While attending the South Haven scrimmage, my best friend Brandon and I were talking about Lakeland Conference football/politics. For as long as I can remember, the Conference consisted of eight teams. Powerhouses Berrien Springs, Coloma, Buchanan and Cassossapolis middle of the pack teams Bridgman, Edwardsburg and Brandywine and whipping boy River Valley. River Valley has moved to the greener pastures of the rebuilding Red Arrow Conference. The Red Arrow conference, made up of much smaller schools, has been reeling since Watervliet and Hartford left for the SAC. With 7 teams left teams are scrambling to fill their 9 game schedules, Coloma has to play a much tougher Hamilton squad and Notre Dame Secondary out of Canada. We are the lucky ones, having the Watervliet rivalry to guarantee one game to start the season. Last year Coloma had to play a team near Traverse City. That is ridiculous. Either the Lakeland must add more teams, or combine with another league. Bridgman, only fielding 16 players this year, is “taking a year off” from the Lakeland to play an independent schedule, consisting of mostly Red Arrow Conference teams. They will probably leave the conference to win more than one game a season.
What other conferences could Coloma join then? The logical choice is the Wolverine Conference, which schools like South Haven, Allegan and other schools north of Coloma play. Coloma would have to make their case, and would be one of the smaller schools in the conference. Coloma will probably have to upgrade or replace their facilities (they need to anyway) and try to attract more kids to the program, both inside CHS and transfers. Anything to get more talented players on the field for the Comets. Of course, the Comets will probably struggle the first few years in the new conference to find their footing, and the playoffs will not be a near certainty as in past years.
Coloma would not be able to join the Red Arrow, they have too many teams and they are all too small. A bigger conference would not do the Comets any good to keep losing year in and year out. The Lakeland is probably going to have to combine with another Conference to sustain itself, or start playing select home and home games to fill out the schedule. Unless Coloma’s student body starts to drop, then it would make sense for Coloma to join another conference, such as the Red Arrow.
The politics of High School Athletics are tough and complicated to say the least, and new AD for Coloma Ken Schmaltz he has to work a deal that works best for Coloma, not the Lakeland Conference. I would love to see the Comets grow into a “mid-major” power that contends for the Conference crown every season, make the playoffs and sometimes win a postseason contest. But if the Lakeland continues to lose teams and Coloma has to keep scheduling no win non conference games, Coloma could struggle to keep building on the momentum they have built.