By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – It’s common knowledge that Muskegon High School usually has a great football team.
Muskegon has a grand total of 799 victories, dating back to 1895. That ranks first on the all-time Michigan list and 10th in the nation.
The Big Reds could reach the magical 800-win mark this Friday when they host Grandville at 7 p.m. at Hackley Stadium in their first home game of the season.
Muskegon collected victory No. 799 last Friday with an impressive 42-14 victory over a highly ranked Grand Rapids Christian squad.
Junior quarterback Kalil Pimpleton led the way, rushing for 103 yards and a touchdown and threw for 81 yards and two scores.
The win took the sting out of a close opening week loss to Detroit Catholic. It also put the current crop of Big Reds on the cusp of making history.
There have been thousands of Muskegon football players over the years, but very few have had the chance to to secure such a landmark victory.
It takes some time for a high school program to record 100 victories, even with program as successful as Muskegon’s. It was 10 years ago when the Big Reds beat Reeths-Puffer 36-20 to collect their 700th win.
“This is an opportunity for our players to see what this really is, what it’s really all about,” said Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield. “You can tell them that they are part of one of the nation’s great high school football programs, but this really solidifies that they are part of something special.”
Big Red football has been played in three different centuries, dating back to 1895, and in all those years the team has only recorded 15 losing seasons.
The astounding numbers tell the story: In 121 seasons Muskegon has posted a 799-275-43 record with 17 state championships (12 Mythical, 5 MHSAA) and 23 conference titles, according to Pesch.
The Big Reds played their first game in 1895, losing to Ferris Business College. They rebounded from that defeat and finished the season with a 3-2 record, according to Michigan High School Athletic Association historian Ron Pesch.
The highlights of that first season were a pair of wins over Grand Haven, which prompted the Big Reds to declare themselves “Champions of Muskegon and Ottawa Counties.”
The school’s first undefeated season was 1904, when it went 8-0. That turned out to be the first of many amazing seasons.
Coach Robert Zuppke arrived in 1906 and posted a 29-4-2 record in four seasons. In 1907 the school started playing its home games at what is now Hackley Stadium. Zuppke went on to lead the University of Illinois football team to four national championships.
The 1912 Muskegon squad put itself on the map by opening the season with a 216-0 victory over Hastings. Talk about running up the score!
The Big Reds won their first three mythical state titles in 1920, 1921 and 1923 under coach J. Francis Jacks.
Three more titles followed in 1926-28 under Coach Leo Redmond, who came on board following Jacks’ sudden passing in 1925.
According to a written account by Pesch, “The 1927 squad rates among the finest turned out by the school. Led by all state players Bill McCall, Mart Westerman and John VanWesten, the team tallied 445 points, while allowing only a single touchdown in ten games.”
“During Redmond’s twenty-two years at the helm, the Big Reds posted a 156-29-13 mark against some of the finest squads from Michigan and the Midwest. Without a gridiron playoff system in place, the team racked up a total of seven mythical state crowns.”
“In 1945, Muskegon faced rival Muskegon Heights in a season ending showdown of the undefeated. The Tigers earned the state crown with a 7-6 victory in what many consider the greatest prep gridiron match in Michigan history.”
Coach Harry Potter took over the Big Reds in 1947 and posted a 57-42-8 record in 10 seasons. His 1951 squad, which featured future Michigan State and NFL star quarterback Earl Morrall, won a mythical state title.
Muskegon posted undefeated seasons in 1964-65 under Coach Roger Chiaverini, then won its 12th mythical state title under Coach Larry Harp in 1971.
Coach Dave Taylor led Muskegon to its first state playoff appearance in 1985 and its first two Class A state titles in the playoff era in 1986 and 1989.
Tony Annese, the current coach at Ferris State University, added MHSAA Division 2 titles in 2004, 2006 and 2008 to bring the program’s total to 17 state titles.