I hear tell there are high-level discussions being conducted by Wayland and Middleville Thornapple Kellogg schools to leave the O-K Conference and join the Wolverine.
Both Wayland and TK joined the O-K Conference in 1971, lining up in the Blue Division, back when the O-K was only Red, White and Blue. Wayland and South Christian are the only schools to be members of the Gold Division of the O-K Conference since it was established during expansion in the early 1980s.
The Wolverine Conference now includes 10 schools. If Wayland and TK follow through on rumors of an exodus, they very likely would help form the Wolverine North Division, which would feature Wayland, Middleville, Plainwell, Otsego, Allegan and probably Vicksburg, based on geography.
The other six, in the southern division, would have South Haven, Sturgis, Three Rivers, Paw Paw, Edwardsburg and Dowagiac. It has been said that inter-conference play also would be part of the package.
The O-K Conference has grown immensely over its 46 years to become one of the most powerful athletic associations in the entire state, producing plenty of state champions and all-state individuals.
So why would two loyal members of this same conference for 46 years begin talks with the Wolverine Conference?
Despite what some people say, I believe it really is all about being competitive and I sense Wayland and TK are maintaining they’re getting the short straw in the Gold, home of the likes of East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Christian and South Christian. All three of these league opponents have been suspected of recruiting and playing the game by different rules than others. It too often is a league of haves and have-nots.
To be sure, Wayland has been more than competitive in basketball and softball, but it’s very difficult to have success when your opponents don’t play by the same rules. Especially non-public schools.
I have no hard evidence, but when I watched Grand Rapids Christian play Wayland in basketball last winter, I couldn’t help but notice a school that for so long had been virtually all-white, now had nine blacks on its 13-member varsity. I also couldn’t overlook the fact that at least two team members played for somebody else not long before, and one still had a sibling playing for his former public school.
Grand Rapids Christian’s ballclub looked more to me like a small college squad. And as good as Wayland was last season, it had virtually no chance against the Eagles. It was like forming the best team that possibly could be assembled.
I had similar feelings about playing East Grand Rapids in football. The Pioneers, who make up a public school, still have had among their ranks some controversial players, who some believe were recruited. Check out the stories about the Grady Bunch.
This kind of stuff looks a lot more like college athletics, where winning isn’t just the most important thing, it’s the only thing, to paraphrase coaching legend Vince Lombardi. I don’t like this philosophy invading high school athletics, where I foolishly thought the games were still played with some semblance of purity.
I recognize at the same time that Wayland last season had four members of its basketball team who didn’t live within the district. It’s become a sophisticated version of “Keeping up with the Joneses.”
So, on one hand, I can understand Wayland’s desire to play in a conference in which the competition is more in line with the Wildcats. But I also understand that Wayland very well could dominate most sports in the Wolverine.
I e-mailed Wayland school officials for their comments, but received no response. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening.