April 24 10:12 AM

Whatever thescore, this is one rivalry worth playing

Alumni Traveling Trophy up for grabs in August 3 clash.
July 25, 2007
Whatever the final score, the Imlay City, North Branch alumni game is one rivalry worth playing. In fact, we all should take great pleasure in this game.

A rivalry like this one should have something to play for, you know, a golden spitoon or a sterling milk can. Harold Schoenfeld of Imlay City and Ralph Deshetsky of North Branch have been talking about the need for a traveling trophy.

"And now there is one, dedicated to all the players who have ever played a down for Imlay City or North Branch," Harold told me.

A travelling trophy to stay with the victorious team is now available. It gives the combatants a trophy worth playing for, a game worth playing and a cause worth playing for.

You see winning isn't everything, or so they say.

Of course any ex-high school football player worth his weight in cheeseburgers wants to win, but the alumni benefit game between these two schools makes winners out of both school districts and their communities. Nearly $12,000 is raised for each school district to spend on worthwhile activities.

So you see whoever loses, well, they don't really lose.

Last year the first game was played in North Branch and several thousand people showed up for the clash, most of them not knowing and surely questioning the kind of game they would see. They walked away saying, "Some of those men can still play football, it was a great game."

Some could still play, even though the uniform may not fit like it once did. The truth was some things just didn't tuck very well anymore, and some tucking simply wouldn't stay tucked.

North Branch won the inaugural game, 21-18. The Imlay City alumni wanted to win and they played hard enough to win, they just didn't. What matters is they slipped a football jersey over their heads once again and played a game they love. It was as simple as that.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think for a minute the Spartan Alumni are focused on anything but winning this year. Yes sir, they are going to play to win and hope to tie the series at 1-1.

Imlay City has a couple of veteran coaches in their ranks this year, spots they felt they needed to fill. John Topie, the Spartans' varsity girls' basketball coach, and Ken Day, the varsity wrestling coach, will serve as offensive and defensive coaches. Ken Brown will assist and Rick Lee is a player/coach. Lee and Paul Stawecki, both graduates of Imlay City, helped organize and plan the game.

The Spartans have been practicing hard a couple times a week with their coaches and I'm told they are shaping up nicely.

There are a few new names to this year's roster that I'm certain if you are a Spartan football fan you will recognize. Players like Rick Granata, who excelled on the gridiron during the early 1990s. He was a one man wrecking ball of a runner in high school. There are others from that state runnerup squad on the alumni team. Their ranks include Matt Topie, Jeremy Homer, Chris Gilbert, Dennis and Terry Deitch, Chris Avouris, Chad Stryker, Louie Aguinaga, and Jeff Mallets. Other players you'll know from the 1990s are Steve Lestage, Jeff Land, Dave Dueweke, Jeremy Aguinaga, Bryan Buike, Mark Stevens, Brent Granata, Ted Reintjes, Isreal Kipper, Jeff Stryker, Nick Monroe, and Jim Mauricio. The 1980's are represented by Rick Lee, Mike Smith, Paul Meier, Steve Cooke, Steve Upleger, Scott Vanderploeg, John Seybert, Tom Schutz, Pat Land, Ken Taylor and Darren Day. Going back a bit further, to the 70's is Bill Brown, Roger Romine, and John Lee.

Craig Penzein and Kevin Vanderploeg are two of the youngest players, graduating in 2001. According to the rules of the alumni game players must be out of school at least five years. And along comes Lavern Dean, Class of 1967, who last wore a Spartan uniform 40 years ago.

I caught up with Laverne a few weeks ago at one of the practices, sweat rolling down his brow and bruises covering his forearms.

"Laverne, are you having fun yet?" I ask.

"I'm having a great time!" he replied.

And you know what, I think he is.

The game has a 7:30 kickoff Friday, August 3 in Imlay City. The Spartans can use your support.

Randy is the President of Page One Inc., which publishes the Tri-City Times, Woods-N-Water News and Page One Printing Company. He has been with the company since 1980. Randy has been writing a local column for 27 years on community events, individuals, sports, hunting and fishing adventures.
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