In Play with Tom Markowski


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State’s largest conference to realign in 2016 and add two more schools

By: Tom Markowski, April 30, 2015, 3:09 pm




Caledonia – A change in alignment for the largest mega conference in the state was approved on Thursday and despite the proposal passing by a count of 40-8 it’s created some controversy.

Administrators from the Ottawa Kent (O-K) Conference approved the realignment of its 48 member schools and also approved the additions of Spring Lake and Fruitport, which are members of the Lakes Eight Conference.

The change is scheduled to go into effect in the fall of 2016.

The O-K will trim down the number of divisions from eight to seven despite increasing the number of schools from 48 to 50. 

Spring Lake will join the Blue Division; Fruitport the Black.

Among the current O-K member schools Caledonia appears to have received the short end of the stick. Caledonia is in the White Division with other traditionally strong athletic schools like Lowell, East Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Christian. When the realignment is in place only Lowell will remain.

This past football season State Champs labelled the O-K White as one of the most competitive football divisions in the state. In 2016 the White will be average and Lowell will likely dominate.

Noel Dean of Lowell is one of the most respected football coaches in the state. He said by attempting to create parity administrators might have forgotten one of the most important aspects of high school football and that is the rivalries that exist.

“I appreciate the educators’ approach to grouping schools with similar size and geography,” he said. “Now I don’t have to worry about getting home from a (junior varsity) game at 11:30 at night.

“We would like to keep our rivalries alive, but it’s (going to be) complicated with the change in (divisions), and the contracts people already have.  It’s not as easy as everyone would like it to be. 

“There is some potential, given that we’ll be a solid Division 3 team moving forward that we could continue our rivalry with East Grand Rapids in the playoffs, even if we aren’t able to make it happen during the regular season.”

The teams have met every year since the 1983 season. East Grand Rapids holds a 22-12 advantage but Lowell has won the last five.

Outside of wins and losses is the challenge that faces the athletic programs at Caledonia.

Football is king and always will be. Much of what takes place, good or bad, in athletics begins with football.

But other sports like cross country and track often have greater participation, and all of the teams have conference obligations and travel costs, whether three people show up at an event or 300.

Caledonia is a school with an enrollment of approximately 1,450. It will join the Red Division with schools like East Kentwood, Grandville (1,825), Grand Haven (2,050), Holland West Ottawa, Hudsonville (1,725) and Rockford. Jenison will also move from the White to the Red creating an eight-team division.

Rockford has 2,560 students, 1,100 more than Caledonia. East Kentwood has 2,581 and West Ottawa has 2,400. The enrollment, approximately, of the other schools are listed above.

Caledonia’s varsity football team was 7-3 last season. The fighting Scots were highly competitive and shown by its 42-0 victory over Rockford.

The football program and how well it competes is not the point of contention.

In 2007 Caledonia moved from the White to the Gold. In 2012 it moved back to the White. Now it will move to the Red. Rivalries are built on teams playing each other on a consistent basis, not once in a three-year period.

Let’s address travel. It takes 40 minutes to drive from Caledonia to Rockford and to West Ottawa. Its takes an hour to get to Grand Haven. During the football season this will likely not cause any problems.

Caledonia football coach Tom Burrill said problems will arise elsewhere.

“I coach freshmen girls basketball,” Burrill said. “I can’t imagine what it will be like to make these trips in January on a Monday.

“We’re frustrated. The competitive balance, it won’t be that much of a difference. What about the rivalries we established in the White? We’re not happy about (the change).”


Ryan Terpstra contributed to this report.