Munising Mustangs thrilled to be back in a football conference

Munising quarterback Alec Blank prepares to pass with a Westwood defender hanging on at the Patriots’ field on Aug. 25. (Journal file photo by Rachel Oakley)

MUNISING — The Munising football program has finally punched its ticket to a new destination — the West PAC.

After having their application rejected earlier this year by the conference, Munising was recently accepted and will begin playing football in the league next year, joining current Mid-Eastern Football Conference members Norway, Bark River-Harris and Lake Linden-Hubbell in the move.

The other member of the MEFC, Newberry, has already earned a bid to move in the other direction by joining the Legacy Division of the Northern Michigan Football Conference, which includes St. Ignace and five northern Lower Peninsula schools.

In an interview Wednesday, Munising athletic director DeeJay Paquette said that scheduling problems in the West PAC helped entice the league into adding the Mustangs.

“The West PAC originally accepted the other three, but turned down Munising due to travel and distance,” Paquette said. “As the summer progressed, I believe it was for scheduling reasons, they were finding it kind of difficult to do a schedule with 11 teams. They ended up doing a schedule with a 12th team, that being us, and notified us in mid-August that we were accepted into the West PAC.”

When asked why the Mustangs were originally rejected by the conference, Paquette said part of it had to do with distance and travel costs for the schools out west. He also said now that Munising is in the conference that some of the road trips for games could be as long as four hours.

“That was originally part of the reason that they gave, which was understandable,” he said. “When we play Hurley (Wisconsin), which we will next fall, it’ll be a four-hour bus ride for us. That’s just once every other year, though.

“Going into next year, I had only three schools I had contracts with that would play (Munising) and the rest were all in a conference. So we went from having three games to having nine.

“So I’m very happy for our school to be getting into the West PAC.”

Paquette also said that the new West PAC will be split into two six-team divisions, large-schools and a small-schools divisions, and Munising will be in the latter.

He also made sure to say that the move to the West PAC is strictly for football and that the Mustangs are happy to play in the Skyline Central Conference in other sports.

“We will play the five other schools in the small division and we’ll have some crossover games,” he said. “This is just for football, though.

“We’re a Class D (school) and we’re very happy in the SCC. If we had football, we would be in there for that, but all of the schools in the SCC have eight-man football.”

Many schools are being forced to move to eight-player football due to class sizes, but Paquette said that won’t be a problem at Munising for the time being.

“Right now with our numbers, we can maintain 11-man,” he said. “We’ll just see what the future holds, but we’re averaging 10 to 12 students per class that will participate in football, so as long as our numbers stay there, we should be OK. When we start dropping below that, we’ll definitely have to start looking at 8-man football.”

There have been other teams interested in joining the West PAC, including Mid-Peninsula Conference programs Iron Mountain and Gwinn as has been announced this week.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.