Public versus Private

I was walking around the Michigan Tech campus Saturday doing the same thing almost everyone else I saw around campus doing: playing Pokemon Go. There is very little that convinces average Michigan Tech students to leave the safety of their dorm rooms, but apparently Pokemon Go does a pretty good job of convincing them that getting that specialty Pokemon once a month is a good idea.

Anyway, while I was near the Memorial Union Building, I ran into Dollar Bay athletic director and Hancock Bulldogs football coach Ted Holmstrom. He stopped his car and we chatted for a bit about a wide range of topics, from the Blue Bolts’ exciting state semifinal run to Houghton’s near state title in hockey.

I have been replaying that conversation constantly in my mind since.

The first thing that Holmstrom said that really resonated with me was the fact that, at least during the time he coached there, the state of Wyoming had no private schools, only public ones. That means no matchups between Houghton and Cranbrook or Houghton and Detroit Country Day, and no matchups like Dollar Bay, one of the smallest schools in the entire state, and Southfield Christian, a private religious school that features players from all over the greater Detroit area.

I remember playing against Cranbrook in the state semifinals in 1997.

I do not remember hearing anything about how Cranbrook got its players. I think that I just assumed it was the same way every other public school did, the kids lived in their district. It was not until I got home from the tournament that I heard about the private school versus public school debate. Of course, part of that was the fact that my brother’s bantam travel team was also playing for the state title that weekend, so a few of my teammates and I left the Gremlins and drove over to watch our brothers play.

We lost to the Cranes in double overtime when Josh Allison, a kid from Blairsville, Pennsylvania, fired a shot that was blocked, got his own rebound and fired again only to be blocked again, and finally get a third shot through that got past our goaltender, Ron Wiitanen.

Allison was named to the Dream Team that year and later played four years of college hockey at Massachusetts-Lowell, if memory serves.

When I first heard the debate of private school versus public school, I thought it was silly. Given the fact that we lost to one of those teams in double overtime probably had a lot to do with that.

The Cranes won the state Class B-C-D title that year for the first time in six years. Then, three years later they won again, their ninth in school history. Over the next 15 years, they won it a further eight times. On their team website, they brag about the fact that they have won 17 state titles since 1979.

Needless to say, my opinions on the private versus public controversy have changed over the years since.

I have watched and listened to numerous teams from up here face the Cranbrooks and the Country Days and get their collective hats handed to them. I also cannot help but smile privately whenever a team from here, no matter who it is, beats Cranbrook in any game, whether it is Calumet early in the year, or Houghton or Hancock in the Trenton Showcase, or in the state tournament.

However, I am not sure any of this compares to what coach Jesse Kentala has been experiencing in Dollar Bay with Southfield Christian. Last season, the Blue Bolts came up against the Eagles in the state semifinals. The Eagles had had a season to remember after losing the previous year to North Central. To be fair, everyone lost to North Central during that incredible group’s run.

The Eagles were a determined bunch and they steamrolled the Blue Bolts from nearly the opening tip, 71-32. The top player off that team, Bryce Washington, committed to Pennsylvania.

This year, the Eagles, with much of the same team back, again defeated the Blue Bolts, a team with just one returning starter, 55-28.

It certainly begs the question, should a school like Dollar Bay, with an enrollment of 166, have to compete with Southfield Christian, a school of over 600 students from kindergarten to high school and features over 100 teachers and staff.

Oh, and tuition sets parents back $10,400 a year, on average.

Maybe Wyoming has it right. If there are no private schools, then Dollar Bay would not have to face Southfield Christian in the state semifinals, and might have a shot at a state title. Yet, North Central found a way to beat the Eagles before all of this.

I think, when you get right down to it, the public/private debate is something that we, as adults, have. I think the kids themselves do not care who their opponent is as long as they get to play, and maybe that is the attitude we should all be taking. There are no easy answers here, but I do know that if you beat one of those teams, it is a truly special moment.

Of course, just getting that far is pretty memorable as well.