By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Championship rounds for girls basketball, team wrestling and individual wrestling will have new homes for the 2017-18 season, as approved by the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association during its annual Spring Meeting, May 7-8, in Glen Arbor.
The Girls Basketball Semifinals and Finals, played from 2004-06 and then 2010-17 at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center at Michigan State University, will move to Van Noord Arena on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids. The Team Wrestling Finals, contested the last two seasons at McGuirk Arena at Central Michigan University after a long run at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, will begin at least a four-year engagement at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo.
The Individual Wrestling Finals, previously a three-day event hosted by The Palace of Auburn Hills from 2002 through this March, will be contested at Ford Field in Detroit over two days.
In addition to those changes, the Representative Council also approved keeping the MHSAA Boys Basketball Semifinals and Finals at the Breslin Center for the 2017-18 season and approved a return to Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome as the host of both 8-Player Football Finals in 2017. NMU hosted the first 8-Player Final in 2011; the 8-Player Football Playoffs will move from one to two divisions beginning this fall.
The moves of the Girls Basketball and Individual Wrestling Finals were made necessary by conditions outside of MHSAA control. The Girls Basketball Finals weekends in 2018 and also 2020-22 will conflict with the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament and an opportunity for Michigan State’s women’s team to host first and second-round games should it qualify and earn a top-16 overall seed. The Individual Wrestling Finals – formerly held at multiple sites before moving together to Joe Louis Arena in 1999 – needed a new host as the Palace is expected to close before next season.
“It is with much gratitude to our recent hosts of the Girls Basketball and Wrestling Finals that we make these changes. But although we have enjoyed our time and relationships built, we also are excited to work with these next facilities and their staffs, who are similarly passionate about creating the finest experiences for our athletes and fans,” MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts said. “We received interest from a number of facilities and managers who also value what our championship events provide for teams and their communities, and we’re eager to begin working with Calvin College, Wings Event Center and our familiar friends at Ford Field and Northern Michigan University on these endeavors.”
Roberts noted that contracts for the girls and boys basketball and individual wrestling tournaments are for 2017-18 only, but with the possibility of remaining at those sites additional years. The Council also discussed the possibility of changing both girls and boys basketball tournament schedules beginning with the 2018-19 season to help keep more Division I college and commercial venues available to host those events. The MHSAA will investigate alternative sites and develop an adjusted basketball season schedule for Council consideration in December. The Boys Basketball Finals weekend in 2019 as scheduled also conflicts with the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Although Van Noord Arena has never hosted an MHSAA Final, it twice has hosted NCAA Division III Women’s College Basketball Finals. The 5,000-seat arena hosted its first game in 2009, and while smaller than Breslin, is expected to provide a festive atmosphere with the possibility of being filled to near capacity for many of the MHSAA’s tournament games. Attendance at this past season’s MHSAA Girls Basketball Finals was 24,120 over three days – just shy of an all-time record – with a high of 5,272 fans for the Class A/D Finals session March 18.
"To host the MHSAA girls basketball state championship weekend is an honor for the Calvin College community," said Donna Joyce, Calvin's Business Development Manager. "We can't wait to welcome teams and their fans, and our goal is to provide first-rate hospitality to all who visit our beautiful campus next March."
Wings Event Center will allow the MHSAA to again stage all four championship matches on adjacent mats simultaneously – the format for most of the first 29 years of the Team Finals, but not last season as the Finals were split into two two-match blocks to help accommodate for attendance after the Team Finals session sold out in 2016. Wings has seating for 5,100 fans and additional standing-room capacity for 1,000 more.
"We are excited the MHSAA has awarded this prestigious state championship to Wings Event Center," said Greg Ayers, President & CEO for Discover Kalamazoo. "This venue and our community will provide for an excellent location for both the participants and fans attending this event. We look forward to working with the MHSAA in creating an outstanding championship site."
Ford Field, which has hosted MHSAA football championship games since 2005, will be configured for placement of up to 20 mats covering approximately half the football playing surface area. Seating will be configured to a capacity of roughly 24,000 in the lower bowl. The tournament schedule, which previously included one round of wrestling on the first day, followed by four rounds on both the second and third days of the event, will be adjusted to begin with four rounds Friday, March 2, 2018, and end with five rounds on Saturday, March 3. The three-day wrestling event drew 37,013 fans this past winter.
"We are excited to expand our existing relationship with the MHSAA to host the Individual Wrestling Finals at Ford Field in 2018," said Detroit Lions’ Senior Vice President of Business Development Kelly Kozole. "Since opening the stadium in 2002, it's been an honor to host the MHSAA Football Championships and a pleasure to see many MHSAA alumni come back to Ford Field as NFL players. As a professional sports franchise, we have the utmost appreciation for the significant role high school athletics play in the community and will continue to embrace opportunities to support them."
The 14,579-seat Breslin Center has been home to the Boys Basketball Finals since 1994. The event drew 53,990 fans over three days of Semifinals and championship games this winter, the largest overall attendance since 2012. The Class D/A Finals session drew 13,251 fans.
