Back when the two programs decided it was high time to renew the rivalry after a nearly 20-year hiatus, detractors bashed the decision. They said Grand Haven had nothing to gain by playing a much smaller school, while Class B Spring Lake simply wouldn’t be able to compete against a big Class A school.
But what has happened? The game has turned into a terrific event that draws thousands of fans into either Grand Haven High School or Spring Lake High School each December.
The first few games weren’t terribly competitive, mainly because Grand Haven boasted some of its best teams in decades over that span. But the gap closed to the point where Spring Lake actually beat Grand Haven last year.
This begs the question: Why not extend this fantastic rivalry to the football field?
The Buccaneers and the Lakers last played on the gridiron back in 1989, with Grand Haven scoring a 7-6 win. The Bucs also won in 1998, 28-14.
The obvious argument is that, in a game as physical as football, a smaller school like Spring Lake simply can’t compete athlete to athlete with a bigger school like Grand Haven. But look at the results from the six-year series the schools played from 1979 to 1984. Spring Lake won half of those games, scoring memorable victories in '79, '80 and '82.
The games that Grand Haven won during that span were by an average margin of less than seven points.
And if you think that smaller schools can’t compete with bigger programs, then how do you explain Muskegon Catholic Central’s move into the Lakes Eight Conference, where the tiny Crusaders will take on a Fruitport school that’s more than five times its size, in terms of high school enrollment?
Grand Haven is twice the size of Spring Lake, but the Lakers are churning out just as many college-bound football players as the Bucs in the past several years, if not more.
This would be a fantastic time for the rivalry to be rekindled, because changes in both the Lakes Eight and the O-K Red conferences over the past few years have left both teams with just five conference games. That leaves four nonconference dates to be filled. Grand Haven has to play other O-K schools in various crossover contests each year, but the Bucs are still searching for two more games each year.
Muskegon is a great local rivalry, but over the past few years, the Bucs have also faced off against East Lansing, Traverse City Central and West, Lansing Eastern, and Benton Harbor. The problem with these games is that there is no rivalry there. Fans from those schools don’t travel to Buccaneer Stadium, and Grand Haven fans don’t follow their teams to those away games.
Spring Lake already plays Mona Shores, a much larger school, and one that has beaten Grand Haven the past two years. If you’re going to play Shores, why not play Grand Haven instead?
Regardless whether the game is close on the field, it will be a smashing success in the stands. Fans will come, and the schools will be able to cash in on big paydays from tickets and concessions.
Sometimes we get too caught up in why we should say no, and forget to look at all the reasons why we should say yes. High school sports is about memories, not wins and losses.
When the Tribune looked back at 50 years of Spring Lake football last fall, many of the former players interviewed didn’t mention Fruitport or Reeths-Puffer or Ludington or Orchard View. They talked about their games against Grand Haven. They remember the plays that it took to beat the Bucs, and the ones that didn’t go their way in losses to their biggest rival.
The two schools owe it to their athletes and their fans to consider renewing this great rivalry.
Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.