Members of the Pontiac Notre Dame Prep football team celebrate after a play during a contest in 2016. The 2016 season marked the first campaign with the Fighting Irish as an independent following a departure from the Catholic League.

Members of the Pontiac Notre Dame Prep football team celebrate after a play during a contest in 2016. The 2016 season marked the first campaign with the Fighting Irish as an independent following a departure from the Catholic League.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


No reunification in sight for NDP and CHSL

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published February 15, 2018

 Members of the Prep volleyball team hoist the Class B state trophy following a victory over Lake Odessa Lakewood Nov. 18. As an independent team, the Irish finished the season with 53 straight victories on the court.

Members of the Prep volleyball team hoist the Class B state trophy following a victory over Lake Odessa Lakewood Nov. 18. As an independent team, the Irish finished the season with 53 straight victories on the court.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

PONTIAC — In January of 2016, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep opted not to renew its membership in the Catholic High School League. 

The issue was on the football field.

With scheduling nonconference games being a tough task for member schools, the Catholic League adopted a resolution that would see “crossover” contests between the league’s divisions. 

At times, this means an AA Division team taking on one from the Central Division, which is annually one of the strongest in the state with Warren De La Salle, Detroit Novi Catholic Central, Birmingham Brother Rice and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s residing.

“The whole reason we parted ways was because we didn’t like the idea of forced crossovers,” said Prep Head of School Andrew Guest. “The league has said it’s the best solution they have, and if we accepted it, they’d welcome us in back in the league. We respected that and offered a compromise where we could compete in every other sport than football. … We’ve been at a standstill since, and there really hasn’t been a change in thought or ideology on either side.”

Director of the Catholic League Vic Michaels said Prep was one of its best members, but the school has to accept all the bylaws.

“We’d welcome them back in a heartbeat, but they can’t do it on their terms,” Michaels explained. “They have to abide by the rules of the entire league. It’s not healthy to have individual schools chose which rules they want to follow. It’s our hope we can get this worked out. It’s a program that fits well with our league and our mission.”

Prep felt it was an issue of player safety. With a coed enrollment of just over 700, Prep found it difficult to safely compete with clubs featuring higher numbers. All the schools in the Central Division are all-boys. Catholic Central tops the chart with 1,040 students by comparison, while St. Mary’s has the lowest at 479.

 Guest contrasted it with a college game that could pit a mid-major against a traditional powerhouse, a staple of the NCAA early-season schedule.

“In college, the athletes are 18 to 22 years old and their bodies are more mature; they’re better trained and more physically developed,” Guest explained. “They’re legal adults. You can be a collegiate football player for a smaller school and get through the game with less damage than you would in high school due to the physical maturity.” 

Guest said the mismatched games do not benefit the game itself and certainly not the players.

“In contact sports, you just have to be cautious,” he said. “You can’t do everything to a sport like football to make it perfectly safe, but there are common-sense things you can do. To play the larger programs doesn’t make sense to us, and it seems like an easy thing to avoid.”

This past fall during the nine regular-season games, Prep played two opponents that had higher enrollments, with Waterford Kettering’s 1,523 students being the largest. The Fighting Irish won 17-0.

Of the remaining seven on the schedule, four schools had enrollments of 400 or less, with Detroit Universal Academy’s 204 students being the lowest. Prep won that game 42-0.

“I can see on the surface where people might think we were being hypocritical, but at the same standpoint, we didn’t try and pick any patsy to beat up on,” Guest said. “We had to pick teams that were available to play and wanted to play.”

Guest noted that in the first year of independence, the Fighting Irish played four teams from the Oakland Activities Association, helping those teams fill out their schedules.

That option wasn’t available this past fall, leaving Prep to find different teams to fill the schedule.

“It was really just a matter of trying to find the best competition we could and putting together a nine-game schedule,” Guest said. 

Prep football went 4-5 overall its first year as an independent, followed by an 8-3 mark last season. The two years before the split, the Fighting Irish were 3-5 in 2014 and 8-3 in 2015.

Guest added that the flexibility in scheduling has benefited programs across the board at Prep.

“In every sport, we’ve been able to work really hard to get matchups that are equal and competitive to help prepare our student-athletes to do well in the playoffs,” he said. “In fact, we’ve done better at the district, regional and state level because we’ve had that flexibility and control over who we play in-season.”

However, Guest did admit that there are some downsides since leaving the Catholic League.

“The cons are we do miss some of the rivalries we had, and we don’t have the league awards and championships,” Guest said. “The students seem to be satisfied that they have good competitive matchups on a consistent basis. Most of the negatives we’ve had are with the families that grew up in the league and have a sentimental attachment to it.”

A survey was recently sent out to the entire NDP coaching staff in every sport to gauge how the two independent seasons have been received. Guest said it was to collect feedback and evaluate what would be the best course of action moving forward. The results had two-thirds of the coaches choose to either remain independent or join a different league.

“The primary issue was a football issue, but we’ve been looking it as a whole and what is best for our student-athletes,” Guest said. “There’s no imperial data that shows the move hurt the school athletically or financially. Our parents are behind us, and our enrollment and finances are strong. We don’t have anything compelling us in either direction except what is good for our kids.”

Guest said formal dialogue for rejoining the Catholic League took place more than one year ago, but there is nothing planned for the near future.

“We’re not closing any doors, and we don’t want to badmouth anybody or create any hostility,” Guest said. “We understand and respect why each side has chosen the path they chose, and we support each other like good Catholic schools should.”