Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ravens Finding Kimball Legacy Tough To Fly Past

Eight months ago, I wrote within this blog's space about change. I watched change take place as a college student when Eastern Michigan University unceremoniously ditched their Huron identity in 1990-1991. Change is messy and sometimes, not for the best.

So when Royal Oak dismantled it's prep sports legacy brick-by-brick starting in 2005 by combining Kimball and Dondero High, I wondered what the aftermath might leave in the immediate years to come. It was a costly, controversial decision that embittered both school cultures. The Detroit News described the two schools as historic rivals when the paper wrote a recap of the first merged year as Royal Oak High.

I think I may have an answer.

Royal Oak High School is 0-7 in the current football season. The Ravens have been close in one game, but the others? Monumental blowouts, and with two games remaining, Royal Oak's gridders have just two more chances to avoid the first winless season in the history of the city's high school at 1500 Lexington. Royal Oak has new uniforms, new colors, new coaches and new field turf but there's something missing. There's no tradition, because the past two seasons were teams made up mostly of the remaining Kimball players coached by the former Kimball coach, Terry Powers. Powers told me during the first year of the combined school (2006), 21 of the 22 starters were Kimball players. That team went 8-3 and won the district playoff opener.

Many newspapers still referred to the Ravens in those first couple years as Kimball. There was a lot of Kimball tradition and just because it was pulled off the walls, it doesn't die in the memories and minds of prep sports fans. Just like Renaissance was still Catholic Central for many years, and the De LaSalle Pilots were still from their old campus off Connor.

I know football is just a game among many different sports at the area high schools, but it's important to have a good football team in Royal Oak, just like it's part of the culture at Pershing, Fordson, King, John Glenn, Harrison and Allen Park. I watched Kimball suffer it's first losing season after 27-straight seasons without a losing ledger starting in 1984 as a high school freshman and it set an ugly tenor for our four years. Three years later, the district plucked Powers from Detroit Catholic Central to mold the Kimball program as the Shamrocks were built. There was a palpable spirit at Kimball and having a good football team was an important part of the building's culture for the 49 years it was open.

The other day I was in Royal Oak to get my haircut at, ironically enough, the Kimball Barbershop. One my way I drove past Royal Oak's football field where the signature blue n' gold K has been missing for three years. As I passed the baseball field, there was a gold, block-letter "K" hand-painted onto the dugout facing Normandy. On the other side of the building, the school's signature rock was slathered in gold with blue letters reading "KHS ROCKS".

I've talked to several familiar with the culture in the former Kimball building. There's a bit of a rebellion going on. Last winter the old Kimball gear started to show up. First it was a shirt or two, then a varsity jacket, and then a few more noticeable references. It's lead to dissension. This is possibly the bitter aftermath of tearing the district schools' good names to their foundations and combining two distinct cultures.

Good memories die hard. Change doesn't guarantee continued success.

Polar Bears Are Back! Less than a week after declaring the season over at Highland Park, head coach Cedric Dortch said yesterday in Detroit Free Press that the season will go forward for the final two games. This week the Polar Bears will face the rising Phoenix of Ypsilanti High, followed with a season-ending battle with top-ranked Dearborn Fordson.

The Parkers will have to win both games to qualify for the playoffs, as does Ypsilanti, so for all intents, this is the season for Highland Park. Even if they win Friday versus Ypsilanti, the monumental task of toppling the Tractors in Week Nine awaits. Fordson is preparing this week for the game of the year in metro Detroit, as Southgate Anderson and Fordson will meet tomorrow night for the final MEGA Red championship.

Speaking universally, this is a good move by Coach Dortch. That would have been an inglorious way to end a season and with his school and many others looking for a new place to park their athletic fortunes when the MEGA disbands this upcoming spring, people need to know Highland Park won't throw in the towel.

Two years ago Highland Park signed a contract to go play the Howell Highlanders in Howell. It was something I took notice of immediately when the prep football schedules were released. It took a lot of guts to agree to put his kids on a bus and go to a place that hasn't always been associated with, shall we say, tolerance. Howell is working hard to break that image and Highland Park is working hard to rebuild the honor and pride that used to be signature staples of the school's athletic department. Playing the rest of the season is another step in that direction.

Harrison A Victim Of An SI-Like Jinx? Two weeks ago Farmington Hills Harrison lost a 20-19 heartbreaker to Farmington High, the first time in 31 years the Falcons escaped the clutches of the Hawks. The last time that happened? 1977, when Farmington defeated the defending state finalists by an identical 20-19 count.

What's on the front cover of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries? A picture from that 1977 Harrison-Farmington game, with the same score and result of the game played this year.

What are the odds of that?

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and is working on a follow-up title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries!

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