor guys like coach Pierce by keeping what’s new rooted in history.
“I just keep thinking about trying to figure out how to keep the tradition alive and keep what (Peirce and the other coaches) started going,” he said.
As for Pierce, Fridays in the fall are more emotional than they used to be now that he is away from the sidelines. He says he can feel the tears coming when he hears the national anthem.
“Being hired in at Allendale was God’s plan for my life. The way I see it, it changed my life.”