IRON MOUNTAIN - Portland High School, featuring a solid Iron Mountain connection, plays for Michigan's Division 5 football state championship Saturday at Ford Field.
The Raiders, with 1989 Iron Mountain High School graduates John Novara and Kevin Veale playing major roles, meet 2010 state king Grand Rapids West Catholic at 3:30 p.m. for the title. Portland is located near Lansing.
"I am proud to be from Iron Mountain, and try to instill many of
the qualities that I learned from my high school days into my players
in Portland," said Novara, Raiders head football coach for 14 years.
Veale, Portland's athletic director for 13 years, has been "best friends" with Novara since fifth grade.
"It's hard to talk about and not sound like bragging or making this about us when it is really about Portland and our kids," Veale said. "But I must admit I kind of think it's a pretty cool story with us both being from Iron Mountain."
Novara and Veale participated in Mountaineer football, basketball and
track. They were co-captains for the latter two sports.
In football, Veale played quarterback and Novara earned All-Mid-Peninsula Conference at tight end in 1988. Coach Tom Wender's 1988 Mountaineers suffered just one loss (to Negaunee) that season.
The basketball team showed Veale at point guard and Novara in the post.
Iron Mountain won the U.P. track championship, with the seniors contributing by running on the MPC record-breaking mile relay.
"Any athletic director is proud, I'm sure, when any coach gets to the state finals," Veale said. "But when your head coach is your best friend and you grew up together, it is definitely more meaningful.
"We are both modest and don't like to make anything about us but I really am proud not only of him and his accomplishments but we are both very proud Yoopers and proud to be from Iron Mountain."
Portland, a playoff participant for 10 straight years, is making its first appearance in the state finals.
"I can't tell you how often fellow athletic directors or coaches
compliment John about the high character person and coach he is and how
well respected his program is," Veale said. "We have talked often about how close we have been to making a run but yet had little to show for the quality program he runs in ways of any championships.
"Now that we have made this run, it is almost surreal. The best part is he has done it the right way."
Novara's family is also thrilled about Portland's accomplishments. Charles and Joanne Novara, John's parents, along with his brothers, Paul and Mark (plus son Nicholas), will be in the Ford Field stands.
John and his wife Brandee have three children.
"We are really excited, and so is the school," Charlie said. "He's been so close every year and now they're finally over the hump.
"As a father, I'm very proud he's in state finals but even more proud of the person he is and what he has bestowed upon those kids."
Mark Novara, coming off an unbeaten season as Kingsford junior varsity football coach, quarterbacked the Flivvers in the 1992 Class B state finals.
"John works extremely hard and has done a nice job," said Mark, who watched Portland win its first playoff game this year. "My take on the team was that they were very solid, with nobody really a superstar. But they have a lot of talented kids that really play well together."
Mark Novara, who joked that Portland was the best team he saw play this year next to Kingsford, says the Red Raiders "look like a U.P. team."
"On offense, they really want to run the ball," Novara added. "The quarterback is very good, and they have a really tall receiver that is very good, so they can hurt you with the pass.
"Defensively (with 10 senior starters), I was really impressed by the linebackers and just how physical the unit is."
Portland (12-1) will be up against a West Catholic team (10-3) powered by a 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher. The Raiders reached the finals by recovering from an 11-point deficit to beat Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 28-23 in the semifinals.