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BURNSTEIN COLUMN: State of affairs in Pontiac bleak, city’s prep ranks could be in jeopardy

By: Scott Burnstein, September 30, 2013, 10:00 am

What is transpiring over in Pontiac these days is truly tragic.

The city is in financial ruin and its public school district is literally hanging on by a fragile thread, in dire straits and on the verge of either closing all together or being taken over by the state and put into conservatorship.

It’s sad in so many ways.

This was once a handsomely-sized school district, boasting twin high schools, Pontiac Central and Pontiac Northern, with proud athletic programs.

People assumed if and when the two merged (which happened in 2009, renaming itself Pontiac High School), the sports teams would become unstoppable superpowers.

That’s been far from the case.

Possibly the most stark picture of the district’s decline is the product being offered up by Pontiac’s athletic program, an output that could be described as underwhelming at best.

After qualifying for the playoffs on the football field in two of the first three years following the merger, Pontiac has hit a major wall. As in the program is winless this fall (0-5, coming off a 40-0 clobbering at the hands of a middle-of-the-road Rochester club) and went 1-8 last year.

The basketball program, once a state-power, is a mere shadow of its former self, whether contrasting it to mighty Northern and Central and their combined storied history on the hardwood or even Pontiac High School itself, having produced highly-touted cage contingents in the late 2000s and early portion of this decade in the wake of the merger.

In what seemed like an impossibility just a couple of short years ago, Pontiac was a complete non-factor on the court last winter and it will most likely be the same situation again this upcoming season.

Yes, this is the same city that produced back-to-back Class A state champions (Lester Abram-led Northern squads in 2001 and 2002), the famed Russell family (Campy, Frank, and Walker D. of Central teams in the 1960s and 70s that each made it to the NBA) and Hall of Fame coaches like Ralph Grubb (Central) and Sy Green (Northern).

The picture becomes even more depressing when you take into the account that things realistically have zero chance of improving. They’re basically the walking dead. Barring a miracle, there is almost nowhere to go but further down the drain, a bottoming-out that would probably mean the district ceasing to exist and the student population being dispersed to nearby communities like Waterford, West Bloomfield, Auburn Hills, Bloomfield Hills.

Ypsilanti’s school district shuttered in August, so did Willow Run’s.

Is this a foreshadowing of what will happen in Pontiac shortly?

If I had to offer a guess, I’d say yes.

Pontiac High School took the nickname of the Phoenix four years ago when it opened under its new name.

Unfortunately, instead of the Phoenix rising, they’re falling.

And fast.