Foster: Cass Tech, King coaches relish roles as mentors

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

Detroit — Saturday is a big day for King football coach Dale Harvel.

Not only does his team play in the most anticipated game this season — a home matchup against No. 2 Cass Tech — but it’s also the one-year anniversary of the heart attack that could have prevented him from coaching.

These are games you live for. Then there is life.

And that, in addition to football, is what Harvel is teaching at King.

He wants kids to go to college.

He wants them to get jobs.

He wants them to lead families and return to the community and assist with young people.

“There was a fear factor,” Harvel said of the heart attack. “I was sitting up there in that hospital bed thinking I am not doing nobody any good if I cannot be around. I need to be in these kids’ lives.

“That was the most important thing.”

Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher sees the big picture, too.

“The Detroit Public Schools is difficult because you’ve got a lot of barriers,” Wilcher said. “You have different kinds of kids in different kinds of households. You have to mend fences so they are all equals.”

‘Do great things’

Both men have enjoyed success on the field.

King became the first Public School League team to win a state title in 2007 under Jim Reynolds. Harvel has been with the program for 33 years and served as defensive coordinator for Reynolds.

Detroit Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher

And when Harvel took over, stability was most important.

“I am an old-school coach and what they deal with is a lot different than what we had to deal with,” Harvel said. “They take on the brunt of what is happening in the city and society. Kids have to earn respect and respect others and deal with what life is thrown at you.”

Then there’s Cass Tech, which won back-to-back state titles in 2011 and 2012 under Wilcher.

His biggest moments, however, came watching a number of players head to Division I and Division II schools. And that, in his eyes, is just the beginning.

“I want them to be great; that is the most important thing,” Wilcher said. “We preach about being great, but if you want to be great you have to do great things. Being great is about what you do every day.”

Programs applauded

Both programs are important to the PSL.

Cass, King and East English Village bring the most publicity to the city, and athletic director Alvin Ward appreciates their contributions.

“I look at them as great mentors who have great programs and great backgrounds,” Ward said. “They are leaders in our coaching class. Their style goes beyond football, but also in life. I respect them.”

While Harvel is at a slight disadvantage mentoring players since he is not a teacher at King, he relies on two assistants to take care of business during the day.

Wilcher, on the other hand, is like a hawk patrolling the Cass Tech hallways. He wants to make sure kids are making it to class and wants to prevent flareups.

He sees the big picture.

And sees the big game.

“When you play King it is never just a game,” Wilcher said. “This is a serious game, and the kids are up for it, the parents are up for it and city is up for it and the faculty and coaches are up for it. It is always a big game.

“Everybody wants to know who will stand out.”