2021 11-man Coach of the Year: Scott Syrjala

High School Sports Zone

WEST ISHPEMING, Mich. (WJMN) – Scott Syrjala knows what it takes to make it to the top of the mountain. For 15 years he spent time as an assistant coach under hall of fame head coach Jeff Olson for Ishpeming.

Together, they lead the Hematites to state titles in 2012 and 2013 and a runner-up finish in 2010 and 2014. In the Summer of 2015, Syrjala decided it was time for a new chapter.

“I was able to spend a lot of time under him on his staff and kind of his right-hand man for many years,” Syrjala said. “I knew that they were going to be really good and probably win a state championship. It wasn’t easy leaving those kids. There were absolutely some great kids on that Ishpeming team and it was really hard. It wasn’t just the kids, I didn’t have a bad job. I liked where I worked, I liked who I coached with. I admire the heck and respect the heck out of Jeff Olson and I still talk to him to this day.”

Syrjala took the job as the head coach of his alma mater, the Westwood Patriots.

“When the job came open I wasn’t quite sure,” Syrjala said. “But at some point, I wanted to step off of Jeff’s coattails and just try to bring on a new challenge for myself.”

Syrjala’s presence was felt right away. In the seven years since Syrjala took over, the Patriots have made the playoffs six times with their best year in 2017 when the team finished with an 8-1 record.

“You really try to break it down like: ‘Okay, that’s success in my eyes,'” Syrjala said. “That’s telling us that we’re consistent with what we do. That making the playoffs is now the norm. When you get to those two or three losses and you start getting on the border of not making or making the playoffs then something is a miss. So, our expectation level has gone up.”

In 2021, Syrjala and his coaching staff have taken the program to new heights. This season the Patriots captured their first district title in program history.

“We played a tough Charlevoix team, too,” Syrjala said. “We were able to squeak out a victory. The way we won that, to me, you have to give Charlevoix credit, they came back and they made some big plays. For us to get a stop on a two-point conversion, it made me proud, it really did.”

Despite falling to Traverse City St. Francis in the regional semifinals, Syrjala says the program continues to head in the right direction.

“One of the things that really hurt me of course when we lost to Traverse City, but just seeing our kid’s faces and going up to their parents and hugging them after that game,” Syrjala said. “That tells me that we’re doing something right and that it meant something to these kids and to this community. Because there weren’t only tears in our player’s eyes, there were tears in my eyes, their parents, and the community members, friends, and things like that. They know the work that this program has put in to try and make it successful and try to be competitive. When you fall short of something like that it hurts. So, that’s what we’ve tried to do these last seven years and it seems like we’re on the right track.”

Because of his leadership, Syrjala is the 2021 Sports Zone 11-man Coach of the Year.

“I’m honored and I’m humbled by it,” Syrjala said. “But I think without my coaches and without my players buying in, we wouldn’t have had the success that we’ve had and obviously, I wouldn’t have been chosen as coach of the year. So, I appreciate the help and support that our coaches and players have given me as well.”

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