Hurley, Northland Pines out of the West-PAC, Manistique is in for football

HURLEY — All the change in the West-PAC has had many effects.

Hurley needs to find teams to play. Rivalries such as Gogebic-Hurley and Iron Mountain-Kingsford all of a sudden are gone.

It all started last month when five Mid-Peninsula Conference teams further shook the Upper Peninsula high school football landscape by applying for membership in the West-PAC.

The West-PAC has expanded to 16 Michigan teams. Its six core teams — Gogebic, Calumet, Hancock, Houghton, L’Anse and West Iron County — will be joined by four Mid-Eastern teams — Lake Linden-Hubbell, Bark River-Harris, Munising and Norway, plus six Mid-Peninsula teams — Negaunee, Ishpeming, Gwinn, Westwood, Iron Mountain and Manistique. Manistique didn’t originally apply for membership as the school is located the farthest to the east, but the West-PAC eventually accepted them, it just didn’t announce that decision.

Teams will play all seven teams in their division plus two crossover contests. 

That didn’t work with one Wisconsin team because Hurley starts a week earlier than Michigan teams. That was the biggest reason Hurley was removed from the conference, West Iron County athletic director and football coach Mike Berutti said.

Northland Pines voluntarily left shortly after the West-PAC added the Mid-Pen teams.

“When Pines expressed their desire to explore an independent route, I kind of saw the writing on the wall,” Hurley athletic director Steve Eder said. “I was thinking it’s probably going to force the West-PAC’s hands because there’s no way to schedule us in.”

Ultimately, he was right.

He understood what they did, from a logistical standpoint.

“Every A.D. in the West-PAC was complimentary of our school, our students and our community and they enjoyed playing us,” Eder said. “It was just a logistical thing. I can’t fault them for that.”

Hurley finished in a three-way tie for second last year in the conference and in a tie for third this year. The Midgets had been in the Great Western — which folded as too many teams decided to play 8-player football — since 2000.

“Sad day, after 18 great years of playing football in the U.P. we have been kicked to the curb,” Hurley coach Scott Erickson tweeted Wednesday. “Now on to the next challenge.”

He responded to a comment with another tweet: “Yes I am really disappointed for our kids. We took on all comers to fill in schedules for UP schools the last 18 years, but it wasn’t enough.”

The West-PAC decided to not leave any open dates for non-conference dates because only two dozen teams in the U.P. still play 11-player football and 16 of them are in the West-PAC.

That decision eliminates rivalries like Hurley-Gogebic and Iron Mountain-Kingsford.

“It’s horrible,” Gogebic coach Mark Mazzon said. “Anytime you lose a rivalry and a close game like that — it’s almost like a home game — for us as far as we have to travel, it’s ridiculous to have to lose that. At the same time, I don’t think we had much say so and that’s sad.”

He said there was a great crowd at this year’s Hurley-Gogebic matchup.

“You hate to lose those rivalries, those are what people around our communities want to watch,” Mazzon said. “Most people know kids from both teams.”

Eder expects more rivalries to be eliminated down the road.

“Both us and Northland Pines were not overly thrilled with the (West-PAC) schedule that came out with the expansion just because of some of the travel. You’re talking Manistique and Munising,” Eder said. “And because of the way it was set up, Hurley and Northland Pines had to play in Week 1 in Wisconsin because of the different schedules. But because of always having to play each other like that, then Hurley was unable to play Gogebic (anyway). You’re going to see that more and more with district plans and football-conference only plans. Unfortunately, rivalries are going to be lost.”

With Frederic dropping to 8-player football, Hurley reached out to the Lakeland and some athletic directors in the conference reached out to Hurley. 

“We were fortunate to get through a couple of steps and we got to the last step and we found out it was based on some constitutional bylaws that they have in their conference. We were a little bit too late for admittance this year,” Eder said. “Because of that, we’re in the state we’re in now. It’s nothing, without sounding too cliche, it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”

But…

“If anybody’s looking for a game, make sure they call me,” Eder said.

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