Monday, September 29, 2008

Why Dearborn High's Pioneers Matter To The KLAA

During the last two weeks it's become common knowledge to prep sports fans in metro Detroit that the MEGA Conference, a Wayne County-based power conference, will disband, and many an Oakland County HS athletic director is watching -- and taking notes, too.

It's no secret that athletic budgets, compatibility and competitive balance concerns are on the hot seat in the monster-like, 20+ school athletic conferences that make up the bulk of prep sports leagues in the three-county area. What garnered a lot of attention was the news that Dearborn High was a candidate to join the Kensington Lakes Activities Association (KLAA).

Here's some aspects to consider about why Dearborn, and not Garden City, became a serious candidate for the KLAA.

Parker's A No-Go: It doesn't appear the recently-completed but yet-to-be opened Howell Parker High School will open anytime soon. In fact, it appears the Howell School District cannot open the building at all due to serious budget constraints and a possible miscalculation of population growth in the community. The fact that the district is negotiating a movie contract deal to use the school as a movie set tells you all there is to know about the possibility Parker opens anytime soon.

Garden City Enrollment: The monstrous schools in the KLAA and Garden City are a mismatch. Albeit a fine community with much to offer any league, Garden City would struggle to match up with the expanding populations in Hartland, Brighton, Lakeland, Milford and South Lyon. Dearborn is a still-teeming community with equal distribution among the three big schools, making Dearborn a better choice for a long-term membership.

Fordson - Dearborn Relations: In researching Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, I found a handful of instances when Dearborn High and Fordson didn't play a football game for many years at a time due to conflict between building/district administrators or coaches. In fact, Edsel Ford and Fordson shared the same track & field facility recently when Fordson was having renovations done to their iconic campus. A Dearborn city official told me off the record, "If anyone thinks that Fordson would have been offered to use Dearborn's track, they're delusional. The schools simply don't like one another." Dearborn Superintendent Brian Whiston had to unconditionally guarantee Fordson that the Dearborn game would be available to them before Dearborn could be allowed to seek a different league affiliation.

Royal Oak Made It Work: The two schools, Dearborn & Fordson, might not be a good fit to one another as league members. Now-closed Kimball and Dondero were in the Southeastern Michigan Association (SMA) and Metro Suburban Activities Association (MSAA) for many years and enjoyed almost 35 years of outstanding football rivalry without being in the same league, something that seems to befit Dearborn and Fordson. That was the genesis of the Oakland Activites Association (OAA), combining two leagues with competing schools from the same city in the same league, but it crushed the many local rivalries and enhancing just a chosen few. I mention Dondero because the Oaks used to a fierce Fordson rival when the Tractors and Oaks were in the old Border Cities League (BCL).

Therefore, just because geography makes more sense for Garden City to be in the KLAA, it might make the KLAA even better to have Dearborn in that league. Dearborn would make the KLAA a three-county conference and make for an outstanding cross-county game in many sports.

Former Detroit Tiger broadcaster Paul Carey told me he thought very highly of Ivy Loftin's Dondero football teams because they played Monroe, Dearborn Fordson, Wyandotte, Highland Park, Grosse Pointe HS -- a powerhouse before the North-South days -- and finally, after the rigors of the BCL, the season-ending game with crosstown Kimball. Conversely, place Dearborn in the KLAA today. They would have league games against the three Livonia schools (all playoff teams in '07), Wayne Memorial, the upstart Rockets from John Glenn and crossovers with schools like Howell, Milford, Lakeland or Novi. To top it off, the Pioneers could end the season with Dearborn Fordson.

That's a football schedule.

Edsel Ford Factor: What does concern me is the chance that Dearborn and Edsel Ford would stop playing one another -- that's not good, but in a three-school town, these kind of concerns come up quite a bit. I'm not certain there's a solution, either. On the other hand, because two of the three schools are moving to a manageable conference, this allows Edsel Ford and Fordson to play DC's Falcons a bit more in all sports.

It was great the past two seasons seeing the big crowd for the Fordson-DC football game although I'm sure the Falcons would have liked a different result. It would be my opinion that a matchup of Milford and Dearborn, or Dearborn and Catholic Central, would be of interest to prep fans, because it's the type of matchup that isn't seen much these days, thanks to the monster power conferences that have seemed to have outlived their usefulness.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, available at and other fine retailers.

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