By Sue Moore
Each year a small committee of former Vicksburg coaches and athletes gathers letters of recommendation from the community and the school’s coaches on candidates to be honored with election to the athletic Hall of Fame.
Over 200 athletes and coaches have been honored since the Hall’s inception in 1989. They often come from the ranks of record holders and leaders in the classroom and on the field. 2016 marks an unusual choice in the person of Lyle Harrison, a high school janitor for 37 ½ years. He worked for the coaches and teachers, sold tickets for basketball, football games and even wrestling. His son, Michael Harrison, is also in the Hall of Fame for his prowess on the football field, breaking the Wolverine Conference rushing record in 1974.
“Whenever they needed me, I tried to be there. I tried to help our athletes go in the right direction with a little counseling. I loved working with the kids. We had great teachers too.” Harrison ticked off a list of the ones he worked closely with: Ed Knapp, Dennis Patzer, Tom Horn, Jon Kachniewicz and Bob Roberts, to name a few.
“My wife Katie and I cleaned up under the stands of the football field after every home game. I got 25 cents an hour and she just volunteered. It would take us five hours or more to pick up all the debris. It was great when they put in the new stands on the field because they weren’t open underneath, as there was a lot less floating down below,” he said.
Harrison was raised on a farm near Vicksburg, graduating in 1950. He was drafted and spent three years in Germany where met his wife, Katie (Katrina). She was from Hungary and spoke four different languages. “We returned to Vicksburg in 1954 where she worked for several American families. She became a citizen in 1955.” Harrison originally started part-time at Sunset Elementary from 12 to 4 a.m., while working full time from 3 to 11 p.m. in Kalamazoo. He retired in 1995 and has had a recent bout of cancer which is much better now, he said.
He remembers Mercer Munn, whom the high school gymnasium is named after, with great fondness. “He was a wonderful person, attending so many games when he didn’t even have a student playing. We bought insurance from him and a few months when I couldn’t make the payments, he would dip into his own pocket until we could reimburse him.”
Harrison also remembers another long-time janitor for whom the high school football field was named after, Roy Canavan. “He was the boiler operator in the Old El when I started there as a freshman. He had a great way with kids. I went out for football that year and we played with no face masks and leather helmets. Monte Charles, who became an All-American in college, was the quarterback. He creamed me one time and that was the end of my football career.”