Southwest Schools Begin League Shuffle

By Wes Morgan
Special for

December 6, 2016

Just when it seemed that the waters had calmed concerning conference realignment in Southwest Michigan, two area leagues are expected to lose a chunk of their respective memberships with the berth of a new alliance.

It was announced in June that Bronson would be leaving the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League at the end of the 2016-17 school year to join the Big 8 Conference. The BCS began in 2014.

Now, all three St. Joseph County schools — Centreville, Mendon and White Pigeon — along with Cass County seat Cassopolis, are expected to exit the BCS this year as well. Those schools are joining Southwestern Athletic Conference defectors Bangor, Bloomingdale, Eau Claire, Hartford, Decatur and Marcellus to form the Southwest 10 Conference.

Seven of the 10 school districts have already voted in favor of the new league, with the last three unnamed schools expected to vote the same way later this month.

Once again, football was a driving force, though several other factors sparked the initial discussions back in August. It was important for Centreville, Mendon and White Pigeon to stick together after a long run dating back to the St. Joseph Valley League.

Competitive fairness and logistics were two other key concerns.

“(The SAC schools) came into this meeting stating the No. 1 goal is to not have a mega conference,” Mendon co-athletic director Glen Samson said. “They tried to get us to strike while the iron is hot. At the same time they are discussing this with us, the superintendents of the SAC and the BCS wanted us to all get together and form an even larger league, like 35 schools.

“We’ve just not had a whole lot of luck with this large conglomerate. It’s not really a league. You can see people voting on party lines, so to speak.”

A big obstacle in the BCS was football scheduling. The BCS did not make it mandatory that teams play cross-divisional games, which left some schools in the lurch when it came to filling out a nine-game schedule.

For instance, Mendon had to drive to the Upper Peninsula in Week 9 to play Manistique after finding no takers from similar-sized schools and with no desire of its own to compete against the likes of Class B programs up to three times a year.

Current BCS schools like Berrien Springs, Buchanan, Comstock and Parchment — all with about 450 students or more — are twice the size of schools like Mendon (203) and Cassopolis (278).

“This idea came across our table, so we took a look at it,” Samson said. “The schools involved want to keep it to 10 teams. The more we got into it, the more it made sense.

“When Bronson left, it left us with four teams in our division in football. All that guaranteed Mendon, Centreville and Cass were three games. We’re sitting here with three games, and we have to find six and we have to now play two or three Class B schools to fill out a schedule in a league of 18 teams. This is not right.”

A 10-team league solves that issue and makes for easier organization of all other sports. More often than not, Samson and Cassopolis athletic director Matt Brawley agreed, coaches didn’t even know what division their school was in as the groupings changed by sport.  

“Scheduling and getting the bylaws in order,” are at the top of the priority list for Brawley. “Right now, things seem to be running pretty smoothly. We have a great group of athletic directors and superintendents working diligently.”

If all goes according to plan, schedules will take care of themselves in the Southwest 10 since most schools offer the same sports. There are five schools that offer soccer with a sixth considering adding it for next season. A positive byproduct would be less travel time.

“For Cass, logistically, our furthest drive (would be) 37 miles,” Brawley said. “Marcellus and Decatur are our next-door neighbors. It doesn’t make much sense not to play them (as is the case now).

“I’m very excited,” Brawley said of a new league without divisions. “What I’m most excited about is being in a league where you’ve got to (likely) win nine games to win the conference championship or go 17-1 or 16-2 in basketball. It holds a lot more weight. The BCS is a great bunch of people, but this opportunity makes the most sense for us.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Centreville and Marcellus face off in a girls basketball nonleague matchup. (Middle) Mendon and Casspolis will bring their football rivalry to the new Southwest 10 Conference. (Photos courtesy of Wes Morgan.) 

From MSP Post to Postgame: Lieutenants Return to the (Football) Field

September 27, 2023

While fans are settling into another season, Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs has been fully immersed in football for months.

The Jackson Post’s assistant post commander serves as assistant coach for Jackson High School’s varsity football team and for the team at Parkside Middle School.

“I started coaching when my older son was in youth sports, as a way to do something together that we both love,” Gibbs said. “My younger son followed the same path, so I joined his team too. I grew up in Jackson and am grateful to be able to serve my hometown from the sidelines and at our post.”

Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels.Some 400 miles north, Lt. Mark Giannunzio is also a familiar face in and on the field. The MSP Negaunee Post assistant post commander and Eighth District public information officer enforces the rules of the game as a high school and college football official, the latter for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“I started at the high school level to stay involved in athletics and make authentic connections in the community,” Giannunzio said. “It’s rewarding to help teach the game and share knowledge of the rules. I currently have a full 11-game schedule in the GLIAC Division II college conference, with high school games interspersed during the year.”

The correlation among coaching, officiating and policing translates.

“With my fellow troopers, I want to inspire, motivate and encourage to get the most out of them,” Gibbs said. “I take the same approach with my players to figure out what they need from me, as their designated leader, to be as successful as they can. In both capacities, I do the work alongside them. We do it together.”

This approach is especially important when tough times surface. Lieutenant Gibbs’ high school team experienced tragedy right before its first game when a player died in a car crash.

“We focused on adversity,” said Gibbs, who was in a unique position to talk from a police perspective too. “It’s a benefit to have that insight and background and share it with what they can control – make good decisions and wear your seatbelt.”

Lieutenant Gibbs incorporates his coworkers when he can, like during spring conditioning when fellow troopers join him and his players, helping all involved to make new connections and build strong bonds between the students and officers.

Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School.“One of the most important attributes in both careers is communication,” Giannunzio said. “Communication can make or break an official and a police officer. Much like selling a citation to a motorist, I need to be able to sell the penalty in a calm and professional manner. Demeanor and attitude go together on both the football field and when we are out patrolling in the Blue Goose.”

Treating everyone with dignity and respect is something Lieutenants Gibbs and Giannunzio commit to as members of a modern police agency and in their areas of expertise on the football field.

“Both roles afford so many opportunities to develop culture and cultivate teamwork,” Gibbs said. “The best part is watching others flourish and playing a part in their growth.”

PHOTOS (Top) Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs, left, serves as an assistant football coach for the Jackson High varsity. (Middle) Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels. (Below) Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School. (Photos provided by the Michigan State Police.)