By Chuck Pleiness
@VoiceMIPrepZone on Twitter
Tedaro France II remembers vividly how he felt when he received a full-ride football scholarship from Central Michigan University.
The tears were a mix of joy and sorrow.
His unhappiness was due to one thing: His basketball career was over.
“Basketball was the game I loved,” France said. “That’s my first love. People in town know that basketball is my first love.
“Football got my college paid for, and I was blessed to play in the CFL (Canadian Football League),” France added. “Hoops is in my heart. That’s why I coach this team.”
On Saturday at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University, France guided the school from which he graduated to its first boys basketball championship after downing Ludington, 45-36, in the Class B title game.
“Basketball has been my passion ever since I was a child,” France said. “I love to teach and give back. I’m here to help these kids through this game.
“I love this school,” France added. “I love this town, and to be able to coach here is just so special.”
This didn’t happen overnight for France.
In his first season, 2008-09, the Rockets went 6-15.
“I had to cut three kids that started the year before just because a new coach comes in and expects you to weight train, skill train, practice hard, and they weren’t used to that,” France said. “The hardest thing I’ve had to teach these kids was how to win.”
The next season, New Haven went 10-12.
In his third year, the Rockets finished 17-8 and won a district championship.
“They saw that working hard got results,” France said. “Then it became fun. Then it became a culture and they expected it. Seeing it grow from that first year 'til now has just been a blessing.
"To just be able to coach in my hometown and not only coach but be able to teach life lessons.”
In that fourth year, New Haven won a regional championship.
“I remember that first season we played (Warren-Mott) at home, and at one point, it was like we were down 65-13. It was tough knowing the story here. I was just trying to get these kids to play.
“The kids came each day and gave it their all,” France continued. “That’s all I want. I want them to play hard. We knew at a point we weren’t going to win the league and we weren’t that good, but they came each day and practiced hard and played hard. Getting through those times got us to where we are now. If we’re up in games, the kids still play hard. They practice hard. That was instilled that first year, and it has carried over.
“You can be 6-15 or 25-0 and we’re still going to work hard,” France added.
France graduated in 1997 and lost in a regional final each of his last two seasons. His senior year, the team’s only loss was in the regional championship.
Each of the two seasons prior, the Rockets had fallen in a state quarterfinal, each year to Detroit Henry Ford.
“I was more concerned about that quarterfinal game than getting here,” France said of the trip to the Breslin Center for the semifinals.
“I was more worked up than playing here. Before that we used to be stuck at the regional finals for so many years. We get over that and then we get stuck at quarters for four years. Finally getting over that hump was so great to see.”
France admits he’s a tough coach and expects a lot out of his players on and off the court.
“I’ve pushed them to be the best that they can be, but in the end, it’s for them,” France said. “I want them to come back and thank me for being tough and not letting them slide or take breaks.
“Each day I wake up and make my bed,” France added. “I don’t have to. No one is going to see it, but it’s the small things like that that’ll teach you to be disciplined each day. If I walk out of the gym and tell you to do two sprints, are you going to do two sprints or are you going to jog because I’m not there? I tell them to wake up each day and make their bed because that shows we’re going to do the small things each day to be successful.”
France was led to tears again on Saturday, but these were all of joy on the court as he led his alma mater to a Class B boys basketball state championship.