Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Foundation loses our leader.

Chris Ernvall was a true Big Red
by Tom Kendra
Tuesday July 28, 2009

No one did more crucial work behind the scenes than Chris Ernvall to keep Muskegon High School's football program among the best in the state.

And that is why his tragic death Sunday at the age of 41 has produced such an outpouring of emotion from Big Reds all over the world.

"I will miss you," ex-Muskegon great and current Indianapolis Colt Terrance Taylor wrote on Ernvall's Facebook page.

"You were a good friend and always looked out for me ... ALWAYS."

Closer to home, Muskegon athletic director Mike Watson wrote:

"If I had to define a 'Big Red,' I would have shown a picture of you. You were never afraid to get your hands dirty and help do the REAL work."

Ernvall was my friend and my kind of guy -- work hard, play hard, patriotic, do anything for his family and friends, take care of business Monday through Friday, have some fun on the weekends and church on Sunday morning.

I love what Ernvall said when he volunteered for the local American Red Cross chapter in the early 1990s.

"I know people and I got some skills," Ernvall told local executive director Tim Lipan.

Back in the mid-1980s, Ernvall had some serious skills on the football field as a star linebacker for Coach Dave Taylor.

As his body morphed from a ripped teenager to that of a pudgy stockbroker, he used his amazing financial skills to help reinvigorate the Big Red Athletic Foundation.

Then he used his most well-known skill -- his engaging personality and charisma -- to take the foundation's annual golf outing from near extinction to a packed field loaded with corporate sponsors.

The last significant conversation I had with Ernvall was last November after Muskegon had destroyed Lowell in their much-anticipated clash in the Division 2 playoffs.

The big guy was beaming, but it was a bit of a double-edged sword because the Big Reds had to leave his beloved Hackley Stadium (because of unplayable field conditions), to play the biggest game of the season at Grand Haven.

"Tommy," he told me, "we're going to get that field turf at Hackley if it's the last thing I do."

Ironic words, for sure.

Ernvall knew that no school in the area needed the many benefits of field turf more than land-locked Muskegon High.

Wouldn't it be something, as Hackley Stadium gets long-awaited structural and locker-room improvements thanks to a voter-approved millage, if the "Big Red Nation" could come through with the plan and the funds to make Ernvall's dream of field turf a reality.

If that day ever arrives, I would take it a step further.

The Big Reds will always play at Hackley Stadium.

But perhaps they could play on Chris Ernvall Field.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Golf Golf Golf Golf Golf Golf

The 18th Annual
Muskegon Big Red
Athletic Foundation Open

4-Person Scramble

Stonegate Golf Club

June 26, 2009
Check-in 10:30
Shot Gun Start 12:00

$85 per Player
(same as last year)

Tee Sponsors $175

Contact Chris Ernvall at 231-799-3036 to sign up and support Big Red Athletics.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Muskegon voters give the OK to bond proposal.

From the May 6, 2009 edition of the Muskegon Chronicle

In Muskegon, where voters approved a $12.5 million bond proposal, Superintendent Colin Armstrong said success came in keeping the millage request very low -- 0.2 mill, which kept the tax rate lower than it was last year.
"I think many people got it that we were trying to walk between the two issues of needs of students and the economic situation of the community," he said.

The extra tax levy, in place until 2023, will pay for 800 new student computers, teacher "smart carts," building maintenance such as boilers and roofs, buses, renovated science labs and improvements to Hackley Stadium that do not include artificial turf. It also will pay for such basic improvements as new white boards in classrooms.

The proposal easily passed 1,664 to 715.

"It's pretty clear the community supports the education system and their kids," Armstrong said.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

From today's Muskegon Chronicle

Muskegon district seeking $12.5 million bond issue

Saturday, April 25, 2009
By Lynn Moore

MUSKEGON -- If Muskegon voters turn down a school bond request in May, they'll pay less in property taxes. And if they approve the request, their taxes still will be lower than they were last year.

That's the message Muskegon Public Schools officials are trying to get out to voters who will be considering the $12.5 million request on May 5.

It's not an easy one to get across, said Superintendent Colin Armstrong. Voters will be asked to increase a 5.5-mill property tax levy by 0.2 mill. The extra levy, in place until 2023, would be used to pay off bonds sold to pay for improvements, which include new computers and other teaching technology, building maintenance such as boilers and roofs, buses and improvements to Hackley Stadium that do not include artificial turf.

The tax originally was approved at 7 mills in 1995, and was dropped to 5.5 mills in December. Without the voters' approval, the district is expected to have to drop the millage by about another 1.5 mills by the end of this year. Either way, the tax will be in place until 2023.

The original 7 mills raised $43 million for widespread improvements in the district, and many improvements included in this year's request are left over from the 1995 proposal that ran out of money before they could be accomplished.

