By Jim Moyes
A meeting scheduled for Oct. 24 could see as many as seven or possibly eight schools that are current members of the OK conference form their own conference. That could leave three Muskegon schools in limbo as soon as the 2024-25 school year.
Joe Stoner, the outspoken superintendent of Sparta Schools has stated that Sparta, Cedar Springs, Lowell, Coopersville, Kenowa Hills, Allendale and Greenville are likely to form their own conference as soon as next year, which could pose a scheduling nightmare for Muskegon, Reeths Puffer and Mona Shores. And isn’t it fate that four of the above schools were initially slated as soon as the next school year to be in the same league as the above three-named local schools?
I find it no coincidence that the four schools pitted to join our Muskegon trio in the proposed OK-Black next year (Greenville, Kenowa Hills, Lowell and Cedar Springs) are a combined 1-14 in competition versus our Muskegon area schools over the past five seasons. Only a 21-14 victory by Cedar Springs over Muskegon in 2021 prevented a complete whitewashing.
That leaves only Northview who has not followed suit (as yet) in joining the four above in the proposed OK-Black league for the 2024-25 season.
In order to get a more accurate understanding of this proposed exodus I called a couple of my old pals for their perspective of what may transpire. One was Mike Mack, who has been a part of athletics at Mona Shores as a coach and administrator for nearly a half-century. The other, the popular and highly successful basketball coach and current AD at Muskegon High, Keith Guy. The recently retired Mack was a little more outspoken than Guy as Keith is still active with his fellow OK member schools and would like to withhold his feelings until after the Oct. 24 meeting when decisions will likely be decided.
According to league bylaws; every four years the hierarchy in the OK-Mega conference plays ‘musical chairs’ with their conference schools in order to provide the best scenario as far as travel, enrollment, as well as attempting to provide competitive balance for each league, often that is an impossible endeavor. It appears the seven schools want to leave immediately and by-pass league rules that stipulate a school should give a two-year notice for any departure.
This did not please Mack.
“When you commit to the bylaws then you should stick to that commitment,” exclaimed the veteran Mack.
One thing that both Mack and Guy agreed on was that the OK leadership “has good people that are doing good things.” Both Mack and Keith are confident that the current leaders in the OK Mega Conference will do everything in their powers to insure fairness.
However, one cannot relish the near impossible task current OK Commissioner Dave Feenstra has in an attempt to satisfy all concerned with the possible exodus. To a lesser extent, Fruitport and Spring Lake also will be affected by this possible defection as Allendale is scheduled to join the proposed OK-Blue Conference for the 2024-25 season.
Joe Stoner stated that the biggest issue is travel. Huh? Both Mike Mack and I, as well as countless others are convinced that winning, or lack thereof, is the biggest issue.
“Everyone has their own agenda,” said Mack. “And looking out for what best fits their own schools and not the league. And let’s face it, everyone knows it’s football that wags the tail,” said Mack.
The OK conference goes all the way back to 1958, and due to population explosion, has seen numerous changes over the years. The one constant for the past few years is the OK-Red Division that includes East Kentwood, Rockford, West Ottawa, Jenison, Hudsonville, Grandville, Caledonia, and closer to home — Grand Haven.
To see how times have changed with the proliferation of suburban schools East Kenwood, which now boasts of an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, didn’t even exist as a school in 1958, nor was Jenison or Holland West Ottawa a four-year school in the late 1950s. Rockford, with more than 2,500 current enrollees was a much smaller Class B school as was Grandville. Hudsonville was Class C with only Grand Haven status quo with their current enrollment as a large Division 1 school.
It has always been an attempt by the leaders of the OK to see parity prevail but that has generally proved to be a thankless task. In leagues other than the competitive OK Red, there have been far too many total mismatches.
One could certainly have some empathy for the four schools who want no part of our Muskegon schools.
The Big Reds have won nine of the 10 matchups over a five-year span and have outscored their foes 453-95. Surely, Kenowa Hills wants no part of the Big Reds. They have lost games to Muskegon since the 2017 season by lopsided scores of 58-0, 72-14, and 54-0.
Both the Sailors and the Rockets have posted a combined 6-0 record since 2018 with an overall winning margin of an astounding 296 points scored to their opponents 90.
And Mr. Stoner said that travel is the biggest issue? Or is it they want no part of playing our Muskegon schools? Perhaps Mr. Stoner is still recovering from the embarrassing 64-9 whipping his Sparta team incurred to the Big Reds in the first game of last year’s playoffs.
To be fair, mismatches occur in many of the leagues and one has to look no further than the newly renovated West Michigan Conference.
Count me as one old salt that wasn’t in love with the idea of expanding the venerable WMC that dates back for more than 90 years.
North Muskegon and Whitehall are top-heavy favorites to go a perfect 9-0 during the regular season yet neither will face one another during the 2023 season.
The two longtime rivals have met 59 times over the years but not for the past two seasons when both ran the table in their respective WMC division. However, I don’t think the Norsemen are complaining. This Viking squad has a real chance to bring home a state title trophy in late November.
And one complaint I have never heard from those in the WMC over the many decades is a travel issue. Mr. Stoner implies that for one to travel from Greenville to Muskegon is a hardship. I have heard nary a peep from Oakridge or Ravenna reps over the years for making the journey annually from their school to Scottville, a much farther journey than it takes one to travel from Greenville to Muskegon.
I realize that we have heard this song before, but let’s hope this problem will be resolved to (most) everybody’s approval next week.
But good luck with that!