September 24, 2012 in High School
Legendary high school football and basketball coach Jack Pratt had a track record of success on the field and court that puts him among the greatest high school coaches in Michigan’s history. However, it was the the way he won and the way he impacted the lives of so many of the young men he coached over the years that made him a larger than life figure, particularly in the Flint area.
Pratt reportedly died Monday. I never had the privilege of covering him when he was an active coach, but my knowledge of him actually pre-dated my shift to covering sports. I was a reporter for a chain of weeklies in the Grand Blanc area, covering the school district, so I often spoke with then-Superintendent Mike Newton. When I’d interview Newton and he’d have to explain his educational and leadership philosophies and values, he’d frequently invoke two names: former UCLA coach John Wooden and Pratt. I’ve tossed the word ‘legendary’ around quite a bit already, and it’s not even the most accurate descriptor for how beloved he truly was in the Flint area, but it will have to do … there might not be a proper word to describe what he’s meant to Flint area sports.
Shortly after I started at the Flint Journal, my wife and I went out to dinner in Flushing with her grandparents. Pratt happened to be sitting at a table in the restaurant, and my wife’s grandfather insisted that he introduce me to Pratt. “This is the most important person you need to know covering sports in Flint,” he said, as the humble Pratt sheepishly claimed that was an exaggeration.
I only interviewed Pratt once at the Journal when I was writing a story about former Powers Catholic center Tom Herzog, who was then playing for Michigan State’s Final Four team. Herzog didn’t play much in college, so in order to get a little more background on him for the story, I called Pratt. When I talked to Pratt and told him I wanted to ask about Herzog, who he hadn’t coached in about five years at that time, he immediately started telling me how much he loved coaching ‘Tommy.’ Here was the comment I used:
“He’s the kind of young man who will give his all and ask for nothing in return,” said former Powers coach Jack Pratt. “He hasn’t played a lot (at MSU), but he’s been an inspiration to the kids on the basketball team. It’s that innate quality that people sometimes have that make other people respect them.”
Pratt would’ve willingly talked to me about him or anything else all afternoon if I didn’t have a deadline to meet.
After his passing Monday, former Powers player Laval Lucas-Perry wrote this about Pratt on Facebook:
R.I.P. COACH Jack Pratt!!! Jack Pratt-I am talking about an extraordinary individual who touched the lives of many. From my freshmen year in high school he taught me the skills succeed on and off the court. I would not be where I am today without his leadership, encouragement, and love for individuals like me. Thanks for all you have done me for Luke M. Powers and for the community. You will be missed. Football State Champs #31!!!
I wish I had more experiences covering Pratt to draw on. I wish longtime Flint Journal sports writer Bill Khan was still at the paper as his encyclopedic knowledge of Flint area sports history would make for the epic story about his life Pratt deserves. I hope the many people whose lives Pratt touched find peace. Feel free to share your memories of Pratt in the comments here.