By DOUG DONNELLY
Sylvester DuPree Jr. was never one to draw attention to himself at school, in practice or on the football field. But, at home, often when only his little brothers were around, he’d recite a cheer.
“You can’t stop Sylvester Dupree;
You can’t stop Sylvester DuPree;
La da da da;
You can’t stop Sylvester Dupree.”
It was a fun and playful cheer that the oldest son of Sylvester and Annie Mae DuPree probably sang at home and not anywhere else. His younger brothers, budding football players themselves, especially got a kick out of it.
“I was 6 or 7 when I first heard it,” said Tony, one of the eight DuPree brothers. “He’s the only player I know of that had his own cheer.”
Sylvester, who passed away this week at the age of 68, started the DuPree athletic legacy at Whiteford, one that runs long and deep and stretches across an unbelievable seven decades.
It was Sylvester’s 54-yard touchdown run against Summerfield on October 23, 1969 that was the first for the family, which today counts 150 career touchdowns by a DuPree at Whiteford. He was the first DuPree to score for the Whiteford varsity basketball team. The family has since combined for more than 6,000 points more points over the years.
He was also the first in the family to run track, another sport that the family members have shined at over the years.
It was Sylvester that started it all.
“He was the football trendsetter,” Tony said. “He set a standard on and off the field. One would never have known the adversity he faced because he never showed it on or off the field. He just played hard.”
Sylvester came up to the Bobcat varsity as a sophomore, scoring three touchdowns that first season with the Bobcats. By his senior year, he rushed for 945 yards, led the River Raisin Conference in scoring and rushing and was honorable mention All-State.
“He was a football player,” said of his Bobcat teammates and fellow 1972 Whiteford graduate, Mark Draper. “We ran the triple-option on offense, and he was basically our go-to guy. He’d run people over or run right by them. He was just as fast with football pads on as he was with them off.”
With Sylvester leading the way, several of his brothers and several in the second generation had great success at Whiteford.
“Nothing stopped Sylvester from paving the way for his younger brothers to play football at Whiteford,” Tony said.
Sylvester finished his career with 17 total touchdowns. Booker, Ernie, Warren, Tony, Scott and Chris followed. Tony had 30 career touchdowns and set a Monroe County Region record at the time with 1,442 yards in eight games in 1982. Chris was the youngest of the brothers, scoring 35 career touchdowns and rushing for 1,103 yards in 1988. Combined, the family scored 146 career touchdowns.
The most recent DuPree to play at Whiteford is Jonathan, who earned all-league recognition in 2014.
On the basketball floor, the family has enjoyed equal amounts of success. Everett – the only one of the brothers not to play varsity football – and his sons Josh and Jake all scored more than 1,000 career points. Mariah DuPree, Scott’s daughter, was an All-Region girls basketball player and leading scorer on the team her senior year.
Draper said Sylvester was a reluctant leader, but a leader, nonetheless.
“He was quiet. He was never in trouble and never wanted to be the center of attention,” Draper said. “But, he was someone we all looked up to because we knew we could depend on him.”
Sylvester Sr. moved his family to Ottawa Lake from Mississippi in the 1960s, installing a strong Christian upbringing in all 13 their children. They have made a lasting impact on the community and Whiteford schools.
Jack Luettke has spent most of his life around Whiteford athletics and football. Oddly enough, Sylvester is the only one of the DuPree brothers he didn’t coach. He did get a to watch him, however.
“I know he was a heck of a football player, very strong,” Luettke said. “They were all great football players. I love all of them.”
Tony says he and his brothers owe a lot to Sylvester, who paved the way for the family
“No one could have asked for a better role model,” said Tony. “His wisdom, his advice, his mentorship … him being our big brother was a blessing.”