Donald Huff Awarded the Sparky Hale Award

By Marty Kovarik – Bear Facts Editor, May 2011

At the recent convention, the Michigan Bear Hunters Association bestowed it’s highest honor, the Sparky Hale Award, upon the late Donald Huff. Don passed away at bear camp in Baraga County last fall, with his family, and doing one of the things he loved the most. Accepting the award on behalf of his grandfather, was his best friend and grandson, 15-year-old Lance Cottrell.

Don pulled a 32-year stint with the road commission, and was on the Otsego County Parks and Recreation Board and the Pigeon River Advisory Council. But his real life was spent outside.

“My dad had a passion for the outdoors and it was his entire life,” said his daughter Dawn Cottrell. “He would do anything he could to be outside. It’s kind of ironic we lost him at bear camp.”

That morning Don wasn’t feeling well, and his last words to his family were, “I’ll catch up with you guys later.” According to Dawn, nothing could keep Don from enjoying the outdoor world that he so dearly loved. “He was a strong man, and even though he had health issues, he stayed outside,” she said. “And he was an amazing “Grampa” to Lance and Liza. He could not go a couple of days without talking to them.”

After having lung problems, Don would still go to the river fly fishing with an oxygen tank strapped in a backpack that his daughter made for him out of some blue jeans. He would not give up his precious outdoor life. Don always remained very close to his three brothers, six sisters, his daughter and his grandchildren. The whole family shared Don’s passion for bear hunting.

Perhaps the person whom Don influenced the most though, was the young man who had the courage to accept the Sparky Hale Award for him in front of over 300 people, Lance.

“Lance hunted with him since he could walk, said Dawn. At two and a half years old he would sit all day in a blind with his Grampa. Dad got to be a part of Lance’s first bear too. That was really, really, really cool,” she exclaimed.

Lance said it took a lot of courage to stand up there and accept the award. “He was my best friend,” said Lance. “He took me hunting and fishing all the time.”

Don and Lance hunted deer, bear, turkey, ruffed goose and even guided for elk together. And as far as fishing goes, Lance says they fished for about every species that swims in our area. “He always went out of his way for his family. You can’t really put it into words,” said Lance. And Don’s time with his family and his influence on them to enjoy the outdoor life will live on. Although he is only a freshman, Lance is looking into going to college to be a wildlife or fisheries biologist. He also says he plans to get his own kids and grand kids involved in hunting and fishing. Finally, Lance said, about the night he accepted the award for his Grandfather, “I’d like to thank everybody there that night for all of their support. I’m not sure exactly how to say it.”

The Sparky Hale Award is right where it should be, with the mount of Lance’s first bear.

Sparky Hale Awards

Established in 1952, the Sparky Hale Award was created to honor former MBHA vice president Sparky Hale. Hale died in a deer hunting accident in 1950. The award, MBHA’s greatest award, is meant to recognize those who have made long and outstanding contributions to the MBHA and bear conservation. The award is not given out every year, but only when someone goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Although most Sparky Hale recipients are MBHA members, others have been deserving of the Award. For instance, Arnold Welch, founder of the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation; Rick Story, former U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance vice president; along with Joe and Nancy Hudson, founders of the Upper Peninsula Bear Houndsmen Association, have all been presented with the award.