By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS – Muskegon Heights football coach Tommy Elliott said he believes his team should be awarded a forfeit victory because Muskegon Catholic called off Friday night’s game.

But MCC officials say they based their decision on a warning from law enforcement officials about an unspecified “safety threat,” and they don’t believe they should have to accept a forfeit.LSJ Logo incert

The game was supposed to be played at 7 p.m. on Friday at Phillips Field in Muskegon Heights.

Muskegon Heights Athletic Director Glen Metcalf said he heard from MCC Athletic Director Jason Stariha late Friday afternoon, indicating that Muskegon Catholic officials were cancelling the game because they didn’t believe it was safe for their fans to attend a game at Muskegon Heights.

“Basically because they refused to come over, we’re going to accept the win as a forfeit,” Elliott said. “We’re quite sure they are going to call (the Michigan High School Athletic Association) and ask to have the game wiped off each other’s schedule, but we’re going to petition to have the game called a forfeit.”

Muskegon Catholic Head of School Rob Bridges issued the following statement:

“This afternoon, our team was prepared and excited to play the game. However, late this afternoon, local law enforcement contacted me with new and specific information about a safety threat for tonight’s game, along with a strong recommendation not to play the game tonight.

“As we have said very consistently, student safety is always our top priority. Based on the information received, it was clear that we could not put our students and community in an unsafe situation.

“We shared our decision with the administration of Muskegon Heights, and respectfully asked them to reschedule the game at their field or ours. For a variety of reasons, they were not able to and considered the game a forfeit.

“We will be strongly appealing the forfeit loss to the state athletic association.”

It was widely assumed that MCC’s decision was related to a shooting that took place earlier in the day.

A man was shot around 1:30 p.m. at Amsterdam and Ninth Street in Muskegon Heights. He died about two hours later, according to news reports.

That shooting comes five days after a shooting at East Park Manor in Muskegon Heights, when four people were shot, one fatally.

But rumors were also flying around the Internet that threats had supposedly been made on Facebook against white people entering Muskegon Heights.

Elliott said it was his understanding that MCC officials were acting on the advice of the Muskegon Police Department. Muskegon Catholic Central is located in the city of Muskegon.

“I’m not exactly sure what they were basing their decision on,” Elliott told Local Sports Journal. “They said they were instructed by the Muskegon Police Department (to cancel) because they didn’t believe we could provide a safe environment.”

“They were willing to play tomorrow, but that’s too late for me.”

MCC officials offered to make the game up on their field at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, according to Metcalf. The MCC statement indicated that the Crusaders would play a makeup at either site.

Muskegon Heights officials rejected the Saturday makeup idea because several coaches and players would not be available due to work and holiday commitments, according to Metcalf.

Elliott said he considers the game a forfeit, particularly since his team had its pregame dinner and had taken the field for warmups.

“They made the decision not to come over before talking to anyone at Muskegon Heights,” said Elliott, who added that the Muskegon Heights Police Department had planned to have extra security on hand for the game.

“We totally disagree with their decision. Heights and Catholic have been playing this game for 17 years, and not one time has an MCC fan had a problem attending or leaving a game. To make this decision based on something that happened in the community is not fair to either team.”