Give the Devils their due


Consistent success makes Richmond an easy choice as area's top sports program


By MATT SCHOCH and PAUL COSTANZO

Times Herald

We've done a few nice lists here in these pages, but we figured this one should be the talker of talkers.

Of all the schools in the Blue Water Area, which have the best collective sports programs?

This list takes into account a lot of things, but mostly winning.

We also gave more weight to wins in high-profile sports such as football, basketball and volleyball.

But if you have a state championship bowling team, or a powerhouse girls tennis team, you better believe we're taking that into consideration, too.

We decided against ranking all of the schools. We would have a hard time printing that (insert a school name here) has the worst athletic program.

That would just hurt feelings.

Even when we printed the top 25 boys basketball players in the area, a player reaching No. 25 was quite a feat. And if you didn't make it, there's no shame in not being among the list's elite.

But to be the worst at something? That's just embarrassing.

So, if your school didn't make this top 10 list, let's just say you were No. 11.

Maybe.

Next month, to spice things up, we'll try to top it with another great talker ... maybe our top 10 favorite religions?

Or maybe not.

Here goes:

1. Richmond: Once again, the decision for the top spot in the poll was not that difficult. We know, Macomb Area Conference fans, the Blue Water Area Conference might not stack up in some sports. However, Richmond's dominance of the conference across the board ? and in some instances, powerful programs statewide ? makes it the best program around.

The wrestling team is consistently at the elite level, while the soccer and softball teams have made statewide noise. Throw in strong programs in virtually every sport, solid coaching and a rabid fan base, and the Blue Devils are hands down the class of the area.

2. Marysville: By now, Marysville is the first school that comes to mind when listing state powerhouses in volleyball. But it's not just John Knuth's dominant run of impressive triumphs that puts the Vikings so high on this list.

The softball team made a semifinal appearance last season, boys basketball just won a district title, and the baseball team has been strong.

It all comes back to volleyball, however. Knuth's excellent program leads the way for the Vikings, but the other teams have followed suit nicely.

3. Marine City: Football is the most prestigious high school sport, and nobody plays it better in this area than Tony Scarcelli's bunch. Capturing the Division 4 state title in November brought some notoriety to the town and made some rock stars out of the players.

However, some other strong sports have helped put the Mariners on the MAC map. Baseball has been very good, softball has a rich tradition, and girls basketball is strong.

4. Port Huron Northern: The smaller-profile sports helped the Huskies' cause much more than the bigger-name sports. Joel Klaas just won a bowling title for the Huskies, who won the state crown a year ago. The girls golf team is among the best in the state and getting better, and the boys tennis team is favored to bring home a state title in the fall (not to mention a dominant run of girls tennis teams in the not-so-distant past).

Thanks to a certain pair of star siblings on the basketball court (Natasha and Jay Thames), the Huskies also have played hard against tough foes these past couple of years. The hockey program also is strong.

5. St. Clair: Solid in several sports, St. Clair closes the top five in a list that was tough to pick in spots 2-5.

The girls basketball team has led the way lately, making the Breslin Center in East Lansing a yearly stop for a while.

St. Clair also is strong at football, baseball, softball, tennis, etc.

6. Croswell-Lexington: The town and the teams have impressed us over the years. Cros-Lex travels well, just ask Don Roberts and his boys basketball team from a year ago.

The Pioneers seemingly also have won every BWAC title Richmond hasn't.

Strong track and field programs, baseball and football teams have helped the school's cause.

7. Marlette: In the competitive Greater Thumb Conference East Division, Marlette is king. The Red Raiders have a storied volleyball history and have been strong in girls basketball and softball. Marlette also enjoyed its first stretch of football success in many years lately.

8. Almont: This season's football run and successful boys and girls basketball seasons have helped get Almont on the list. Dean Sousanis also has presided over a great boys tennis program, reaching the state finals for 24 straight years.

9. Peck: The Pirates can give a lot of credit to the Class of 2008 for this placement. We're also partial to the success of football coach Rob Pouch and boys basketball coach Garnett Kohler, a couple of guys who are our ages, leading strong programs. We struggle to get out of bed each day, while they are molding future leaders each day.

10. Harbor Beach: The football team has been strong for a while, highlighted by this season's state-semifinal appearance. In addition, the Pirates seem in the mix in almost every sport for GTC titles. The basketball teams have been strong, and some of the smaller sports also are up and coming.

Contact Paul Costanzo at (810) 989-6251 or pcostanzo@gannett.com. Contact Matt Schoch at (810) 989-6288 or maschoch@gannett.com. View Paul and Matt's blogs at www.thetimesherald.com?/sports. Also, listen to them on the "Sports Attack" 9 a.m. Saturdays on WPHM 1380-AM.