Saturday, March 14, 2009

Say fairwell to Pontiac's Chiefs.

The story is heartbreaking, and, I'm afraid only a sign of things to come.

In December, the Oakland Press reported the news. Pontiac Central to Close?

Word was a community advisory committee had recommended that Pontiac Central and Pontiac Northern should merge into one at Northern's campus.

While the site name is rather chilling, Lawrence Porter wrote a excellent article on the subject for the World Socialist Web Site. Dr. Brian Yancy, head principal at Central, spoke on the school's history and the impending close.
“Central is the oldest accredited school in the state,” he added. “It was established in 1849 and has the largest alumni association in the state. It is coming up to its 150th anniversary. This is what disheartens people in the community and the surrounding area about Pontiac Central.”

Yancy also commented on other issues, noting that Central had one of the finest marching and concert bands in the country. Students from the school had participated in the statewide contests in robotics.

And he briefly touched on the athletic history at the school.

“The sports program has a history that is unrivaled in the state,” stated Yancy, adding that no other school can claim to have had two Olympic gold medalists, one in track and field and the other in swimming."

He also highlighted the grim reality that the school faced.

“Our poverty levels are so high that we have a ‘school-wide’ lunch program. It is more efficient to say that everybody in the building is in poverty than to try to tease out the small percentages that are left.”

Pontiac Central was truly one of Michigan's finest.

Muskegon band alumni recall the unofficial rivalry the school had with Central when it came time for state competitions.

Track fans may recall Steve Elliott, who owned the state's Class A mile record at 4:08.2; Vivian Fischer, who won the state's Class A shot put event with a 43 3 1/2 toss in 1981; Bill Tipton, who twice hurdled 13.4 for a national prep record. Those with a deep knowledge of the sport, (like my friend Jim Moyes) will recall Russell Cowan, winner of the 100 at the Michigan Agricultural College (now known as Michigan State University) Invitational meet in 1916 and 1917. Worldwide, of course, they should know the name of Central's Olympian, hurdler Hayes Jones, who earned gold in 1964 in Tokyo.

Maxine Joyce "Micki" King earned the gold metal in the three meter springboard diving event in the 1972 Olympics.

Fans may recall Central's football heros: Edward Salter, Claude Daniels, Malta Reihe, Bill Coxen, Charles Brown, Leroy Jackson, Ervin Walker, Jerry Rush, Kelvin Gooding, Eldren Milton, Kahn Powell, Alger Conner, Bob Schnitker, Rich Braun, Jim Engleman, Ed Revis, Neal Peterson, Mike Shorters, Jack Weiss, and Walter Beach.

Other know wrestling coach Steve Szabo and golf's Thomas Deaton.

Basketball fans from around the state may remember Hubert Price, Roy Clark, Sam Baker, Esmo Woods, Willie DeWalt, Hudson Ray, John Bandy, Jesse Evans, Tony Styles, Larry Cole, Tim Marshall, Dennis Threlked, Eli Parker, Thomas McGhee, Jamel Gooding and of course, the Russells - Frank, Walker D. and Campy. Fans of the post-season still talk about the drought that came upon the Chiefs and their coaches Art VanRyzen and Ralph Grubb's come tournament time.

Still others may remember specific games. Back when I was blogging for MLive, I asked readers to send me information on the greatest games that they had ever witnessed. "SClark" delivered this gem.
Greatest Game:
2002 District semifinals -
Pontiac Northern at Pontiac Central.

Central came out on fire led by Lamar Searight and Akeem Price's three-point shooting. The Chiefs had a 15-point lead and looked ready to unseat the defending Class A c

Lester Abram and Derrick Ponder helped Northern fight back. Ponder was all over the floor, stealing the ball, rebounding, sacrificing his body to keep the Huskies' season alive. Mike Morris came off the bench for Northern and nailed a couple of threes.

The end of regulation is hazy as far as the score. I believe Central led 51-49 when Northern guard Dominique Hardiman missed a shot instead of feeding Abram down low. Central rebounded and Price went to the line with about 7 seconds left and a chance to clinch. He made the first, missed the second.

After a timeout, Abram hit the shot of the tournament: a left-wing three-pointer, falling out of b
ounds to tie the game at 52, sending it to overtime. They played two OTs and were still tied!

In the third OT, Northern started to take control. Near the end, they had a 72-69 lead, Central missed, Northern rebounded and threw it down-court to Abram who was wide open with about 15 seconds left. Amazingly, Abram missed the dunk to clinch it! The ball bounded to Central at mid-court, then a wild scramble ensued to try and send it to a fourth OT. Two three-pointers missed with Central getting the rebound each time.

Finally, the Chief's Markese Cole had an open look for three in the left corner, right in front of us. He had to hurry the shot and missed it as the buzzer sounded, giving Northern the 72-69, 3-OT victory. Cole fell back into the stands and just laid there as the Husk
ies celebrated. It was an unforgettable scene and atmosphere. Ponder looked like Kellen Winslow Sr. after the playoff game against the Dolphins.

Northern went on to win their second straight title, but had Central won that game, they could have easily been the 2002 champ.

After that game, I try to catch at least one Northern-Central battle each year.
Personally, I made a visit to Central a few years back for the 2006 Michigan High School Basketball All Star Game. Featuring the likes of Tory Jackson, David Kool, Deshawn Sims, Tajuan Porter, Ramar Smith and Central's own Maurice Abraham, it was a relaxed, fun-loving affair.

The school was one of the modern concrete bunkers, but the gym bled history. The trophy cases, and the walls of the gym highlighted the tradition of the Chiefs.

Like many other urban centers, the district once hosted one public school, and grew to the point that a second was added. Soon the district will return to that original level. Only this time, it will leave behind unused or underused buildings in the wake - additional urban decay in an area that can ill-afford more.

When will we learn there is little to gain from abandoning our cities and their schools, only to build new ones on untapped ground?

We blame those that are left behind for destroying our cities. In reality, it is those that leave that insure those cities will fail.


AofF13 said...

I can't believe this can really happen to my alma mater!. No doubt, economic conditions have changed since my class of 1976... but there are so many cool things about our history there, from the busing for integration purposes (back when it was a "New" idea) to the furious Chieftain pride we all felt for our sport teams. We really believed we WERE NO.1!
I feel a little sad about this news.

I wet my plants said...

This post brought tears to my eyes as I remembered not only the incredible band program that they had at the school, but also the amazing literature and English programs at the school. There were so many teachers there in that department that had such a strong love and knowledge of great literature, that when I got to college, I had already read and studied a good portion of the books I was assigned to read in my freshman and sofmore year. I was really given a head start because of those great teachers. Mr. Richardson, Mr. Roller, Mrs. Jackson. They were amazing, and I am so grateful for the education that I recieved there. I live out of state now, and found this link on facebook. Thank you so much for sharing this information.