Is Muskegon Heights too violent to host a high school football game?
It’s a serious question some school officials in Saginaw, Ann Arbor and neighboring Muskegon have asked themselves in the last couple of weeks. The answer, for some, has been a reluctant – yes.
Muskegon Heights’ football team hasn’t played a game at home this season.
Josh Bourcier and two of his buddies came to Boyd Field in Saginaw last Friday to watch his alma matter play some football. It wasn’t supposed to be a home game for the Nouvel Catholic Central High School Panthers. It was supposed to be two hours west, in Muskegon Heights.
“I heard that there was shootings at the school and they thought better for the players safety to move it here instead of keeping it there,” he said.
There has been a lot of gun violence in Muskegon Heights lately. Three people died in the last month. At least a couple others were wounded.
Still, none of the shootings were at the school or really tied to the school at all. But that hasn’t stopped the fear, at least, for some. The fear that, if you play football in Muskegon Heights, something bad might happen.
“We were never not going to play Muskegon Heights. That was not the issue,” Saginaw Area Catholic Schools’ president Kimberly Prime said at the game.
“But in light of the unrest and the unsettled atmosphere in Muskegon Heights we reached out to them and thought perhaps they’d be amenable to coming here since the JV was coming here anyway,” she said.
Saginaw Area Catholic Schools paid to have two big busses drive the players, cheerleaders and coaches from Muskegon Heights to play in Saginaw. They fed them dinner too.
Muskegon Heights players said it was way better than what happened two weeks ago, when Muskegon Catholic Central called to cancel just hours before kickoff. They blamed a mid-day shooting, and a perceived threat of violence at the game.
“I was mad about that game,” Javonte Griggs, a senior at Muskegon Heights, said.
“Were you the only one?” I ask.
“No, the whole team was pretty mad,” he added.
Griggs sets his eyes back on the field, just in time to see the Muskegon Heights Tigers score their first touchdown of the game.
“Their confidence is about to go back up. They should be able to change it around now,” Griggs said.
They’ve got a long way to go. At halftime the Tigers are down more than 20 points.
Muskegon Heights’ athletic director Glen Metcalf says he didn’t have to move the game, but he didn’t want any more last minute surprises. It’s tough on these kids, who don’t have any control over the situation.
“The team needs concentration. They need focus. And a lot of times they go home and they listen to it, they see stuff on the news, they pick up stuff and read it in the newspaper and they don’t focus on the job at hand. ‘Where we gonna play at Mr. Metcalf? Are they going to come or not?' And I didn’t want them to go through that process for another week,” Metcalf said.
Even without the violence and the uncertainty about where the team might play, Metcalf says the players have enough obstacles to overcome to win some football games.
“A lot of these guys, it’s their first year of playing football,” Metcalf said.
The football coach is new this year too.
“We’re going to take our licks probably this year and some of next year. But I think he’ll make some progress. And it takes time to rebuild a program. Have we made up a lot of ground? Yes we have. But do we have a ways to go? Yes we do,” he said.
After the game, covered in sweat, Trevon Kitchen, a free safety for the Tigers, does an interview for a local TV station.
“All in all we had a nice team effort. We never put our heads down as a team. We still played together,” Kitchen said.
"In large part I look at it as a bright spot, seeing as, if a team can be down 43 to 6 and still come together as a team and never put our heads down, why can't a community come together after a little, well not a little but, incidents and still stick together instead of going mutiny and turning against each other?"
As a senior, Kitchen can’t wait for homecoming this Saturday. For this game, the Tigers will finally have the home field advantage.