Sunday, January 11, 2009

Decisions Abound In Pontiac Merger; Fight Not Ferndale's Black Eye

Pontiac Central High is closing in what's become the worst-kept secret since Major League Baseball's strike of 1994. Schools come and go all the time, but Central is more than a come-and-go school.

Pontiac Central is Pontiac's heritage, history and heartbeat. The school's nickname of Chiefs honors the city's namesake, Chief Pontiac. The school's colors of black and orange are as time-honored in prep circles, in some respects, as Michigan's maize n' blue. Finally, consider Central's premiere basketball history. Certainly city rival Pontiac Northern would stake a claim in any supremacy argument but the Huskies aside, what Oakland County school not named Country Day can make such a boastful claim?

Pontiac's public school leadership has a scant eight months to avoid the mistakes Royal Oak made, mistakes it had three years to overcome. When Royal Oak announced in 2004 that Kimball and Dondero, described by The Detroit News as 'historic rivals', would merge as one high school in 2006, a war of cultures ensued. The Dondero contingent, heartbroken their school would shutter in favor of hated Kimball, embarked to destroy the cultures at both schools, ensuring Kimball's legacy died, too. The 'new' Royal Oak High, with new nickname, school colors and traditions, hasn't overcome the legacy of its' former Kimball name.

The Royal Oak rivalry had been dead for years because Kimball dominated the final 15 scholastic seasons, but instead of making the combined school colors blue, gold and white or hanging banners from each former school in the new school, Royal Oak choose to bury their prep sports history of the past 100 years.

Central and Northern in basketball was very much like Kimball and Dondero for 35 years in football. Do you think the kids in Pontiac will have more than a few verbal and physical battles over their former school's legacy? Let's hope the 'new' Pontiac High School represents the contributions from each former school instead of shuttering their considerable past, as was done in Royal Oak.

FIGHT NOT RIGHT: Birmingham Seaholm's 69-46 win at Ferndale last week was marred by an ugly fight that prematurely ended the contest. Game officials declared the contest complete with 6:45 remaining in the fourth quarter after fans not representing the participating schools commenced a fistfight in the bleachers and risers that spilled onto the court, says Ferndale Athletic Director Shaun Butler.

"This was the result of non-students from either school -- it was not a problem between students of Ferndale or Seaholm," said Butler, who declined further comment except to say only Ferndale students with current, valid student identification cards will be admitted into Ferndale home games for the remainder of the season. There's a long history of good relations between both schools for over 50 years since Ferndale opened in 1958 to replace outdated Lincoln High. Birmingham High was remaned Seaholm in the early 1960s. The two cities paired their public schools against one another in all sports for over 80 years.

Butler and Seaholm athletic director Aaron Frank have plenty of experience hosting marquee events that will draw larger-than-usual crowds for prep sports. Ferndale has annually hosted one of the most prominent MHSAA boys' basketball quarterfinals in the history of the Class A or Division 1 bracket, and Seaholm has hosted one of the biggest quarterfinals in baseball, as well as some of the biggest prep football games in metro Detroit's history.

It's safe to say neither of these men are candidates to fall asleep at the wheel in their duties of stewarding their school's athletic department. The perpetrators of this fight have only hurt themselves and prep fans around them who don't have family-related interest in Ferndale's basketball team, and that benefits no one.

RIVALRY REPORT: Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries might not have changed much in the present except improving memories of prep football's past, but I can say I've noticed a slight change my book may have cultured.

Most metro newspapers big and small now make a concerted effort to highlight the rivalry games between inter-city schools, league foes and tournament tilts, even in the roundup, agate-like listings. While I would never be so bold to claim anything more, I'm proud that my book, in an innocuous way, brought a bit more cache and attention to prep rivalries in metro Detroit.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries from Arcadia Publishing. Cameron's 2nd title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, is due August 2009.

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