By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal

Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System has hired a familiar face for its varsity football coach.

Tony Blankenship will return to the job after leading the Tigers to a 4-4 record last season. He returns to a new environment, which is a newly-created charter school system.

Athletic director Glen Metcalf named Blankenship the head football coach on Thursday, with the first official practice set for Monday.

“With everything that has happened to Muskegon Heights schools, I really wanted to bring Tony back,” said Metcalf, who also hired Kimberly Simmons as the volleyball coach. “Tony would make a smooth transition and knows the young men. I told him I will support him 100 percent so our young men have a quality experience on the field.”

Blankenship expects a small turnout of less than 20 players. He will start the season with an inexperienced squad, including the loss of at least 16 starters from both sides of the ball. At least 13 Heights players – seven on varsity – have enrolled at Muskegon High School.

Metcalf is not sure if the school will field a jayvee football team. It will depend on how many players turn out starting next week.

Big challenges await Blankenship and he knows it.

“It’s the unknown,” the 41-year-old Blankenship said. “I don’t know how many kids I’ll have or how much experience well have.

“Last season ended with such high expectations and now we’re coming back and knowing we have to build with a lot of inexperienced football players. You hope to put them in position to be successful at a decent level.”

Blankenship, who will be on staff in a position working with students and parents at the new charter school, has most of his coaching staff lined up. Many of those assistants worked with him last season.

Heights has six games scheduled against Harper Woods, Manistee, Gary Bowman Academy, Muskegon Catholic, Melvindale Academy and Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. Metcalf said he has called each school and left messages to verify that those games will still be played.

The Tigers are hoping to fill Week 1, Week 2 and Week 4 after Oakridge, Muskegon and Inkster canceled games that previously were under contract.

”Because of our situation, and losing our kids, I’m hoping that we can find some charter schools,” Blankenship said about filling out the schedule. “That would be fair competition.”

The Tigers, who had only five seniors on last year’s squad, won their last two games and played all opponents tough except for a 50-12 loss to Muskegon.

This season will begin with a new school and new hopes on the football field.

“We’ll try to get this rebuilt,” Blankenship said. “That is my motivation. I am excited for the ball players who are here and have a desire to play football. They deserve an opportunity to play and enjoy the game at the highest level. I look forward to coaching them.”