Disappointed by decision to end IM-Kingsford game

Guest column

I wanted to express my deep concern and disgust at the recent news that Iron Mountain will not schedule Kingsford as part of next year’s football schedule.

The Iron Mountain-Kingsford rivalry was one of the longest-standing, strongest and best rivalries and traditions in the local community. As an Iron Mountain native, former Iron Mountain football player, and IMHS graduate, the Iron Mountain-Kingsford game, whether as a young child, a player, or now as a proud fan cheering from my home in Colorado, was one of the few games of the year that I closely followed. The tradition sparked the community, brought people together, and provided intense competition that typically emptied the streets and filled the stands year in and year out.

Even over the past several years under Tom Wender’s leadership, when Iron Mountain had smaller teams and less enrollment than Kingsford, we competed, worked like hell, and from time to time beat Kingsford. Any former IMHS football player (at least before the Boddy/Marttila eras), except maybe Robin Marttila (who played under legendary coach Wender), would tell you the Iron Mountain-Kingsford game was the most important game of the year.

To see this tradition come to an end is tragic. It is tragic for the young men playing football in the community, tragic for the fans, tragic for the schools, and tragic for the entire community as a whole.

Months before this news broke, I heard that Mr. Marttila was considering this change to the schedule and even encouraging it. Given that Mr. Marttila is a former Iron Mountain football player under Coach Wender and now the current head coach, I was absolutely shocked at the news. Part of me did not want to believe it. At one point I thought it might be a rumor. To now see it happen is so disappointing that it is hard to put into words.

This news shows a lack of leadership and a lack of pride, and is against everything that Mountaineers stand for. Coaches like Wender and Phyllis Laurila (two of Iron Mountain’s legendary, most successful and best coaches in its rich history) spent countless hours with the kids promoting their respective sports, coaching the kids, driving the kids to compete beyond their own perceived abilities, and creating an atmosphere that resulted in incredible success. The atmosphere created a culture — a culture of discipline, winning, and love for the game. I, for one, am one of those kids who was so greatly influenced by them and am grateful each day that I had the opportunity to play under their leadership. While these legendary coaches dealt with many of the same issues that the programs deal with today, such as lower enrollment and budget problems, they would not take no for an answer. They worked with what they had and turned their programs into dominating forces in the state of Michigan year after year.

As you probably know, another Iron Mountain graduate, Tom Izzo, built his basketball program at Michigan State on the principle that they would play anyone, anywhere, anytime. While not always having the most successful teams, he stuck to his principles and has never waivered. This approach has resulted in Tom Izzo being considered one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time. As a head coach, he has one national championship, appeared in seven Final Fours, and now sits in the basketball Hall of Fame. Not bad for a guy from Iron Mountain who, as a high school football player, took part in playing in the annual Iron Mountain-Kingsford game.

Now that this disappointing news has come out, I hope that the IMHS leadership has accepted the responsibility for the negative impact and long-term consequences this will have on its student-athletes, the school and the community as a whole. It is a disgrace for the Iron Mountain program to cancel the annual Iron Mountain-Kingsford game. In my opinion, under the leadership of Mountaineers with determination, work ethic, and pride similar to Izzo, Wender and Laurila, IMHS would never have allowed this to happen.