Touchdown Traverse: A Brief History of Local High School Football Glory
The last time Traverse City Central played for a state football championship, Ronald Reagan was president, Russia was still the Soviet Union, and Central was still called “Traverse City High School”. The match, played on November 26, 1988 against Detroit Catholic Central, saw the Trojans win 24-14 at the now demolished Pontiac Silverdome.
This afternoon (Friday), Traverse City Central will seek to end the 33-year drought for the state title.
Starting off at 1 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit, the Trojans will face Warren De La Salle for a Division 2 Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) championship. This is the latest chapter in a decades-long history of glory and disappointment for Traverse City high school football teams.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Traverse City High was a real football powerhouse. The Trojans’ first trip to the national finals matched the first year there were State Finals: 1975, when the MHSAA began playing appropriate playoff tournaments for high school football. Traverse City lost that game to Livonia Franklin 21-7, but was back in the championship game just three years later to beat North Farmington 20-14.
Jim Ooley, who coached this team in 1978, remains the only person to lead the Trojans to a state title. He did so twice more, in 1985 and 1988. Ooley began teaching at Traverse City High in 1953, became head football coach in 1967 and retired after the 1991 season with a career record. from 179-60-4. He died in November 2005 at the age of 77.
Traverse City High School never returned to the state finals after Ooley’s tenure. In 1997, Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) split schools due to overcrowding. TC High becomes Central High School, and across town, West Senior High has opened. The West Titans have never played in a State Championship game – and so far the Trojans have never done so as Central. According to John Sonneman, former sporting director of TC Central and announcer of Trojan sporting events since 1966, the split meant that West had to create a football program from scratch; Central, meanwhile, had to start over.
“The year the school broke up, we had 36 return letters,” Sonneman said. The teleprinter. “35 of them went west. We had a factor back to Central.
The Trojans went 0-9 this 1997 season, and 3-6 for each of the next five years. Finally, in 2003, Central made the playoffs, marking the school’s first playoff series since Ooley’s exit. West, meanwhile, was 7-2 from the start – and won seasons every year until 2009 – but didn’t make the playoffs until 2002.
Has either of the closest schools come close to a state title since the split? A year ago, when Central lost to Mona Shores 43-30 in the semifinals – despite having the lead at halftime. Mona Shores won the D2 Championship.
West – who has a higher entry count that typically places him in Division 1 for football – had his best season in 2004. That year, the Titans entered the playoffs with an undefeated 9- record. 0, won their district semifinal match against East Kentwood, and then lost to future state champions D1 Rockford in the district final. All in all, West finished the 2004 season with his best ever record: 10-1.
Central’s current season is the strongest football race either Crosstown rival has had since the Ooley years. The team’s record is currently 12-1, the best ever for both schools since TC High went 13-0 in 1988. The Trojans have also scored more points this season (635) than anyone else. what previous year in the history of either school. And the central team even made their playoff victories easy, winning all four games by margins of at least four touchdowns.
Now there’s one final question: Can the Trojans upset seeded and undefeated Warren De La Salle – a school that has won three D2 championships in the past decade – to win the title? Sonneman, who has been in the stands for each of Traverse City High School’s previous four final appearances, will be heading to Ford Field to see for himself.
“Oh, I’ll be there,” he said. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Today may mark TCAPS ‘first appearance in a state football championship since 1988, but Traverse City St. Francis has worked to preserve the region’s legacy of’ football power ‘in the world. ‘interval. The Gladiators have made six trips to the Division 7 Finals in the past 20 years, winning the title on five of those occasions – in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2009. They almost added another trophy to the mantle. last year, finishing second after a 42-35 loss in the state final to New Lathrop. And they were still almost in contention this year, before last weekend’s 28-21 semi-final loss to Pewamo-Westphalia.
Before the state changed its football divisions in 1999, St. Francis also competed for three Class C championships – winning a title in 1992 and finishing runner-up in 1989 and 1998. And before the MHSAA began to play contests. State playoff tournaments for high school football in 1975, St. Francis athletic director Aaron Biggar said the school already had two unofficial titles to its name, from 1973 and 1974. During those years , before the playoffs existed, the Detroit newspapers selected the best teams based on winning and losing records.
When asked to name particularly memorable titles, Biggar points to four:
In 1992, the Glads won the title in a 28-21 double-overtime game against Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher. As Biggar recalls, it was a pass from quarterback Scott Doriot (now St. Francis offensive coordinator) to tight end Greg Springer (who later played for Central Michigan University) to win the game.
In 2005, St. Francis clinched his ticket to the national final with a last minute run to beat Muskegon Catholic 19-13 in the D7 semifinals. A week later, the Gladiators toppled an unbeaten Unionville-Sebewaing 28-14 team to win the championship.
Biggar’s two other favorite titles followed in 2008 and 2009, when the Gladiators scored massive wins in league games: 41-13 over Ubly in 2008 and 42-8 over Hudson the following year. In 2009, the Glads scored 682 points on the scoreboard in their 14-game unbeaten season – one of the 10 most successful seasons in Michigan high school football history. From Biggar’s perspective, the confluence of world-class talent in these two teams was like catching lightning in a bottle.
“Three of the players from these teams made it to the NFL,” Biggar said. “It was Max and Riley Bullough and Joe Kerridge. All three made NFL rosters, and two of those guys were Big Ten team captains. You got it from that little school in Division 7. It’s an amazing thing that will probably never happen again.