Metro Detroit conference to undergo changes following 2016 season
By Dave Pemberton
The Kensington Lakes Activities Association football coaches met Tuesday afternoon for their annual football media day, but the elephant in the room was the fact it will be the last time coaches from all 24 schools will meet.
At the end of the school year, 10 teams will leave the KLAA.
Nine of those schools (Lakeland, Milford, South Lyon, South Lyon East, Walled Lake Central, Walled Lake Northern, Walled Lake Western Waterford Kettering and Waterford Mott) will leave and form a new still unnamed conference.
Pinckney will leave to join the Southeastern Conference.
“I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to keep it together,” said Northville athletic director Bryan Masi, who has served as the football commissioner since the league’s inception in 2008. “I think it’s been an outstanding league with 24 teams who have been a part of this. When we first formed we were on the cutting edge of how we do things, the four divisions we had broken up geographically.
“We had some good ideas going forward on how to keep it together that included enrollment and winning percentage. But at the end of the day it didn’t work out for everybody. It’s bittersweet, but we’re looking forward to moving on with the teams and we wish all the teams that are leaving well.”
Most of the schools leaving are on the lower end of enrollment in the KLAA and are hoping to play in a more balanced conference.
“I’m going to miss the KLAA, it was a great league and we had a lot of success,” Walled Lake Central head coach Bob Meyer said. “Walled Lake Central had a lot of success in that league and the league as a whole had great success, it was awesome to be a part of. But with the current enrollment projections I think it was the right thing to do for all nine teams.
“At the varsity level we can all compete, it’s never a problem with whoever we’re playing. But when you start to get to the lower levels, we need those kids in order to be successful at the varsity level so that’s where the pain was coming from. The lower levels getting beat sometimes pretty badly. And that’s not good for the kids, that’s not good for the program and ultimately it’s not good for the school district. So I think it’s the right thing to do.”
For a school like Walled Lake Western, which has made playoffs seven of the last eight years, leaving is not ideal but also understandable.
“I think it’s been a great conference,” Western coach Mike Zdebski said. “It’s disappointing we weren’t able to keep everything together. That’s a decision that wasn’t up to any of the coaches, that’s above our pay grade you would say. I think they’re looking at what’s best for all sports at the schools.”
South Lyon East, with an enrollment of approximately 960 students, having to compete against schools in its division like Northville (around 2,300), Novi (2,050) and Livonia Stevenson (1,800) was difficult in all sports.
East has made the football playoffs just once since opening in 2008.
“I think it’s good and bad,” East coach Joe Pesci said. “It’s certainly going to be positive for us in the long run just because we’re getting closer to playing schools that are our size. But it’s sad in the fact that we’re leaving this great conference and not going to be able to play some of the teams we’ve played over the last several years. You start to develop rivalries with those schools, get to know the coaches and players. That’s what we’re going to miss, but that will all start anew.”
The remaining 14 schools plan to remain together after the other schools leave and could possibly even add some new schools.
“I personally don’t want it to change,” Livonia Franklin coach Chris Kelbert said. “I love our schedule. I love our division and I don’t think our division is going to change much because we’re not losing any teams. But the diversity of the teams we play offensively, offensive schemes, the talent that we play, it really helps us when we get into the playoffs. … We see top competition and are ready when the playoffs come. I don’t want it to change, I love this style of football that we play.”
Both W.L. Western and Franklin reached the Division 2 state semifinals last season.
The Warriors had a spectacular season and were undefeated when they fell to Lowell in the semifinals.
Franklin surprised many by making its run before falling to eventual state champion Detroit King.
Both schools are hoping to have similar success this season with a ton of talent back.
“I think skill-wise we’re better,” Zdebski said. “We have Cody White back at receiver, we got Jack Dodge who will be moving into receiver, they were both all-state last year. Johnny Tracy transferred in from Birmingham Brother Rice and in our opinion there has not been a quarterback this summer that’s outperformed him. I think he’s the best quarterback in the state.”
Kelbert said last year’s run was a pleasant surprise for what was a young team, but the team will have to adjust to having high expectations this season.
“We want to continue where we left last year,” Kelbert said. “We have a lot of kids returning from last year’s team. Last year was a little unexpected because we were so young. We were kind of expecting this year to be the year that we made some big improvements. Being a year ahead of schedule is very exciting for us as a staff.
“Now it’s a little different where we had success and want to stay there. It’s a little bit different but I think this group of kids because of last year they want to repeat. Kids who were sophomores and juniors they don’t want it to be a one-year, one-hit wonder type of thing.”