Working Together to Give Teams Their Best, Dechow & Crew Win Every Time Out

By Tom Spencer
Special for

October 22, 2021

Football historians can debate this forever.

Tonight at Rodes Field in Kingsley – perhaps for the first time in Michigan High School Athletic Association history – three teams with perfect records will meet each other on the same football field in the same game.

Two of them, Traverse City St. Francis, and Kingsley, are playing for the right to boast of an undefeated regular season and an outright conference championship. The third team and its captain — better known as the referee crew — has already been assigned a first-round playoff game by the MHSAA.

Where they will go hasn’t been determined, but Joe Dechow’s crew knows it will referee at least two rounds this postseason. The veteran crew already has assignments from MHSAA but just like the schools, the crew is waiting for the postseason pairings to be announced Sunday.

Dechow, the crew leader and an MHSAA 41-year veteran official, will put on his white cap and be ready for the 7 p.m. kickoff tonight knowing Kingsley/St. Francis is a big, big game. Dechow’s crew members will go into kickoff confident they know at least one team that will win, just like every game they’ve done together for about the last 20 years are so.

“We always win,” Dechow jested.

But how officials define their victories is different, Dechow explained.

Taking the field with Dechow tonight will be umpire Joe Johnson, back judge Roark Pargeon, line judge Brett Spalding, head linesman Jeff Bretzke, side judge Peter Moss, and field judge Rick Zych.  All seven officials worked together in the Betsie Valley Officials Association for many years and have continued together as a crew with the Northern Sport Officials Association after the two combined a few years ago.

Football Officials“We don’t win or lose, but we’re a still a team,” he said. “One of the great things about working with the same guys for years and years is you know where people are going to be, and you know how they’re going to take care of things.

“It is a trust factor, ‘cuz it’s a team.”

Dechow’s team has taken the field every week for decades for the benefit of student-athletes. Moss has been an MHSAA registered official for 44 years. Spalding and Zych have been registered 36 years. Bretzke, Johnson and Paragon follow with 22, 20 and 16 years of MHSAA service, respectively. All officiate at least two sports.

Dechow was on the wrestling and football teams at Maple City Glen Lake High School. Upon graduating, he started officiating wrestling — at the age of just 18.

“That got interesting, you know, because you go from a player to a ref all at once and all these old coaches are looking at you like ‘Who are you, kid?’” Dechow recalled.

Dechow has been officiating football for 36 years and was a registered wrestling official for 15. There have been a few times he’s considered giving up the white cap that signals he’s the game’s referee. (The white cap originated to benefit television viewers for college and the National Football League.)

The referee has general oversight and control of the game. Dechow is the final authority for the score, the number of a down in case of a disagreement, and all rule interpretations when a debate arises among the other officials. He’s also the only official who wears a white hat; all the other officials wear black hats. 

The “white hat” also announces all penalties and confers with the offending team’s captain, monitors the quarterback area during the game, requests the linesmen to bring the yardage chains in for first down measurements and notifies the head coach of player ejections. 

Dechow was ready to put his white hat down for a while when he first attempted to give up refereeing due to family and career demands. He was planning to get out and was asked to help another crew for a “few” games.

“I was going to just do a couple of games, and then somebody else quit and I wound up getting back into it,” he said. “There was another white hat that had left just before the season started … so all of sudden I started hearing ‘Do you still have a white hat? Would you like to maybe …’

“So I did.”

Football OfficialsDechow’s crew has seen a lot of changes in MHSAA football during their careers. Rules to improve safety have been their favorites. They have also seen the addition of 8-player football and the use of two-way radios.

But it’s positive changes in sportsmanlike conduct among players, coaches and fans Dechow excitedly singles out.

Everyone, Dechow notes, is noticing the lower number of recruits joining the current officials in all MHSAA sports.

“More people appreciate the fact that we have to be out there, and we’re not out there to get anybody,” he said. “By and large the coaches are great.

“Of course they are emotional and of course they are pulling for their team and they’re going to argue for the right outcome for them,” he continued. “Over the last several years we have seen an absolutely marked change in people – spectators, players and coaches — all providing a lot more respect the officials.”

The crew had tonight’s game on its schedule at the beginning of the season. The guys couldn’t help looking ahead to how big a game it could be.

St. Francis coach Josh Sellers and Kingsley coach Tim Wooer probably had a better idea of how big a game it could be when they — and football enthusiasts all over Northern Michigan — likely circled it on the calendar. Kingsley won last year’s match 36-23 at Thirlby Field, the Gladiators’ home turf.

This year the Stags host with the Northern Michigan Football Conference’s Legends division championship on the line.

“Sports mean a lot to kids,” Dechow pointed out. “They meant a lot to us. 

“That’s why we’re out there.”

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) “White hat” Joe Dechow talks things over with crew members Roark Pargeon (left) and Brett Spalding during this season’s Mancelona/LeRoy Pine River varsity football game. (Middle) Those three plus Jeff Bretzke (middle) and Joe Johnson (second from right) huddle up. (Below) Dechow and Johnson confer with Mancelona coach Dan Derrer. (Photos by Miles Postema.)

Moore Finishes Legendary King Career by Leading Crusaders to D3 Repeat

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

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.