The University of Michigan football team’s decision to spend Saturday at Muskegon’s Pere Marquette Beach as opposed to Grand Haven City Beach led to plenty of social media banter and speculation.
With significant interest surrounding the Wolverines following a first College Football Playoff berth last football season, Jim Harbaugh and his staff have opted to take a trip around the state this summer, having taken trips to Africa and Europe in recent years.
Both the Michigan football program and the Grand Haven city offices worked to create a place for the team’s traveling party of around 225 people to enjoy City Beach on Saturday, but late last week, the U-M program decided to head north instead.
“We appreciate the (Grand Haven) City Council and the parks and recreation department – they worked with us to try and make a space for the team,” Michigan director of athletic media relations David Ablauf said. “We made the decision for space and security to go to Muskegon.”
The city did not intend to charge any extra fees for usage of the beach, and the Wolverines ended up using Muskegon’s beaches alongside the public on Saturday.
“I know there were some crazy rumors out there, but we were accommodating everything they requested,” interim Grand Haven City Manager Ashley Latsch said Monday. “We had no idea there was an issue until Wednesday of last week, when they let us know they were moving.”
Plans had already been in place for the team to eat dinner at The Deck in Muskegon on Saturday evening, and with large team buses moving players and coaches across the state, parking quickly turned into an issue in Grand Haven.
“Grand Haven is just a little harder logistically for us to move into,” Ablauf said. “We would have had to put our buses offsite, and having all those movements between here and Muskegon just didn’t make much sense to us.”
City Council had originally approved use of the space in early July, and the city’s Parks and Recreation Board approved the event to go on without exclusive access to use of City Beach, located south of Grand Haven State Park.
It seemed like smooth sailing for both parties until the program notified the city in the middle of last week that they wouldn’t be using the beach after all.
“Our concern was about denying public access to a public asset,” Latsch added. “They didn’t clarify exactly what issue they ran into. I had heard they were working with Noto’s as far as providing food.”
A handful of U-M players and coaches did end up using local fishing charters over the weekend. A group of staff also toured the USS Silversides submarine museum in Muskegon.
The Wolverines have snaked their way across the state, passing through Flint and Grand Rapids on their way to West Michigan. The team visited Silver Lake and rode on the Mac Woods Dune Rides on Sunday. On Monday, the team headed north to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Leelanau County, with a further trip to Mackinac City planned as part of an “aggressive schedule.”
Crowds flocked to Muskegon’s beaches Saturday, with fans surrounding Harbaugh to take pictures and collect autographs from the coach, who will head into his eighth season in charge.
“Internationally, there’s always Michigan alums and people willing to come out and see us as college sports fans,” Ablauf said of recent offseason trips. “It draws a crowd, but Michigan football in the state of Michigan is going to draw a bigger crowd. It’s been an adventure for us – we wanted to do things in the state that educate our players and allow them to have fun.”
Michigan’s preseason practices will start in early August, ahead of their season opener on Sept. 3 against Colorado State.