The football field at Howell High School’s Memorial Stadium has been officially renamed in honor of a long time coach.

Former Howell Varsity Football Head Coach John Dukes was honored in a ceremony preceding the Highlander’s home opener Thursday night. Dukes, a lifelong Howell resident, has ties going back to 1963 when he served as their waterboy. A 4-year player while in high school, he came back to Howell after college, and took over the head coaching job in 1975. He led the green and gold for 25 years, winning 161 games, while also teaching physical education and science for 35.

Coach Dukes said, “I think the thing I am most proud of is that I got to coach and teach some great men, and coach some outstanding young men who happened to be pretty good football players. But it’s the relationships you have with your players is what’s most important. The wins and losses…the wins are nice, but the most important thing is the relationships you have with those people.”

Howell Public School Superintendent Erin MacGregor spoke to the packed stands about Dukes’ being a counsellor, coach, teacher, and leader. Board of Education Vice President Brent Earl played for Dukes in the ‘80s and shared a collection of words he and other former players associate with the coach. Integrity came up the most often.

Another former player, Bill Chopp, said Dukes was a big, positive influence in his life. Chopp told WHMI, “He was one of the first people who believed in me for the talent I had and kind of fostered it. And when you’re a kid, that’s what you’re looking for- someone who believes in you. And that’s who Coach Dukes was for myself.”

Dukes thanked his wife and children for their support. He said that an honor like this isn’t something you think is going to happen, but that it has, is an honor and he feels truly humbled by it. (MK)