Hazel Park High football players line up at a practice last year. Hazel Park athletics, which is currently part of the Oakland Activities Association, has been approved to join the Macomb Area Conference.

Hazel Park High football players line up at a practice last year. Hazel Park athletics, which is currently part of the Oakland Activities Association, has been approved to join the Macomb Area Conference.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Hazel Park High athletics approved to compete in Macomb Area Conference

By: Mark Vest | Madison - Park News | Published October 1, 2018


Come next fall, Hazel Park High athletics will go through a major change.

After being part of the Oakland Activities Association since 1994, Hazel Park will begin competing in the Macomb Area Conference.

Athletic directors and school principals in the MAC approved the move, and in the fall of 2019, Hazel Park Athletic Director Dr. David Muylaert said, the school will be “fully vested participation members” of the conference.

Competing in the OAA has presented challenges for Hazel Park over the years.

“We compete with schools that are sometimes two, three times larger than us,” Muylaert said. “Moving into the MAC allows us to level that playing field and compete with schools of similar size and talent abilities in all of our sports programs.”

Although there are also large schools in the MAC, the key difference between that conference and the OAA could be divisional alignments.

In the sport of football, for example, the OAA has 23 teams and just three divisions. The MAC has 35 teams and six divisions.  

This season, the Vikings are one of nine teams in the OAA Blue.

Of those schools, six are designated as Class A, with enrollment numbers larger than Hazel Park (859 students), according to data on the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s website.

Hazel Park is designated as a Class B school, as are two other football teams in the OAA Blue — Ferndale High (718) and Pontiac High (802).

With more divisions, there is a better chance for Hazel Park to be placed with schools similar in size.

“The MAC divisions are laid out so nice,” said Hazel Park girls soccer coach Denis Dixon. “The powerhouses and the big dogs are up at the top, and then the middle division and the bottom division. … We’re competing with schools of our caliber, for the most part.”

The MAC Bronze and MAC Silver have potential to be good fits for Hazel Park football in the future.

All of the schools in those divisions are either Class B or Class C, including Madison Heights Lamphere (767), Clawson High (552) and Madison Heights Madison (316). All three of those schools were also previously part of the OAA.

Although Hazel Park’s football team did share an OAA Blue championship last season, on a year-to-year basis, that program, along with other sports teams at the school, could be in a much better position to compete for division titles and accumulate more victories by switching to the MAC.

“I can imagine that wouldn’t be much fun to participate when going in you know that your team makeup is not (going to) be competitive with the other team time and time again,” Muylaert said. “So, lots (of) kids lost interest in athletics. This is going to help us to build our numbers and allow us to be competitive with the different divisions that we’re going to be part of in the MAC.”

As good as the move is for Hazel Park, from the perspective of Lamphere Athletic Director Russ McKenzie, it is also beneficial for the MAC.

“I think Hazel Park joining the MAC will be good for them,” McKenzie said. “I think it’s a win-win for them and our league. We really needed to get a 36th team in order to balance our scheduling.”

A difference in financial resources is another reason for Hazel Park to switch to the MAC from the OAA.

In the sport of soccer, for example, parents of children in OAA schools such as Birmingham Seaholm and West Bloomfield High are more likely to be able to afford for their kids to play travel and club soccer, thereby giving them more experience and training than players who don a uniform for Hazel Park.

“Some of the schools are from a more (affluent) area,” Muylaert said. “Like a Farmington; kids that live in that area, they come from a little bit more affluent background. They play travel and club sports. About half of our kids come from school of choice, and they don’t have that opportunity.”

Dixon is of the opinion that the move to the MAC is going to be exciting for every sport at Hazel Park.

“When you start to get kids with some confidence, and you know you (got) a chance to win, that’s when you can start building a better program,” he said.

From Muylaert’s perspective, there is another solid reason for joining the MAC.

“It helps out with transportation, because transportation’s at a premium,” he said. “Majority of these schools are right here in our backyard. … We’re looking forward to competing with our neighboring school districts.”