Another strong season could be ahead for CHSL football

By: Mark Vest, Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published August 3, 2018

 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s football coach George Porritt addresses the crowd July 31 at the CHSL Media Day. The Eaglets finished with a losing record last season for the first time since 2008.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s football coach George Porritt addresses the crowd July 31 at the CHSL Media Day. The Eaglets finished with a losing record last season for the first time since 2008.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Warren De La Salle football coach Mike Giannone addresses the crowd July 31 at the CHSL Media Day. The Pilots are the defending Division 2 state champions.

Warren De La Salle football coach Mike Giannone addresses the crowd July 31 at the CHSL Media Day. The Pilots are the defending Division 2 state champions.

Photo by Donna Agusti

METRO DETROIT — In recent years, the Catholic High School League has proven to be perhaps the most dominant football league in the state.

Over the last seven seasons, at least one program from the league has claimed a state championship. Warren De La Salle is the most recent champion, taking the Division 2 crown last season. Since 2000, there have been 18 total state championships across all divisions. 

The football season kicks off Aug. 23, and at the league’s media day July 31 at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, aside from sharing thoughts about their own programs, coaches had an opportunity to tout the league as a whole.

Madison Heights Bishop Foley coach Brian Barnes described the state of the Catholic League as “phenomenal.”

“I’m in a room with some of the best coaches in the state of Michigan,” Barnes said. “Some of the best athletes in the state, some of the best coaches. It’s probably the best league in the state.”

At only 25 years old, Garrett Wenzelburger is one of the youngest coaches in the league. In his first year helming Macomb Lutheran North, he had high praise for where he was getting his start.

“I don’t think that every conference has coaches and players that really love their league as much as you see here,” he said. “When I first got here, I was amazed at it. It’s really cool to see.”

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett coach Dan Cimini said Catholic League football is the “best in the state, by far.” He shared his opinion about some of the primary strengths of the league.

“You can see it in any Catholic League game you watch,” Cimini said. “These kids are prepared, and they go hard and they play hard. They love their schools. It’s like small colleges in high school. These kids are dedicated to their schools. … The alumni are second to none.”

Royal Oak Shrine coach Oscar Olejniczak also had some thoughts about the strengths of the Catholic League.

“We’re trying to make the overall high school experience for our players the best it possibly can be,” Olejniczak said. “Also, the guys that are in this league coaching are very dedicated to their players.  … I think because of that, that’s why this league is so strong.”

St. Mary’s coach George Porritt takes pride in both his peers and the prestige of the Catholic League.

“It’s all about the tradition,” Porritt said. “Every school we play has tremendous tradition. There’s not a school in the state that doesn’t know about each of the four schools in the (Central Division — St. Mary’s, De La Salle, Novi Detroit Catholic Central and  Birmingham Brother Rice). There’s a lot that goes into that. We know each other as well and have a lot of respect for that. It takes a lot to reach that kind of level.”

After capturing a D-2 state title last year, De La Salle coach Mike Giannone said that without question, playing in the league helped prepare the Pilots for the postseason.

“You’re seeing a lot of (college) Division 1 players,” Giannone said. “This league demands playing against top-notch teams. I also take pride in getting a state championship team academically. We take great pride in that. Our kids get great grades as well as winning on the field. It shows that it can be done.”

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood coach Scott Steward said the league is special.

“This will be my eighth season coaching in the Catholic League,” he said. “It’s very exciting. There’s really nowhere else I’d (want to) coach.”