Should Milford High School Change its KLAA Division?

The logo of the Kensington Lakes Athletic Association

The logo of the Kensington Lakes Athletic Association

Ethan Dailey, Co-Editor

Change happens all the time. It happens from within, and it occurs around us. One thing about change is that you can’t avoid it, no matter how hard you try. Some of us face the change head on. We go through the trials and tribulations in order to make ourselves better. In high school sports, facing challenges head on is part of being on the team.

In the last few years, Milford has faced the challenge of playing schools with populations twice its size, and traveling much farther than most schools to play league games. So is it time for Milford to walk out the door on the KLAA Lakes West, and abandon a five-year relationship? Is it time for Milford to move to another division, namely the KLAA Lakes North?

The Kensington Lakes Athletic Association was formed in 2008, as a result of a merger between the Kensington Valley Conference and the Western Lakes Activities Association. The KLAA was divided into two conferences (Kensington and Lakes), which included two divisions each (Kensington South and Central, and Lakes North and West). Milford joined four other former KVC schools in the KLAA Lakes West. Those other schools were Pinckney, Brighton, Howell, and Hartland. Grand Blanc would join them in 2009, after leaving the Big Nine Conference.

Being stuck with those five schools would create two problems though. One of those problems would be that four of them were much farther away than many area schools.

According to Google Maps, the farthest drive is going to Pinckney, which takes approximately 44 minutes. Next is Grand Blanc at 43 minutes, Howell at 36 minutes, and Brighton at 34 minutes. Hartland takes the least amount of time (approximately 20 minutes). “Definitely the worst part is that we have to travel far,” said former Milford Varsity Football player Senior Koss Allen.

The second problem is that four of the other five schools in the KLAA Lakes West outnumber Milford in enrollment. According to the Michigan High School Athletic Association, those four schools rank accordingly in student population: Howell (2,672), Grand Blanc (2,624), Brighton (2,164), and Hartland (1,953). Milford (1,465) and Pinckney (1,452) stand together at the bottom. So why is Milford so behind the curve in enrollment? “When the economy got worse,  some people involved in the auto industry left town, and took their families with them to find work,” said Milford High School Athletic Director Chris Ceresa. “Milford went from almost 2,000 kids, to 1,450 kids.”

The KLAA Lakes West does have an upside though. “It forces you to work hard, because the other teams are so good,” said Milford Women’s Varsity Soccer player Allyse Zondlak. Almost having four schools with at least 2,000 students, gives the KLAA Lakes West a hand up in talent.

Pooling most of the students in four schools puts Pinckney and Milford at a distinct disadvantage. “The worst part is that our small size makes it hard to match the competition’s wide selection of talent,” said Zondlak.

Milford sometimes even loses potential athletes to the KLAA Lakes West schools, because those athletes think they might be more successful at a larger school. “We can’t just sit back anymore and let the kids go wherever,” said Head Coach of Milford Varsity Baseball Rob Hamilton. “We have to target certain kids to stay here at Milford, instead of leaving.”

Being outnumbered and having to ride buses long distances has taken a toll on Milford Athletics lately. Hamilton’s team finished 13-19 last season. Allen and his teammates finished 1-8 this season. Zondlak’s team didn’t do so well either, as she couldn’t even recall their record from last year. “All I know is that it wasn’t good. At least we didn’t get mercy ruled, which is an improvement,” she said.

With the punishment Milford has suffered, many think it is time that they move to a different division in the KLAA. “There are lots of us who are looking to move on,” said Hamilton. The move that is being supported by several coaches at Milford (Hamilton is one of them), would be to the KLAA Lakes North, where its most populous school, Walled Lake Central, has only 1,861 students. The other schools have populations of 1,688 (Walled Lake Northern), 1,660 (Waterford Mott), 1,655 (Lakeland), 1,604 (Waterford Kettering), and 1,556 (Walled Lake Western). These schools, when compared to the schools in the KLAA Lakes West, are closer to Milford’s size, and are physically closer as well.

The longest drive is to Waterford Mott, which takes approximately 33 minutes. After Mott, the remaining schools follow respectively in approximate travel times: 30 minutes (Kettering), 28 minutes (Western), 25 minutes (Central), 21 minutes (Northern), and 18 minutes (Lakeland).

With the shorter travel times to KLAA Lakes North schools, it would make it easier for athletes to compete during the school week. They could play their games, then go home at a reasonable hour and do their homework. In the KLAA Lakes West, it is more difficult for athletes to get homework completed on game nights, depending on the opponent and location.

Switching divisions may be more difficult than it sounds though. “It’s not as simple as saying ‘Hey let’s redraw the lines here’,” said Ceresa. He believes that Milford’s options are to either convince another school to exchange divisions with them, or Milford could contact at least six to eight schools to try and form a new conference. “Forming a new conference would take two or three years though,” he said.Ceresa also added “What’s the benefit to the schools who don’t have the need or want to move? You also have to ask yourself ‘How far are we willing to go to do this, and what will it cost us in terms of money and our athletes’ education?’”

Milford does face good competition. There’s no doubt about it. There’s nothing wrong with that either. “It’s great for our kids to compete against teams at a higher level” said Hamilton. The price of playing great talent like that of the KLAA Lakes West though, has proven costly.

It’s been a great run in the KLAA Lakes West for Milford. The Mavericks have enjoyed their fair share of comeback victories and blowout wins over Brighton, Grand Blanc, Hartland, Howell, and Pinckney.

Milford hasn’t done well recently against them though. To go along with poor win-loss records, the long travel distances and larger talent pools have finally taken the toll on the mentalities of players and coaches.

While it may not be unanimous yet that all players and coaches want their teams to move out of the KLAA Lakes West, the movement has support. “There is a better way to do things,” said Ceresa. “We have discussed what that way may look like recently, with principals and athletic directors from other schools. It’s definitely a lot to consider, but it’s worth the discussion,” he said. It looks now as if the fabric that holds together Milford High School Athletics and the KLAA Lakes West might finally begin to tear apart.