Friendships Bind Long-Ago Champions

August 28, 2015

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

Twenty-five years ago, the story of Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas, was famously told in the book Friday Night Lights written by H.G. Bissinger.

The author recently reunited with various team members as he recalled the book’s silver anniversary in an article for the August 3, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated.

“It took me about 10 to 15 years of working in different groups, different places, different environments, to finally come to the conclusion that I’m not gonna have a group of coworkers and teammates like I had then,” said Jerrod McDougal, recalling his days playing high school football for the Panthers.

That same feeling is certainly shared by groups of former gridders around the state of Michigan.

A chance meeting led me to breakfast with one such group. The members of Grand Rapids Central's 1947 mythical football state champions gather at a Russ’ restaurant in Grand Rapids on a Monday each month. 
 
Central was one of 17 football squads in the state spread across four classifications
who could call themselves state champions after that season. Back in those days, the Michigan High School Athletic Association did not sponsor a football playoff, so any team with an unblemished win-loss record could lay claim to the crown. With eight wins and no losses or ties, The Hilltoppers, as they were then known, did exactly that.

Nearly 70 years later, Don Hill can recall the circumstances of all 19 points allowed by the defense that season. The team remembered its coach, Chuck Irwin, who would go on to become Grand Valley State University’s first athletic director, and the days when summer conditioning wasn't 7 on 7 camps, but rather throwing a football around an empty lot, or a city park.

When I noted that Muskegon Heights’ Tigers also laid claim to the state crown that year, I was quickly reminded that both teams had defeated Holland High that season, but that Central had vanquished the Dutchmen 14-0, while the Tigers struggled to defeat Holland 14-12.

For the record, most newspaper writers gave the nod to both Flint Central and Muskegon Heights as the best in the state that season. Orville Peterson recalled that Flint Central had beaten an undefeated but once-tied Flint Northern team to end the year. That was indeed the case, as Coach Harold Auer's Indians downed coach Guy Houston's Vikings 20-6 on Thanksgiving Day at historic Atwood Stadium.

During the Grand Rapids Central gathering, a pair of restaurant patrons, who could overhear our conversation, wandered over to the table to congratulate the teammates on their accomplishment and to share a few memories of their own covering the value of prep sports in a proper education.

Similar gatherings are quite common across the state.

Each fall, the “Leather Helmets Club,” comprised of football players from Muskegon High School gather for a catered dinner at a rental hall on the shores of Muskegon Lake.

“The 1950 season was the first year that the Big Reds moved from leather helmets to plastic,” recalled Bob Ludwig, now 87 yards old and a member of the 1944 mythical state champions. “We started the Leather Helmet about 25 years ago with 65 guys.”

Ray Carlson, who served as starting quarterback for Muskegon’s mythical state champions back in 1940, still can recall the season.

“It was the year the district installed lights at Hackley Stadium,” said Carlson. “That’s when most of the games were moved from Saturday afternoon to Friday night.”

For many years, the event was a perch fry, but as time marched steadily on, the task became too challenging for this collection of gridiron greats from Big Reds teams, as membership in the club has shrunk to 25. The group will again gather in the fall, and debate inviting members from the 1950s to the gathering to expand membership.

Sometimes, such reunions are single one-time events. In 1993, Ann Arbor High School’s team from 50 years back collected to celebrate its 1943 mythical state crown. In 2013, the 1973 Saginaw Arthur Hill team, undefeated and unscored upon over the season, gathered.

Pat Brady graduated in 1950 from Saginaw St. Andrews. For three seasons – 1948, 1949 and 1950 – the Bulldogs lay claim to mythical state titles in Class C. Over the span, the team racked up 27 straight victories.

“We had a pretty good group of kids,” said Brady recalling the days. “Frank Brogger was our coach, and he made sure we took on a good schedule. We played schools in Flint, Detroit, Saginaw, Bay City and Jackson. We played Sunday evenings at our own field. They really took care of that field. During the week, we practiced in the cinders behind the field. On Saturdays we would go through things on the field in our socks.”

Induction into the Saginaw County Hall of Fame in 2005 led to regular gatherings by team members. A group of seven and another former player from Saginaw St. Peter and Paul meets for coffee at an area McDonald’s at least twice a week.

“He was a rival back then, but we’re friends now,” added Brady, laughing.  “We’ve lost a lot of the guys; we’re all in our 80s now. Still, it’s a lot of fun to get together and talk about old times and new times.”

“Whether you play in front of a crowd of 900 or 19,000, the experience of high school football is unlike any other,” noted Bissinger in Sports Illustrated, recalling something shared across state lines and across generations.

The beauty of high school competition is found in the friendships made that last a lifetime.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at peschstats@comcast.net with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) A report from Pesch's wealth of documents shows most of the undefeated football teams at the end of the 1947 season. (Middle) The Grand Rapids Central group stands together after a gathering last December, from left: Tony Krenselewski, Orville Peterson, Don Hill, Bud Hall, Herb Carpenter, Gordon Osmun and Floyd Hall.