For 8-player football, the Council discussed long-distance travel possibilities to both sites that previously have hosted MHSAA Finals – the Superior Dome hosted the first 8-player championship game in 2011, and Greenville High School’s Legacy Field served as host from 2012-16. The 8-player tournament will move to two divisions this fall after playing with only one division during the first six years of its tournament history, and both championship games will be played during the same weekend at NMU.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to host the 8-Player Finals, along with the opportunity to continue hosting 11-Player Semifinals as well,” said Carl Bammert, NMU’s Associate Athletic Director and supervisor of its sports complex, including the Superior Dome. “We’re always excited for the opportunity for exposure from getting high school students and their families on campus and at the Superior Dome.”
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,400 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.
To provide for the convenience and safety of spectators attending the Michigan High School Athletic Association 11-Player Football Finals on Nov. 25 and 26 at Ford Field in Detroit, attendees are being advised of a variety of items related to transportation and security – including policies regarding parking, seating and types of bags allowed into the stadium.
Parking will be available in Ford Field facilities and lots to the east and north of the stadium and costs $8. A map identifying the designated Ford Field lots (4, 5 and 6) and parking deck can be found on the Football page under “Tracking the Tournament.” (There also are a number of privately-operated parking facilities close to Ford Field, but their pricing may differ.)
Fans also are advised that the consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Ford Field parking facilities and lots, and smoking – including use of electronic cigarettes and vaporizers – is prohibited inside the stadium. Tailgating, including the setting up and use of grilling equipment, also is not allowed.
Tickets are priced at $20 and allow a fan to see all four games in a single day. Tickets are available for purchase at the door (cash or credit accepted), from participating schools, or online from Ford Field via Ticketmaster – links to order tickets both days also are on the MHSAA Website football page. Spectators leaving the stadium will be required to purchase another ticket for re-entry. Infants able to be held in arms will be admitted without charge for this event. There will not be a public Will Call window.
Spectators may enter Ford Field at Gates A & B. Upon arrival in the building, fans will find their designated seating areas on the South side of the field if their team is the designated home team for their contest and on the North side for the designated visiting team. Home teams this weekend are Belleville, Warren De La Salle Collegiate, Mason, Harper Woods, Corunna, Almont, Jackson Lumen Christi and Ottawa Lake Whiteford. Brightly-lit video boards above the seating areas will display the names of the participating teams each day, and fans should sit on the side of the stadium where they see their school’s name. For general fans, the entire lower bowl of Ford Field will be open for the event.
Security measures also will be in place to help assure spectator safety. Fans will be subject to metal detector screening, and Ford Field personnel reserve the right to request patrons open their coats, bags and other item-carrying vessels for visual inspection and deny entrance to individuals who do not cooperate. Spectators should remove cell phones, cameras, keys and other large metal objects before passing through the metal detectors.
Items which fans will be prohibited from bringing into the building include, but are not limited to, the following:
* Purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, book bags, diaper bags, fanny packs, cinch bags, grocery & paper bags; duffle bags, computer bags or luggage of any kind.
* Aerosol cans (hairspray, mace, pepper spray, etc.)
* Animals (except service animals to aid guests with disabilities)
* Balloons (air or helium)
* Balls (beach balls, footballs, etc.)
* Banners or large flags
* Cameras with lenses longer than five inches or any detachable lens. Selfie Sticks also are prohibited.
* Chairs including folding chairs or stools
* Decals, stickers, confetti or glitter
* Drones and/or remote-controlled aircraft
* Electronic equipment including laptop computers, video recorders (hand-held video cameras are allowed), tripods and wearable video cameras including Go Pros.
* Food, beverages – including water – or liquids (cans, bottles, boxes, flasks, etc.)
* Illegal substances
* Knives, pocketknives, box cutters, scissors, etc.
* Laser pointers
* Marijuana including medically prescribed electronic accessories or paraphernalia associated with marijuana or illegal narcotics use.
* Markers (permanent) and/or paint
* Noisemaking devices (bells, horns, kazoos, whistles, etc.)
* Objects that can be used as missiles or projectiles (sticks, poles, bats, clubs, Frisbees, etc.)
* Strollers and infant car seats or carriers
* Umbrellas (large size)
* Wrapped gifts
The following items may be permitted after inspection:
* Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches, or a one-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc or similar). An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at the Gate.
* Infant items in a clear bag (bottles and formula) only if accompanied by a child
* Binoculars and binoculars cases not exceeding 4½ inches by 6½ inches may be brought in via one of the clear plastic bag options.
* Cameras (lenses may not measure longer than five inches or be detachable, and no tripods or extension cords)
* Small radios (no larger than the size of a football and used with an earpiece)
* Small, compact umbrellas (must be placed securely under seat)
* Posters and signs without poles or sticks, or larger than what one person can hold.
* Tablets (iPads, Kindles, etc.)
* Seat cushions not exceeding 15 inches by 15 inches. Seat cushions also must not contain arm rests, zippers, pockets, flaps or metal backs.
The complete list of prohibited items can be found on the Detroit Lions website. Prohibited items that are discovered during security inspections at stadium entrances must be returned to the owner's vehicle or discarded. Items will not be held for later pickup.
Fans are reminded that all image taking (still and video) may be only for personal, non-commercial use.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.