Forest Park Coach Bill Santilli receives a certificate and check from Sgt. Tim Wilkinson of the Michigan Army National Guard during a ceremony held before a boys basketball game at the Eddie Chambers Gym Jan. 10. The Coach of the Week award came from the Detroit Lions.
CRYSTAL FALLS—For all the success he has had during his years of coaching Forest Park’s football team, Bill Santilli had never received an honor from the National Football League and the Detroit Lions. He’s a high school coach, after all.
Now he has. Late last fall, Santilli was chosen as Lions high school coach of the week.
He was recognized during a ceremony just before the Trojans’ boys basketball game against Kingsford Jan. 10.
Sgt. Tim Wilkinson of the Michigan Army National Guard office in Kingsford presented Santilli with a certificate signed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz, a congratulatory letter from Schwartz and a check for $2,000.
Santilli has coached the Trojans for 20 years, the last 16 as head varsity coach.
During that time, the Trojans have made the playoffs 15 consecutive years, reached the state finals six times and won the 2007 Division 8 championship. His won-lost record: 150 wins, 41 losses.
The letter from Coach Schwartz congratulated Santilli on behalf of the Lions coaches, players and organization.
“The success you have shown during your 20 years of coaching,” it said, “puts you in a very high class in the coaching profession.”
The certificate from the NFL and Lions is “in recognition of his outstanding football coaching performance and dedication.”
Along with the plaque, he also received a $2,000 check made out to the Forest Park football program.
In receiving the award, Santilli acknowledged the efforts made by his assistant coaches.
“This honor is nothing but a reflection on our staff, our athletes and our community.
“I couldn’t do it without everybody, and I appreciate everything. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Santilli said the award from the Lions came out of the blue.
He found out about it in late October, as the Trojans were getting ready for the Division 8 playoffs.
“Lisa Olson called me into the office,” he remembered, “and said ‘You’ve been recognized by the Lions with this award.’ I said, ‘Boy, that’s nice!’”
With the award came an invitation to Ford Field for the Lions’ home game against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 11, when all this year’s coaches of the week would be guests of the team and recognized on the field before the opening kickoff.
At first, Santilli wasn’t planning to go—after all, it’s 500 miles from Crystal Falls to downtown Detroit.
“But as time went on and I gave it more thought, I thought, it’s probably one of those once-in-a-lifetime deals that is never going to happen again.
“I talked to my wife. She’s a diehard Packer fan, but she said, ‘We’re going to go!’
“We went, and it was really an enjoyable trip.”
Santilli, the only U.P. coach in the group, knew several other coaches who were being honored. The Lions held a brunch in their honor at the Hall of Legends banquet room, which overlooks the Ford Field gridiron.
After the brunch, they were escorted to their reserved seats for the game, in the balcony area.
Before the game, the coaches were taken down to the field and introduced. Then they got to stand on the sidelines as the Lions’ starting lineup was introduced and took the field.
“It was very professionally done and exciting. First class. So I’m glad we went.”
Santilli, of course, has been to Ford Field before—but as a coach, not as honored guest. “One of the coaches I was with, when we were down on the field, he nudged me and said, ‘I think you’ve been here as many times as [Lions Coach] Jim Schwartz has been.’”
All the coaches were “in uniform,” wearing their school’s colors and game-day shirts and hats. “Being from our small school,” he said, “I just cherished the moment.
“And it’s very surprising how even the Lower Michigan coaches follow football in the Upper Peninsula—not just our program. A lot of them talked about other schools in their divisions that they keep an eye on year after year.”
It was a happy day for everyone. The Lions beat the Vikings 34-28. “After the game, Sal and I went back to the motel and watched the Packers play Oakland. Like I said, she’s a diehard Packer fan.”
The most important thing about the award, said the Trojans’ coach, is the $2,000 donation to the football program. “That’s really wonderful.”
He already knows how it’s going to be used: Forest Park’s seven-man blocking sled “is in really dire need of fixing.” The cost of replacing each of the padded dummies the players hit each day will be several hundred dollars.
If there is money left after that, Santilli said, it will be used for other needs in the equipment room.