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Muskegon, Jenison leaving the O-K Red

Nate Thompson • Jul 21, 2015 at 10:53 AM

The O-K Red will be left with a six-team league that features Grand Haven, Hudsonville, Rockford, East Kentwood, Grandville and West Ottawa.

All of the previous seven color divisions in the O-K Conference will feature six teams, with the exception of the O-K Silver (seven) and O-K Blue (eight). A new O-K Bronze division will also form, made up of six schools from different divisions.

Provencal does not approve of the changes, and his feelings were shared by athletic directors from Byron Center, Cedar Springs, West Catholic, Northview, Hamilton, Zeeland West, and fellow O-K Red schools Hudsonville and Rockford.

“It’s disappointing,” Provencal said this morning. “It’s about tradition and we’ve established these natural rivalries over the years and now they’re being thrown out the window. It’s frustrating that we’re changing things every three to four years.”

Provencal said he’s heard complaints from Jenison for “at least the last four years” about the competitive in-balance in the O-K Red due to school enrollment totals. Jenison features one of the lowest enrollment figures in the O-K Red with more than 1,400 students, while the largest, East Kentwood and Rockford, each have more than 2,500.

“This is just my opinion, but it’s all about football,” Provencal said. “Jenison couldn’t compete in football on a regular basis. It’s football-driven, especially when you can’t get the necessary six wins (to qualify for the playoffs).

“With Muskegon, they’re obviously competitive in football and basketball, but concerning the lesser-known sports, they’ve struggled. I look at (Thursday’s) JV baseball game. Muskegon just had eight kids on their team and one got injured, so they played with seven. They’ve struggled to maintain that competitive balance in all of their sports.”

Muskegon and Jenison will be grouped in the O-K Black with holdovers Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer, Kenowa Hills, and Grand Rapids Union.

With the approval of smaller league sizes, the O-K also approved “interdivisional” scheduling. For example in football, the new O-K Red will feature five division matchups along with two non-conference games (in Weeks 1 and 2) and two other matchups with interdivision schools from other O-K conferences.

“In football, it’s based on playoff points for the last given year, so as it stands now, we’d face Lowell and East Grand Rapids,” Provencal said.

In sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer and softball, O-K Red schools such as Grand Haven would play 10 division games and four interdivision contests.

The matchups would be based on enrollent numbers, Provencal said.  

The original O-K Conference was formed in 1958, and was split into multiple divisions in 1965. Grand Haven joined the O-K Red in 1985. At that time, the Red featured Grandville, Jenison, Mona Shores, West Ottawa, Rockford, East Kentwood and Holland.

The league has been altered three times since 2003. That year, the Red split into Lakeshore and Metro divisions, with Grand Haven being paired in the Lakeshore with Muskegon, Mona Shores, West Ottawa, Reeths-Puffer, Holland and Zeeland.

Two years later, the two divisions reverted back to the “old” O-K Red, but with Hudsonville replacing Mona Shores.  

Muskegon then replaced Holland in 2007.

Provencal said it was highly unlikely the O-K Red would add more schools in the upcoming years.

“People don’t want to play the Red because of our large enrollments,” he said. “If you’re a school like Wyoming Rogers with 900 kids, you don’t want to face schools every year like East Kentwood with an enrollment of 2,600, or Rockford with 2,500. That’s what it boils down to.”

Provencal had a different perspective of that view, saying teams should strive to play against the best.

“I take a look at our (basketball game) with Spring Lake,” he said. “People say it’s a no-win situation for us, because we’re expected to win, and Spring Lake can’t match up competitively against a larger school. But these kids from both schools love that game. It’s something they look forward to.

“It’s all about competition. I’ve always believed you should try to play the best competition possible. It can’t just be about wanting a winning record.”

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