St. Francis is a football factory

The first time I saw the Traverse City St. Francis High School football program in action came twenty years ago.

TC St. Francis was playing L’Anse in a pre-regional game at the Superior Dome in Marquette. That was in a more enlightened time when the MHSSA was trying to cut down on traveling distances for teams separated by many miles.

The Hornets of coach Jerry Bugni had a strong team in 1998, led by speedy tailback Jerry Cleary, who had rushed for more than 1,000 yards that season.

To make a long story short, L’Anse came out strong that afternoon. Led by Cleary, the Hornets led most of the first half.

I happened to be standing nearby when the TCSF coaches (and there were seven or eight of them) huddled during the halftime break.

Each coach brought a printed data sheet with them and much of the discussion centered around the Hornets offense. 

And sure enough, the Gladiators turned things around in the second half and took a 49-28 decision …. just like a well-oiled small college team would.

The downstate team has rolled over the opposition since, posting just one under .500 season in that time. They’re 44-4 over the last four seasons.

Of course, TCSF has one huge advantage over public schools — they can recruit students from all over their region.

Parochial schools and private schools (Bloomfield Hills-Cranbrook, Detroit Country Day, etc.) have enjoyed that edge for some time, and the number of state championships they’ve won is proof of that.

Calumet has the unenviable task of meeting the Gladiators this week in the playoffs. And while the John Croze-coached Copper Kings have put together a stellar season, they will be decided underdogs when they travel to Traverse City.

I, for one, believe postseason games between schools separated by more than 200 miles, should be scheduled at a neutral site. Say, like the Superior Dome.

Will that ever happen again? Probably not in my lifetime ….