By Tom Kendra
But without any Muskegon-area teams taking part in the festivities, it’s like Christmas without snow, Easter without eggs or the Fourth of July without your drunk uncle setting off his latest batch of Indiana fireworks way too close to the kids.
It’s the first time in 10 years that the Muskegon area has not been represented in the 16-team finals field, resulting in a spike in volume at area leaf bag collection sites.
As for myself, I have spent the past couple of weeks (since Montague succumbed to Lansing Catholic in the Division 6 regional finals), working my way through Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
I’ve been stuck on depression until I started writing this column, which has proven to be extremely therapeutic and helped me progress to the acceptance stage – with the realization that sometimes it takes something bad to appreciate all the good. In other words, a year of emptiness simply magnifies the accomplishments of our area teams over the years.
Muskegon has been ridiculed in some parts for its inability to win in the state finals, when the Big Reds should be praised for making it there practically every year.
In the eight-year stretch from 2012 to 2019, Muskegon made it to the state championship game seven times – yes, seven out of eight years! Rather than focusing on the victory over Farmington Hill Harrison in 2017 as the only championship, how about we remember that 2015 was the only season in that stretch that didn’t finish at Ford Field.
Muskegon Catholic Central won four state titles in a row from 2013 to 2016, continuing its habit of winning state title games. The Crusaders are 12-3 in championship games, including wins in 10 of their last 11 finals.
MCC has won 12 state titles since the playoffs began in 1975, which is tied for the second most in the state. What’s interesting about that is the leading school (Farmington Harrison, with 13) and the school that is tied for second (Detroit dePorres) don’t exist any more – so the Crusaders have a chance to move to the top of that list in the coming years.
Montague and Oakridge (three titles each) and Ravenna (four titles) have all made the West Michigan Conference proud, with the most recent championship being Montague’s in the 2020 Covid year – which actually came in January of 2021.
The Wildcats spoiled their fans during an eight-year stretch from 2004 to 2011, making it at least to the third round of the playoffs each of those years. They made it at least to the semifinals five straight years from 2005 to 2009, with championships in 2008 and 2009.
Finally, there is the ultimate rags-to-riches story in Mona Shores. What the Sailors proved in back-to-back title runs in 2019 and 2020 is the need for kids to repeatedly deliver clutch plays in key moments to keep advancing.
I counted nine playoff games in those two years that Shores easily could have lost if not for Brady Rose and the boys digging deep and finding a way to win – Midland, Portage Northern, Walled Lake Western and Detroit King in 2019 and Forest Hills Central, Caledonia, East Lansing, Traverse City Central and Warren DeLaSalle in the 2020 season.
I’m dredging up all of these memories to cheer people up and put things in perspective.
Let me close by reminding us all of 2008, the greatest high school football season by any one county in Michigan history. That was the fall that Muskegon County, with less than 1 percent of the state’s population, won exactly 50 percent of the state’s eight football titles – with Muskegon, Oakridge, Montague and Muskegon Catholic all hoisting the hardware.
That incredible show of force led to the best lead my buddy Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press ever wrote:
“Welcome to The Muskegon Invitational, formerly known as the state high school football finals.”
This “Year Without Ford Field” has made me even more thankful, and grateful, for all of the great programs and coaches we have here in little old Muskegon (but we better make it back next year or I’ll be really annoyed).
I guess it’s time to watch the Lions get stuffed, then actually be fully engaged around the Thanksgiving table for the first time in year and finally fall blissfully asleep on the couch without worrying about the driving conditions to Detroit.
Oh, and by the way, what the heck is Black Friday????