BY DENNIS CHASE firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — Bulldogs will remain in Northwest for all other sports
TRAVERSE CITY — The West Michigan D League is ending its football relationship with the Mid-State Athletic Conference starting next fall.
The two leagues joined forces several years ago, eventually creating a two-division setup.
Instead, the West Michigan D will go with a six-team alignment that will now include Mesick, which is leaving the newly-merged Northwest Conference-Lake Michigan Conference in football.
"They came to us after the Lake Michigan and Northwest situation took place," said Bear Lake athletic director Karen Leinaar, the West Michigan D secretary. "They were very verbal from the get-go that they weren't in favor of that merger. They were looking for a place for football — and the cards fell the right way this time."
Mesick will remain in the Northwest Conference for all other sports, Leinaar said.
The Bulldogs struggled in the Northwest, finishing 0-5 this fall. Mesick was 1-8 overall, its third consecutive one-win campaign. The lone win was over Brethren in week nine. Brethren, Onekama, Manistee Catholic, Baldwin and Traverse City Christian are the other five schools in the West Michigan D. Traverse City Christian, like Mesick, is a football-only member. Those five schools were in the North division of the Mid-State in 2013.
"The scheduling relationship (in the Mid-State) has been good for many years, but in the last few years there have been some very one-sided contests and this year due to injuries a couple of games were not played and forfeits had to be issued," Leinaar said. "So it was decided to make this change as the contracts were up this year."
Leinaar said Big Rapids Crossroads Academy, which had been a football member in the Mid-State, will move to 8–man football due to a decrease in participation numbers.
Leinaar said the new West Michigan D set-up "saves some on travel, but it does cause each of the schools to find four (non-league) opponents."
Mesick was scheduled to play in the small school division with Suttons Bay, Frankfort, Kalkaska, East Jordan, Charlevoix and Harbor Springs in the newly-created league.
Frankfort's Dave Jackson, secretary for the Northwest Conference, said that league will be "pro-active" in finding a replacement. Jackson has been working in conjunction with Grayling's Eric Tunney, the Lake Michigan Conference representative.
"We are going to send a letter out to four or five teams that have either been left out of league alignments or we think might be interested," Jackson said. "We hope to get some letters of response back to see if there is interest."
Jackson said letters will be sent to big and small schools.
Although officials would like to fill the opening for next season, Jackson doesn't know if that's realistic.
"Most everybody has already made commitments for next fall," he said. "For a team to say, 'I'm going to dump nine opponents and go to a new league on short notice,' that's tough to ask somebody to do that."
In the meantime, the smaller schools that had Mesick scheduled are now scrambling to fill those dates.
"Now, all of a sudden, you've created an opening for them in the middle of the season, and those open dates, like weeks five, six and seven, are tough to fill," Jackson said.