Moore Finishes Legendary King Career by Leading Crusaders to D3 Repeat

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

November 27, 2022

DETROIT – Dante Moore had no tears left to cry Saturday night, even happy tears, after he played his final high school football game for Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field.

“Everybody sees I’m not crying – I really cried before I got here to the game. Before I walked to the gate, I was crying and I cried last night,” Moore said.

King’s four-year starting quarterback cemented his legacy, leading the Crusaders to their second-straight MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 56-27 victory over Muskegon.

The Oregon commit finished 21-of-26 passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions to power King (10-3) to its sixth Finals title overall and fifth in eight years.

Before Moore even took the field for his first offensive series against Muskegon (11-3), junior Jameel Croft Jr. staked King to an immediate lead with an electrifying 96-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff.

The Crusaders never looked back.

“I wasn’t expecting that. I just followed my blocks. Guys were blocking for me and the coaches set it up perfectly for me, for real,” Croft said. “It gave us a lot of momentum in the beginning of the game. It helped us out a lot.”

Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. Muskegon pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and 21-14 three minutes into the second, but Moore & Co. always seemed to have an answer.

Croft scored the game’s first two TDs, as he added a 13-yard scoring catch from Moore to make it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.

“We started out chasing. We gave up that opening kickoff for a touchdown and we just got ourselves chasing and kind of things went from there,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime and pulled within 14 with five minutes left in the third but got no closer.

Croft was Moore’s top pass-catcher, finishing with six receptions for 64 yards and two TDs. Senior Sterling Anderson Jr. was a blur as King’s top rusher, totaling 207 yards on only 13 carries, highlighted by his 80-yard scoring sprint that gave the Crusaders a 49-27 lead with 10:55 remaining.

Seniors Samuel Washington and Tim Ruffin paced King defensively with nine and eight tackles, respectively. For Muskegon, senior Julian Neely registered a team-high seven stops, while junior Stanley Cunningham recorded two sacks among his six tackles.

Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran 20 times for 135 yards with two TDs, including a 60-yard breakaway to pull the Big Reds within 14-7 midway through the first quarter. He also completed 2-of-4 passes for 97 yards, including a 71-yard scoring strike to junior Destin Piggee.

Muskegon junior Jakob Price added 93 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries, but the night belonged to King and Moore.

“There’s no excuse: That kid is amazing. He threw balls that we haven’t seen probably in my career,” said Fairfield, whose program was seeking its first Finals title since 2017. His Big Reds teams have been to the Finals to finish eight of his 13 seasons at the helm.

“Only one other guy threw touchdown passes like (Moore) and passes and balls like that in my career here, and that was (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s) Alex Malzone – went to Michigan. Seems like we always see the (Dequan) Finns and the Dantes and Malzones and stuff when we get here, but you know, we’re here,” added Fairfield, whose 2018 squad lost to Finn and King, 41-25, in the Division 3 championship game.

King coach Tyrone Spencer said that his team overcame a lot of adversity this season. The Crusaders could not practice on their field because it’s undergoing a makeover, so they bussed to practice. They lost their season opener to Warren Central (Ind.), 44-26, and dropped the final two games of the regular season to Detroit Cass Tech (28-14) and Cincinnati Moeller (30-14).

King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.The Crusaders got it going in the playoffs, however. They threatened the Finals record for points by one team, established Friday night by Grand Rapids West Catholic with 59.

“(The season) was up and down, but the kids, I mean, they trust us and we got it back going,” Spencer said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. It speaks to their character.”

Moore mentioned the “championship culture” at King, how one expects to be a champion once he puts on that jersey.

It’s also about giving back and respecting the game, too, which has been a custom of Moore’s since his freshman year when King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 Final, 35-26.

“My freshman year, me playing against Brady Rose and Muskegon Mona Shores, I remember Brady Rose pulled me to the side and that’s where I really got it from – him taking me to the side, telling me things I can work on, and me congratulating him for what he’s done and being one of the best players to come through Michigan to be honest and leading his team on his back,” Moore recalled.

“I just knew that I had to carry that on through this past year and really pull the (opposing) quarterbacks to the side, especially (those) younger than me. Me being a senior, I’ve been through a lot. I just want to give them the keys and terms to help them be the best they can be in high school.”

Croft called the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore a “great leader,” who is “so poised” and one who will leave “a great legacy right here for sure.”

“Special, man,” is how Spencer reflected on Moore’s four-year run.

“You know, he’ll be the one that they’ll talk about maybe the greatest we’ve ever had here,” Spencer said. “Just really proud of him and the person that he is. He deserves it. He works hard for it, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”

Meanwhile, Muskegon got off to a bit of a slow start this season by Big Reds standards. They lost two of their first five games, including a 49-16 road defeat to eventual Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, but got healthy and played their best football at the right time leading up to Saturday night.

Fairfield said the Big Reds battled and left it all on the field.

“They played 14 and when you play 14 games, of course this is going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you’ve got 364 days to get back,” he said.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Samuel Washington (10) wraps up Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy during Saturday’s night’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. (Below) King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.