Grand Rapids Community College Bids Farewell to Grand Football Tradition

After 80 years and a powerful program, Grand Rapids Community College cites scheduling conflicts and compliance challenges in bringing its football tradition to an end.
While not every community college boasts a robust sports program, those that do provide an outlet for student athletes to come and compete while getting their post-secondary education. Unfortunately, one Midwestern school has found that despite a long and illustrious history, they can no longer support the football program that has been an integral part of campus life. Grand Rapids Community College has bid a sudden farewell to their football program this year, after enjoying an 80-year tradition and plenty of notoriety through individual athletes and numerous winning seasons.

The Announcement is Made
 
According to a report at mLive.com, the announcement to end the football program was made by the president of Grand Rapids Community College, Steven Ender. Ender also issued a formal press release, after talking with the coaches and players involved in the football program about the school’s decision. In the press release, Ender cited the following reasons for bringing Grand Rapids football tradition to an abrupt halt:

  • With games now played in Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota and Georgia, the school was no longer able to spend the time or money getting the football team and staff to games further from home.  In some cases, student athletes and coaches were spending up to 19 hours on a bus to get to a single game.
  • Many of the student athletes that came to the school to play football faced severe personal obstacles, including finding the means to pay for off-campus housing, since many came from out of state. In addition, athlete students had difficulty managing the responsibilities associated with playing football and keeping up with their studies.   
  • The school was facing challenges adhering to Title IX regulations, particularly in regards to maintaining a gender balance in intercollegiate sports programs. Budget constraints simply made the availability of sufficient sports offerings virtually impossible.
The head coach of the program, Tony Annese, has made a recent and sudden departure from the program to take a coaching job at Ferris State University.
 
Despite his citing of many reasons why the football program had to go, Ender also stated in the press release that discontinuation of the program was a “painful decision for all involved.”
 
Coaches, Athletes Express Disappointment
 
While some admitted they were not surprised with the school’s decision, nearly all expressed disappointment and sadness at seeing a great football program come to an end. The athletic director for the school, Charlie Wells, told the Houston Chronicle it was a “great loss.”
 
“There are 80 years of history there, and so to have a program go down at this point – no one wanted that to happen,” Wells said. “It’s a sad day, but the back side of it is that financially, every budget has been on the chopping block, and so we’ve had to look at this.”
 
Annese also voice disappointment with the decision.
 
“I really believed that Dr. Ender loved football, and he felt for the underprivileged kids who really were a large majority of our team,” Annese told the Houston Chronicle. “It came down to resources, and how far you can extend those resources to have a football team.”
 
Many of the players also expressed their sadness and even frustration over discovering the football program that they had been a part of was coming to a fast end. Keontae Hollis, a linebacker who transferred from Arizona Western College, told the Chronicle, “I didn’t see it coming, and it’s unfair what they did. I worked my butt off to play for this program, and for a lot of guys, it was a second opportunity. I don’t understand how they can just tear it away from us.”
 
A Long and Illustrious Football History
 
Grand Rapids Community College doesn’t just have 80 years of football history under its belt; this program has churned out All-Americans, NFL athletes and Hall of Fame coaches. According to a report at mLive.com, the 2011 season resulted in five All-Americans on the Grand Rapids team – the most in the team’s history. Two players, Carlin Landingham (offensive lineman) and Marcus Cribbs (defensive tackle) made the first All-American lineup. Terrell Porter, Evan Ray and Keyon Cole all received second-team honors.
 
In addition, two former Grand Rapids players enjoyed long and productive careers in the National Football League. Bob Lurtsema was a defensive lineman for the Grand Rapids Raiders who went on to play for the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks between 1967 and 1977. Carl Powell also went pro from 1997 to 2005, playing for Indianapolis, Baltimore, Chicago, Washington and Cincinnati. 
 
Grand Rapids football only had seven coaches during its 80-year history. Two of those names have been inducted into the NJCAA Football Coaches Hall of Fame: Gordon Hunsberger, who coached the team for 31 years beginning in 1956, and Fred Julian, who coached for 18 years after Hunsberger.
 
Impact on the Conference
 
Now that Grand Rapids Community College has bowed out of the football picture, the next question is what will happen to the remaining teams in the Midwest Football Conference. With a winning record and a reputation as a powerhouse, Grand Rapids brought the conference much of its notoriety over the years. Some schools are concerned whether the conference will be able to succeed without its leader, and they have scheduled a meeting to discuss the future of MFC without Grand Rapids.
 
“The reaction is just disappointment from everybody,” MFC Commissioner Thom McDonald told the Daily Nonpareil. “We have a fantastic conference, one of the best in the country. We’re at an interesting place right now.”

Additional Resources [+]
The Complete Community College Athletics Guide
The Complete Community College Athletics Guide
Olympic Athletes with Community College Ties Compete in London
Olympic Athletes with Community College Ties Compete in London
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