Under the proposal, the owner of a home with a market value of $75,000 and taxable value of $37,500 would pay an annual property tax of $214 to pay off Muskegon Public Schools' debt. If the proposal fails, that property owner's annual tax would be $150.

Proposed improvements include $1 million for the stadium, which include cement work in the bleacher area, a new ticket booth, and, most significantly, renovating locker rooms and six bathrooms in the tunnel beneath the stadium. A citizens group is working to raise money for artificial turf at the stadium, which Armstrong said school officials couldn't justify including in the bond request when there are so many other needs in the district.

Armstrong called the stadium an "important part of the community image" that needs to be preserved.

"If you don't look at certain structural issues, you can find yourself locked out -- you get red-tagged," Armstrong said. "If you get red-tagged, you can't use it anymore."

The bond proposal includes "less sexy" but very necessary items like new or retrofitted boilers and roof repairs, Armstrong said. The district spends over $2 million in natural gas and electricity costs each year, and Armstrong said he believes the improvements could save 5 percent to 10 percent on those costs. At Steele Middle School, which would get a high-efficiency boiler retrofit, the cost savings are expected to be between $60,000 and $70,000 a year.

Armstrong called the stadium an "important part of the community image" that needs to be preserved.

And that's an immediate cost savings to the district, which is looking to make spending cuts anywhere it can.

Perhaps most important to the learning that occurs in the district's 317 classrooms is the proposal's replacement of 800 of the district's 1,100 student computers.

The average age of instructional computers is eight years, which means they can't operate new systems and are breaking down often, Armstrong said.

"Anyone who works with a computer knows what that means: You're working with a dinosaur," he said.

The proposal also calls for renovating science labs that don't just get old, but get "out of date," Armstrong said. Labs that would get attention are those at Steele Middle School and Muskegon High.

All classrooms also would get new white boards -- the modern-day equivalent to chalk boards -- and "smart carts" that include a teacher computer, network projector, document camera, audio system and DVD/VCR/CD player.

In addition, the district would buy 10 school buses.

If voters agree to the millage proposal, all projects completed with bond money are expected to be finished by January 2012.

The Muskegon district currently has the county's lowest debt per pupil and will continue to be the lowest if voters in Fruitport approve a bond proposal to build a new high school, Armstrong said.

"I think we can comfortably say to the community we are being prudent," Armstrong said.

When district officials first began contemplating a millage extension, administrators "quickly" came up with $30 million in needs, but knew they couldn't ask voters to support that much, particularly in this economy, Armstrong said.

"We are not trying to add something to the system," Armstrong said. "What we're doing is replenishing the system."

While $1 million sounds like a lot of money to spend at Hackley Stadium, Armstrong said he's been telling community groups to consider the cost of upgrading a residential bathroom and then consider the size and age of the stadium.

"When I tell people (the restrooms) were built in 1929 and last renovated in '29, I haven't had one person say we shouldn't spend the money," Armstrong said. "They just curl their lips and say 'ewwwww."'

Contrary to some rumors, the tunnel underneath the stadium would remain intact for traditional marching band processions, Armstrong said.

Muskegon Athletic Director Michael Watson said the stadium locker rooms have become somewhat of a "running joke" with alumni who used them when they attended Muskegon High. He said the locker rooms are small and need to be expanded, showers are inoperable and every year, maintenance staff have to deal with frozen pipes because of the inability to keep the facility warm enough in the winter.

Watson said he'd also like to move the coaches/officials room out of the stadium boiler room.

Watson has been working with a private group to pay for other improvements to the stadium, including artificial turf. The improvements administrators agreed to ask voters to pay for are "not frills," Armstrong said.

The district decided to seek the bond proposal this year because the district needed to drop the number of tax mills it has been levying since 1995. Under state law, a millage can generate only the amount needed to pay off bonds, and in this case the 5.5 mills will be more than is needed for the 1995 projects.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Big Reds in the State Basketball Finals

State titles in basketball at Muskegon High School are relatively rare, with the last coming in the spring of 1937 and their most recent appearance in the final game occurring in 1942.
Still, the team is no stranger to the final rounds of the tournament.

The Big Reds have advanced to at least the quarterfinal round in the spring of 1920, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1935, 1937, 1940, 1942, 1947, 1952, 1962, 1975 and 1999.

Here are some Flashbacks to those teams that have appeared in the championship game.

1923 Finals - Continuing the tradition of alternating the sites of the state basketball tournament, Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University in East Lansing) played host to the Class A prep championships, while the University of Michigan played host to the Class B and Class C games.

