By Steve Gunn
MSUKEGON HEIGHTS – The Muskegon Police Department reportedly shared information with Muskegon Catholic school officials about a threat of violence at Friday’s scheduled football game at Muskegon Heights High School.
But Muskegon Heights school officials said they were never informed of the threat by Muskegon city police. They also said, based on their knowledge, that the Muskegon Heights Police Department never heard from Muskegon police about any security threat, either.
Without hearing the same warning from police, Muskegon Heights school officials disagreed with MCC’s decision to call off the game.
“I talked to the Muskegon Catholic superintendent, and he said he was told by the Muskegon Police Department that they shouldn’t play the game,” said Muskegon Heights Athletic Director Glen Metcalf. “That’s all I was told.
“If you make that type of decision, what’s the reason behind it? Shouldn’t (the Muskegon Police Department) be calling the school that’s hosting the game and explaining why? I heard everything second-hand, from their superintendent and athletic director.”
When an agreement couldn’t be reached about making up the game, Muskegon Heights Coach Tommy Elliott said he wanted state athletic officials to declare it a forfeit in favor of his team.
MCC officials say they want the game negated from both team’s schedules, so it wouldn’t count as a victory or a loss for either side.
Metcalf said he would confer with Elliott on Monday, then discuss the situation with the Michigan High School Athletic Association on Tuesday. He said he’s not sure if he will seek a forfeit.
The MHSAA will determine whether the game should be a forfeit or simply wiped from the teams’ schedules. It can’t be made up because both teams have full schedules for the rest of the season.
If the game is removed from the schedules, both teams would be allowed to qualify for the postseason playoffs with five wins rather than the standard six.
In the meantime, Muskegon Heights school officials remain perplexed about why the police didn’t give them the same warning about safety concerns that they gave Muskegon Catholic officials.
Metcalf said, based on his understanding, the Muskegon Police Department never informed the Muskegon Heights Police Department about the threat, either.
“If the police chief had come over and said he had concerns about safety, I would have asked for his advice, and I would have followed that recommendation,” Metcalf said. “I was never given that opportunity.
“I feel bad for both schools. The ball was dropped somewhere.”
Elliott said it was hard to take the security warning seriously when it came second hand from MCC, and his school never received a similar warning from any area police officials.
“Whoever (MCC officials) were talking to at the Muskegon Police Department, that person didn’t talk to the Heights PD,” Elliott said. “How can they make a determination if the area is safe if they haven’t even bothered to check with the Heights police department?”
Apparently discussions had taken place earlier in the week between officials from the two schools, based on concerns about a multiple shootings last weekend in Muskegon Heights.
The Muskegon Heights Police Department had already contacted the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police and arranged to have extra security for the game, according to officials.
Concern mounted Friday afternoon when a man was found shot to death in Muskegon Heights, within a mile of the high school and the football stadium.
But the decision to cancel the game was apparently made when someone from the city of Muskegon Police Department contacted Muskegon Catholic Head of Schools Rob Bridges in the afternoon, warning him about credible but non-specific threats of violence at the football game.
The police official urged MCC to call off the game, Bridges said.
Bridges told Local Sports Journal that he shared the information he was given with Muskegon Heights school officials.
“I shared with them the threats about the game, but I think they wanted (to hear it from the police) themselves,” Bridges said.
Muskegon Heights school officials had already contacted their own city’s police department earlier in the afternoon, after hearing of the nearby shooting, and were informed that it was safe to play, according to Metcalf.
Both Metcalf and Elliott stressed that their own families attend games, and they would never gamble with their safety.
“I have a 10-year-old daughter with brain cancer,” Elliott said. “I wouldn’t allow my wife and daughter to attend the game if it were unsafe. We are fathers and parents first. If I thought it was unsafe I would not let my own family attend.”
After Muskegon Catholic officials informed their Muskegon Heights counterparts that they were not going to play the game, Heights officials allowed Elliott to respond in the manner he felt was appropriate.
Elliott said MCC officials initially wanted to play on Saturday at Catholic’s Kehren Stadium or a neutral site, then offered to play on the Heights’ field on Saturday at 1 p.m.
He said he declined the offer to play on Saturday because at least three assistant coaches and several players were scheduled to work and would not have been able to participate.
Elliott said he told MCC officials that his team would take the field for warmups, and if the Crusaders didn’t show up, he would consider it a forfeit.
“My question is, what’s the difference between playing on Friday night or Saturday afternoon?” Elliott said.
MCC varsity football coach Steve Czerwon said the Crusaders were willing to play at Heights on Saturday in the daylight.
Elliott did not understand that logic.
“The shooting that took place Friday happened at 1:30 in the afternoon,” Elliott said. “If someone is going to shoot someone, they’re going to do it regardless of what time of day it is.”
“If you don’t think there’s a difference (from a safety perspective) between day and night, I don’t know what to tell you,” Czerwon said. “Why do they think they play day games in the City of Detroit?”
Czerwon said he thought it was irresponsible of Muskegon Heights school officials to leave it up Elliott to handle the situation.
He said it’s nothing personal against Elliott – he simply believes that school administrators should make safety decisions, not athletic coaches.
“Their superintendent and athletic director both deferred to Elliott as far as moving the game, not moving the game or whether to play at all,” Czerwon said.
“The safety of 3,000 people should not be my responsibility as a football coach. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that they would let their football coach make the determination of whether or not it was safe for people to attend.”