Big Bay de Noc and MHS sign cooperative agreement
A brief conversation on the feasibility of an eight-man football program could lead to a return to the gridiron for students at the Big Bay de Noc School. Both boards of education approved a cooperative agreement Monday night that could result in students from Big Bay playing football in Manistique this fall.
Emerald head football coach Todd Kangas said the possibility of an agreement between the two schools was raised last February, when he learned that the smaller Big Bay district was considering an eight-man football program for their students in Garden.
Kangas contacted Big Bay Superintendent Bill Pistulka to explore the possibility of a cooperative program with Manistique.
Because of an approaching deadline from the Michigan High School Athletic Association, the agreement was put on a fast track and approved 4-3 at a special meeting of the Manistique Area Schools Board of Education, and by a 7-0 vote during the regular session of the Big Bay de Noc Board.
Urging approval of the program, Kangas thanked the MAS board for hearing the request on short notice.
He stressed that the agreement was not being considered because of a lack of participation, as reported during public comment at the last board meeting.
“We are not asking to join a co-op to save our football program or because our program in is peril from lack of participation,” Kangas said. “Whether we enter into this agreement or not, our numbers indicate that we will field a junior varsity and varsity program this year, and our participation numbers this next year will have increased from last year. Those are the facts, not just commentary, but with that said, we would certainly like the opportunity and ability to add and improve our program and provide the opportunity to students at Big Bay. I believe this co-op is a possible way of doing that.”
Kangas said that after discussions with MAS Athletic Director Rob Ryan, the potential benefits to the Manistique football program far outweigh the possible conflicts that could occur, adding, “I discussed the program with current players, and they also agreed that the benefits outweighed any possible negatives. Neither group said this is something we shouldn’t do.”
Kangas said the arrangement is “consistent with policies we already follow at MHSAA and are currently in place here. If our district policy changes in regards to co-ops or shared programs at any time in the near future, this is a program that can easily be revisited and easily dissolved at any time.”
Following the comments from Kangas, board member Tim Zellner introduced the agenda item for consideration, which received support from board member Gail Wood.
The topic sparked a debate that lasted just over an hour.
In favor of the agreement, board member Amy Kraatz recalled her time as a student in Ishpeming, where a similar agreement between Ishpeming and Republic proved to be successful for students at both schools.
“They welcomed it with open arms,” she said. “I am not sure what the rest of the community in Manistique thinks, but I support it.”
Zellner shed some light on the community’s feelings, saying at first he was “undecided” until he asked the public how they felt.
“I talked to players, I talked to people from Bay, I talked to parents and kids from Manistique, and they were overwhelmingly in support of the program. I was really surprised,” Zellner said.
Citing concerns that they were being asked to consider the request “late in the game,” board member Giannine Perigo cast a dissenting vote.
“I have problems with this, and I will tell you why. I have big problems with this,” Perigo said. “First of all, it’s late in the game. Why are we waiting until the last minute to bring this forward? My second problem is this is coming from us and not Big Bay. Do we know Big Bay has football players that want to play? Why have they not approached us, asking for the agreement? If they really want to play football, they can come to Manistique High School. We have schools of choice. They can come here to school if they want to play football.”
Board member Ginger Stark, who also voted against the program, questioned the need to look outside the district for students willing to participate in sports at MHS.
“I don’t know why we don’t have more kids coming out when other schools are able to encourage their students to come out and play,” she said. “I think we need to address why we don’t have more kids coming out. There is something wrong, and I think we should figure that out before we start something new.”
Joan Brown, the third dissenting vote, questioned whether students from another school will replace students from MHS and deny the sons and daughters of local taxpayers the opportunity to participate.
That concern was not shared by Jared Edwards, last season’s Emerald co-captain, who spoke in favor of the program.
“I have played every second of every down last season,” he said. “Ever since I was a freshman, I only had one backup. You play and neglect minor injuries because there is no one to take your place. It would be huge for us to have players from Big Bay on our team.”
Responding to Stark’s comments about lack of participation, Edwards said the additions of crosscountry and club soccer as fall sports have taken kids away from the football program.
“It’s not like they are not playing sports,” Edwards said. “I know five good football players that have switched to soccer. We are not losing athletes; they are just changing sports.”
Kangas agreed. “We have not had the problem of our kids not playing enough. Our problem is that we have these kids playing too much,” he said. “We are looking to increase our numbers and give ourselves a little more of an opportunity.”
He said his objective has always been to put the highest quality team out on the field. Cooperative agreement
“In our program, everyone is treated equally and the quality will come out on the practice field,” Kangas said. “The better kid will play, whether they are from Manistique, Germfask or Big Bay. I think football players respect that, and they should.”
Again Edwards injected his thoughts, saying, “I am sure all of my friends, all my teammates, would prefer to have the best players possible, as long as they would help the team.”
Ryan addressed an earlier question from Perigo regarding schools of choice and what MHS has to offer students.
“I want to address Giannine’s question, because I think it is the best question of all, the one that I have struggled with the most throughout this whole process, and that is, if you love football and you are going to Bay de Noc, our doors are open to you,” Ryan said. “It is no secret to anyone that we are in a very competitive environment for students because of declining enrollment. If you are a school district that offers something neighboring districts don’t, you need to market that, put it in neon lights and get kids to come to your district. It’s probably the strongest argument if you are ‘con’ against this. But in my experience, the reality is they have not come and will not come here for football. For those of you who have not grown up here, Big Bay is a very proud community school who has a lot of pride in their drama program and sports programs. They are fiercely loyal. It’s a generational tight-knit community down there. Even if they love football, they are not going to leave their school or their friends to come to school here.”
While the agreement passed 7-0 at Big Bay, Pistulka said his board also had concerns about the proposed program.
“We have been looking at options for our students that include football, and this gives us that opportunity,” Pistulka said. “This is a really good step. With shrinking budgets and declining enrollment having an effect on programs, we educators want to be able to provide as many extracurricular activities as possible for our students. When it is put together I think it can be beneficial for both MHS and Big Bay, and I want to thank them for taking us on.”
Pistulka said his board was very positive about the idea, but did voice concerns about costs to the district and the fact that Manistique runs a pay-to-play program.
“We are not sure, but I feel the costs to the district are relativity small,” he said. “Additionally, our students will have to meet the standards that are in place for MHS students.”
It was anticipated that the MHSAA would approve the arrangement as early as this Wednesday.
Cooperative agreements are made for a minimum of two years, but may be voided at any time by resolution of any cooperating board of education.
If the agreement is voided before completion of the second year of the cooperative program, the school or schools that terminated the agreement may not enter into another cooperative program in the same sports until another two-year period has transpired.
The last full season of football at Big Bay de Noc was in 1984. In 1985 they forfeited the only two games on their schedule.
In 1978-79, Big Bay played 15 games without scoring a point.
During the dark years of the program, the Black Bears were outscored 864-8.