By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ZEELAND — Regardless of the final score, Benton Harbor won Friday night.
The Tigers lost 62-8 in the Division 4 district finals to Zeeland West, but it was the crowd behind the visitors’ sideline that reveled together, proving they could be the loudest.
More than 300 orange- and black-clad spectators flooded the visitors’ stands, and another 100 or so stood along the track leading down to the field goal post.
The band kept the crowd warm and energetic with its frenetic drumbeat and dancing during the first half. Fans cheered and clapped for every gain as well as every penalty the Dux committed.
It was clear when the gates first opened, Tiger Pride had invaded the grounds of Zeeland Stadium.
Benton Harbor resident Jackie King has been coming to every Tigers football game since 1980.
On Friday night, she was wrapped in her orange and black shawl trying to stay warm. She and two other generations of her family attended Benton Harbor.
“This is so exciting,” King said. “It’s such a positive thing for our community. I’m so proud of what the kids have done. It gives us so much to look forward to. Things can be done. You’ve got to support the orange and black.”
With two straight winless seasons in their rearview mirror, Tigers fans say they are already looking forward to next year after finishing 6-5.
“Expectations are going to be high,” said Demetrius Curtis of Benton Harbor. “I hope to see them build on it. I mean, do you see how many fans are out here? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many fans at a Tigers (football) game – especially an away game.”
Curtis tries to catch at least one or two games a year, but sometimes is restricted due to work.
He also made it to the 28-7 victory over Dowagiac last week, which marked the Tigers’ first playoff win in school history.
As a 2000 graduate of Benton Harbor, Curtis said he played guard for the Tigers. Looking back on the start of the season, the former Tiger admitted he didn’t see the turnaround coming.
“No, I didn’t see this coming,” he said. “They needed a new style, a fresh start. I see pride here. Even though we didn’t win tonight, this was a milestone.”
Water under the bridge
Battle Creek Central senior Brandon Randle faced off against the Tigers earlier this year and said he never forgot the team’s focus.
“They came out really strong and surprised us actually,” Randle said of Central’s 14-9 loss to the Tigers. “We underestimated Benton Harbor. They came out and played hard from the start and got up on us.”
Randle showed up in person Friday night to cheer on a Tigers team that includes his cousin.
“I heard about their success and I’m here to support them with everything that has been going on in their city,” he said.
Stevensville resident Lew Olsen knows where Randle iss coming from. Standing on Benton Harbor’s sideline, he wore his Lakeshore Lancers hat.
While the Tigers walked away with an upset of the Lancers in the seventh game of the season, Olsen showed his support for Benton Harbor and coach Elliot Uzelac.
“I think the coach has done a marvelous job with his kids,” Olsen said. “They have bought into his program. He’s given them a sense of worth and a sense of value. They’ve responded really well, and I love that.”
Michael Frazier, who grew up in Benton Harbor and now lives in Grand Rapids, played on the Tigers’ last winning season in 1989.
Frazier said he almost didn’t come Friday, but it was his family who drew him to a game he was never able to reach in high school.
“I was excited they made the playoffs,” he said. “I see how important it is to this city. This is something to build on and I’m glad to be out here tonight.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 7, 2015)