Tom Kendra feature artCarly Simon wasn’t thinking about Muskegon-area high school football when she stepped up to a microphone back in 1977 and belted out the biggest hit of her career: “Nobody Does it Better.”

But that song has been stuck in my head ever since about 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, when Mona Shores completed one of the gutsiest, pulling victory-out-of-the-jaws-of-defeat comeback wins ever – to wrap up a truly amazing day for Muskegon County football and lead to an unofficial Facebook record for both volume of posts and number of statuses containing all capital letters and excessive exclamation points.

I say: KEEP ’EM COMING!!!!!!!!!!

No sense being all grown-up and calm and subdued and boring at a moment like this.  Are you (bleeping) kidding me?  There are three schools within a 4-mile radius of each other – Mona Shores in Division 2, Muskegon in Division 3 and Muskegon Catholic in Division 8 – all competing for football state championships this upcoming weekend at Ford Field in downtown Detroit.  ##231takesoverthe313rd)

The $64,000 question is: Why?

Muskegon County was the buzz of prep football back in 2008 when, despite representing just 1.7 percent of the state’s population, captured 50 percent of the state’s high school football championships – leading Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press to re-name the high school football finals, “The Muskegon Invitational.”  Here we are a few years later and Muskegon is on the verge of (nearly) doing it again.

So, why is the Muskegon area so good at high school football?

The standard answer to that question is two-fold: great coaching and tough kids.

Certainly, those are part of the answer.

This area is fortunate to have the right man in place at all three remaining schools – Mona Shores’ Matt Koziak has brought the necessary swagger to nurture gridiron success at his alma mater, Muskegon’s Shane Fairfield understands the unique challenges of coaching and mentoring inner-city kids and Muskegon Catholic’s Steve Czerwon has built on and improved an already rock-solid foundation.  Anyone who thinks any of these schools needs a different football coach is encouraged to stop reading immediately and move out of Muskegon County.

As for tough kids, it’s hard to get much tougher than Dom Shermeta, Rowland Sharp and Jaeden McPherson.  But I have to believe that there are tough kids in this world that weren’t born at Hackley Hospital. (at least a few?)

The point is, the reason for Muskegon’s perennial excellence goes deeper.  My conclusion, after 26 years of covering Muskegon-area football in print and on the air, is that much of the reason for our year-in-, year-out excellence can be attributed to the location and size of our city.

Muskegon is three hours from professional sports and a good couple of hours from Division I college sports.  That distance makes high school football a bigger deal than in towns like Ann Arbor, Lansing and even Kalamazoo, where Friday night football is sometimes thought of as a nuisance before the college games on Saturday afternoon. (Exhibit A: Ann Arbor Pioneer)

Muskegon is also the perfect size to produce local rivalries. Smaller towns often have just one high school and bigger towns have too many schools to cultivate truly bitter rivalries.

For example, no Mona Shores football player ever ran an extra wind sprint or did an extra set of squats with visions of the Kenowa Hills game in his head. But just the thought of Muskegon or Muskegon Catholic will keep that same Sailor working for an extra hour. MCC was rivals with Muskegon and Mona Shores for years, and while the school is smaller, the expectations and standards of the football program have not changed one iota.  The competition between these three schools have driven each program higher and higher.

I have been privileged to cover these three teams all season long.  Along with my broadcast partners at WMRR 101.7-FM in Muskegon, LT and the legendary Gene Young, we have done five Mona Shores games, four Muskegon High games and two Muskegon Catholic games (sorry, the Crusaders are just too darn good) over the past 13 weeks.

I still have plenty more “nuggets” to share on all three teams (you can accumulate quite a few stories in 26 years), and those will be coming out fast and furious when we broadcast the Muskegon Catholic and Mona Shores titles games on Friday and the Muskegon game on Saturday night.  Listen to us on 101.7 FM or online at or through the iHeart radio app.

Three games means plenty of research to do over the next three days, hopefully leaving at least a little bit of time for a few cold ones with the buddies on Wednesday night and turkey with the family on Thursday.

For now, I will close by combining the classic Carly Simon song that is reverberating in my head with the flood of Facebook posts in front of my eyes and say simply, that when it comes to high school football:

Baby, we’re the BEST!!!!!!