BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — It would have been a historic moment at Rudness Field this coming fall: the 100th documented football game between Greenville and Belding.
But now, the long-standing rivalry game — which features two teams separated by just six miles — has been canceled. Belding Area Schools Superintendent Brent Noskey released a letter Thursday announcing the decision to back out of the game.
“There were some parents who texted me, saying it’s about time,” Belding High School principal Michael Ostrander told 24 Hour News 8 Friday.
Ostrander echoed the letter written by Noskey, who said he made the decision to cancel the game after talking with students, coaches and parents.
Noskey wrote that the move would not be popular, but that it was made with player safety in mind — pointing to three straight blowout losses for the black and orange. Noskey argued that Greenville has bigger kids and double the enrollment of Belding. Noskey likened the school sizes to a matchup between the University of Michigan and Hope College.
“If Greenville were seeking a game week one, Rockford is available. Are they going to call up Rockford and say, ‘we’d love to play you?’ The probably wouldn’t. Rockford’s twice their size,” Ostrander said.
But those who disagree with the move say the enrollment gap has been there for decades. And just how competitive the rivalry has been seems to depend on how you look at it.
“Over the last 28 years, the record has been 14-14. Fourteen wins for us, 14 wins for Belding,” Greenville High School principal Jeff Wright told 24 Hour News 8 Friday.
“If you look over a hundred years, (Belding) has won 32 percent of the time,” Ostrander argued. “If you take out the decade of the ‘90s, we won much less than that.”
Belding had a dominant stretch in the 1990s that included two state championships.
For school officials in Greenville, the move comes as a surprise and a disappointment. Wright said they wanted to keep the tradition alive. Plus, there’s big money involved. When the game is played in Greenville, it brings in nearly 25 percent of the Yellow Jackets’ annual gate sales — for all sports.
“I didn’t see this as UofM versus Hope. I saw this Greenville versus Belding,” Wright said.
“With anything in life, especially athletics, there’s an ebb and flow. Sometimes you have better seasons than others,” he argued.
24 Hour News 8 also talked with fans in both cities, who also expressed disappointment with the decision to cancel the game.
Belding has now signed a contract to play Laingsburg in the season opener. Greenville Athletic Director Brian Zdanowski told 24 Hour News 8 that they will play North Farmington High School in their week one game. That game will be played at Grand Valley State University.
Noskey said Belding will take a two-year hiatus from the game against Greenville but then reevaluate the decision. The two teams will still compete in other sports. There is a possibility that the football rivalry could be renewed in the future.