The contests were staged as Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Associations events. The MIAA was a forerunner to the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Muskegon, led by future University of Michigan All-American Bennie Oosterbaan, defeated the tourney favorite Detroit Northwestern 36-24 at the M.A.C. College Gymnasium. The senior chalked up seven field goals in the contest, as Muskegon opened up a 17-9 lead at the half and a 15 point margin after three frames.

Following the victory, Muskegon advanced to the National Interscholastic Tournament hosted at the University of Chicago. On Wednesday, April 4, Muskegon dispatched Yankton, South Dakota, 18-13, then downed Windsor, Colorado 29-26 on Thursday.

Oosterbaan, playing center, worked the backboards for 14 points as Muskegon squeaked past the championship squad from Osage, Iowa 26-25 in Friday’s quarterfinal. Tied 13-13 at the break, Muskegon had opened up what looked like an insurmountable nine point lead with nine minutes to play and went into a stall. The strategy nearly cost Muskegon the game.

In Saturday afternoon’s semifinal, eventual tournament champions Wyandotte High of Kansas City defeated Muskegon 44-28. With the loss, Muskegon faced Charleston, South Carolina in an evening consolation match, losing 35-26. The team finished the tournament in fourth place, earning a shield in honor of their accomplishment. Oosterbaan was named to the first-ever All-American team for his play in the tournament.

1926 Finals - The championship contests were played at split locations, with the Class A and D games at Waterman Gymnasium on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and the Class B and C games at College Gymnasium in East Lansing.

Detroit Southeastern defeated Muskegon 26-20 in the Class A title match, played before the largest crowd of the tournament.

The game was described by an Associated Press writer as "one of the most sizzling games ever played on a Michigan court." Shaw of Southeastern and Norm MacDonald of Muskegon tied for top scoring honors, with eight points apiece. Due to "the furious play" Muskegon was whistled for fouls on 13 occasions, while Southeastern was called for 11 in the tightly called contest. Two players were dismissed from the game after "collecting four fouls each."

1927 Finals - Clair Helmer and Bill McCall starred for the Big Reds as Muskegon downed Battle Creek 32-24 in the Class A championship hosted at Detroit Central High School. Ray Priest, who finished with 12 points on six field goals, led the Battle Creek squad throughout.
Trailing 15-12 at the half, Muskegon rallied to a 22-20 lead at the end of the third, then shutdown their opponent's offense in the final frame. McCall finished with 11 points, while Helmer added nine. After winning the state crown, the team again advanced to the National Interscholastic Tournament at Chicago, but dropped their opening round contest to Batesville, Ark 28-20. The team immediately returned home, forfeiting their spot in the consolidation round.

1937 Finals - Muskegon ended the year as the state's only new champion, with a 31-27 Class A win over Holland. Played at Flint's spacious Industrial Mutual Association Auditorium which had opened in 1929, Bob MacIntyre scored 11 and Charles Vanderlinde eight points for the Big Reds, while Jim Grisson scored all of Holland's second-half points, to lead the Dutchmen with 14. Muskegon finished the season undefeated in 18 contests.

1942 Finals - At Jenison Field house in East Lansing, Saginaw's speedy Tony Pabalis pumped in 18 points as the Trojans defeated Muskegon 27-24 in overtime for Class A laurels. Pabalis netted five of his team's points in the first half as Saginaw trailed the Big Reds 13-8 at the intermission. Saginaw cut the margin to one, 18-17 at the end of three to set the stage for a wild finish. A bucket by Larry Savage, who converted following a stolen pass, gave Saginaw a 23-21 lead with just over a minute to play. But a field goal by Muskegon's Paul Bard as the gun sounded pushed the game to overtime. Pabalis and Stewart Francke each contributed a basket for the Trojans in the extra frame to secure the victory.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Stadium for the Big Reds

by Ron Pesch
Big Red Historian
Class of '79

In 1907, Muskegon High School's home football games were moved to the newly christened Hackley field. The success of Bob Zuppke's squads put strains on the new facility. Around 1911, the field was enclosed by a brick and iron fence, and in 1914, solid wooden bleachers seating about 4,000 were constructed. Crowds soared in size for contests with rivals like Grand Rapids Central. The twenties represented a period of gridiron dominance for Muskegon. Between the seven year span 1920-26, Muskegon won or shared the mythical state championship four times. Three titles came under coach J. Francis Jacks; the fourth, under his replacement, C. Leo Redmond.

The success of the Big Reds, combined with increased demand for tickets and 13 years of wear and tear on the facility, illustrated the need for a new athletic complex at the high school.
"We walked out to the bleachers at the football field" recalled coach Redmond years later, "and Joe Bicknell (the Hackley Manual Training School director and the person in charge of finances for athletics) pulled out his pocket knife. He then pushed the blade completely into one of the wooden beams supporting the bleachers and said, 'They will fall down if they have to support another season.'

A plan to replace the bleachers was publicly announced following the 1926 season. At the football team's annual banquet in December, Charles W. Marsh, secretary of the Board of Education and chair of the stadium committee discussed the project. He noted that due to the narrowness of the Hackley field, serious consideration was being given to the proposition of erecting the stadium at a vacant field located on Park and Southern, west of the high school. If the move were made, the Park Avenue site would be rechristened Hackley field.

Marsh announced the proposed stadium would seat 6,000 on permanent concrete bleachers. With the use of temporary bleachers already owned by the school, the facility could handle crowds of 10,000 "without overcrowding the space allotted."

The proposed move to Park Avenue (later the site of John A. Craig school) was controversial and short lived. On May 7, the Chronicle announced the plan to fund the project.

"Muskegon football followers next week will be asked to invest $75,000 dollars in bonds to pay for erection of an athletic stadium on Hackley field which is designed to be the largest high school stadium in Michigan." The classes of '27, '28, '29 and '30 were asked to undertake the job of selling the bonds to the public.

"Principal John Craig talked to us Thursday night after practice," remembered Gont Miller, captain of the 1929 Big Reds. He said, 'We're going to ask you to get out and sell some bonds.'
"Bub Meier and I were walking home after practice and we talked about selling the bonds. Together, we decided we weren't going to do it.

"After I got home, I told my mother about the bonds, and she said, "Boy, that will be easy. After dinner go on over and see Mr. Runzel across the street, and the Nelson's on the side of us. I'm sure they will be interested."

"Well, I guess she got me inspired. I went over an saw Mr. Runzel and he bought four. And Lester Nelson bought three and Otto Meeske bought six. Mr. Runzel said 'Go down and see my son' and I did and he bought two. People really supported Big Red football. We sold all the bonds, and they built the stadium. It was quite an experience for a kid."

The Osborn Engineering Company of Cleveland, Ohio (builders of Michigan Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Notre Dame Stadium among others) was employed to design and oversee the construction of the facility. Sorensen-Gross Construction Company of Grand Rapids was selected as general contractors. N.J. Yonkers handled heating while McCullom Plumbing and Hall Electric handled plumbing and electric work at the stadium. Actual work started on Wednesday, June 15 and was completed in time for the first game against Muskegon Heights on Saturday, September 17. According to the files of Osborn Engineering, the concrete structure was completed in 24 days - July 20 to August 12.

"Impressive and colorful flag raising ceremonies marked the dedication of the new stands," wrote Jimmy Henderson in the Muskegon Chronicle. "A massed assemblage of over 2,000 students who paraded on the field following the Heights and Muskegon High school bands, and close to 3,000 spectators in the stands stood at attention while the massed bands under the leadership of Ronald Hinchman played the national anthem, as the new flag was slowly raised to its position over the stadium."

The Big Reds posted a crushing 89-0 victory over the Heights and their new coach Oscar E. "Okie" Johnson. It was the first of nine shutouts posted by Muskegon en route to a 10-0 season and another mythical state title.

For more on high school football stadiums in Michigan, check out the article Hallowed Grounds.

Friday, April 10, 2009

1948 - Detroit Lions Stage Colorful Exhibition contest before 6,842 at Hackley Stadium

by James Henderson

The Detroit Lions, led into Hackley Field by Coach Alvin (Bo) McMillin, starting his first season at the helm of a professional machine, presented a colorful spectacle for 6,842 football fans last night.

The game, which didn't mean anything even to the Detroit coach except as a medium for testing recruits, was won by the regulars who will open the season for McMillin and Detroit, 21-0.

However, the large crowd of fans received many thrills during the full length intra-squad game. McMillin didn't spare his star players, while giving everyone on the bench at least a short period on the field.

The "Grays" struck twice through the air, on passes from end to outstanding recruits, and once on the ground, with a rough and ready regular of past seasons doing his stuff to the delight of the customers.

The Muskegon "M" Club led by Co-chairmen Al Bielinski and George (Shorty) Rojan, and President John (Smitty) Vanderplow, were pleased at the turnout, which means a good sum for the treasury of the club, to be used in promoting athletics for Muskegon High.
An interesting note about the Lions' 1948 season: According to a post on, the Motor City squad wore Scarlet and White uniforms during the season, substituting an all-Black uniform with white numbers combination for big games. Based on Henderson's article, it doesn't appear that the team sported this new color scheme during their visit to Muskegon.

After posting a 2-10 mark in '48, they returned to their traditional Honolulu Blue and Silver color scheme for home games and used the Scarlet and White jerseys on the road in 1949. After the two-year experiment, they returned to their traditional Honolulu Blue and Silver for all games.