Six schools from Toledo and Jackson make CHSL ‘best football league in the state’

One hundred and 10 years! That’s how long Bob Stark, left, and Tony Magni have been coaching cross country and track in the Catholic High School League. Both are 77 years old and both started their careers in 1968, some 55 years ago: Stark at Brother Rice and Magni at Grosse Pointe St. Paul and St. Mary’s Prep before moving on to Detroit Catholic in 1973. (Photo by Don Horkey | Special to Detroit Catholic)

DETROIT — At the turn of the century, the Catholic High School League was brimming with nearly 40 schools.

Then the bottom dropped out. Since 2001, 18 CHSL-member high schools have closed, beginning with Southgate Aquinas in 2001 and the most recent, Livonia Ladywood’s closure in 2018. Pontiac Notre Dame Preparatory pulled out of the CHSL in 2016, objecting that its football team in Division AA was scheduled to play Central Division opponent Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice.

“There’s just such a difference in the speed and the bigger, faster, stronger athletes,” Notre Dame athletic director Betty Wroubel said. “Can we sleep with ourselves at night if we’re knowingly putting our kids in a non-safe environment?”

“There’s an open invitation to them to come back,” said Vic Michaels, CHSL director.

That was then, this is now.

The CHSL added five non-Catholic private schools to its fold between 2010 and 2017. And, at the July 27 fall coaches media day assembly, six Catholic schools were welcomed to raise the CHSL roster to 33. Five come from Ohio: coed Toledo Central Catholic, all-boys St. Francis de Sales and St. John’s Jesuit, and all-girls Notre Dame Academy and St. Ursula Academy. The sixth hails from mid-Michigan, coed Jackson Lumen Christi.

Toledo Central Catholic, St. Francis de Sales and St. John’s Jesuit will join Brother Rice, Novi Detroit Catholic Central, Warren De La Salle and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the Central Division.

“We appreciate them being in our league,” Michaels said. “Those schools add to what we think is already the best football league in the state. We’re strong from top to bottom not just in football, but in all of our sports. We’ll add to our rich tradition some Toledo tradition and some Jackson tradition.”

To add to the drama of what can be expected in this re-alignment of the CHSL, the Central Division will have a pair of defending state champions: Toledo Central Catholic in Ohio Division 2, and De La Salle back-to-back in the Michigan High School Athletic Association's Division 2. They are scheduled to clash at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, in Toledo.

That contest could very well determine the Central Division champion. Toledo Central Catholic hosts Detroit Catholic Central on Sept. 1 and then crosses the state border for the first time to play Brother Rice the following week. The two CCs have met 13 times in their gridiron history, dating back to 1951 and as recently as 2019. The Toledo squad holds a 7-6 advantage, including winning the last four games in a row.

“I’m really excited about the opportunities and challenges this is going to present,” said coach Greg Dempsey, who has won four state titles in his 24 seasons in Toledo.

“We’ll have to get through some growing pains in the early part of our schedule,” said De La Salle coach Dan Rohn. The big part in that growth will be finding someone to take the place of graduated all-state quarterback Brady Drogosh, who was a decisive factor in De La Salle’s state championship runs.

The Pilots open on the road at Davison on Aug. 24 and at Muskegon on Sept. 1 before opening at home Sept. 8 versus St. Mary’s.

Rohn believes the revamped CHSL Central “will give our programs more Midwest recognition. I’ve always been a person that wants to play great competition and I also want to be on big stages.”

Jackson Lumen Christi, the MHSAA’s defending Division 7 champion, will join Dearborn Divine Child, Detroit Loyola and University of Detroit Jesuit in the AA Division.

Herb Brogan has coached the Titans for 44 years, has won 10 state titles, and is the state’s third winningest coach with record of 395-94.

“We understand we’re going into a great league and great competition,” Brogan said. “Our kids will have to be ready to play week in, week out, against schools that are much bigger than we are (302 students coed)” compared to Divine Child (723 coed) and Detroit Jesuit (650 all boys). Only Loyola will be smaller, with 150 students, all boys.

The CHSL isn’t an unknown quantity to Lumen Christi. In its history, the Titans have played 10 CHSL teams and compiled an impressive 17-5 record. They are 4-3 versus Divine Child (most recently 2022), 1-0 versus Loyola and 2-0 versus Detroit Jesuit.

They beat Detroit Catholic Central 27-3 at the end of the 2004 regular season as a prelude to a five-game winning streak in the state playoffs to capture the Division 5 championship.

Coaches pick the winners

The coaches voted how they think the CHSL standings will look like at the end of the regular season:

Central Division: 1.) Toledo Central Catholic; 2.) Warren De La Salle; 3.) Detroit Catholic Central; 4.) Toledo St. John’s Jesuit; 5.) Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice; 6.) Orchard Lake St. Mary’s; 7.) Toledo St. Francis de Sales.

AA Division: 1.) University of Detroit Jesuit; 2.) Jackson Lumen Christi; 3.) Dearborn Divine Child; 4.) Detroit Loyola.

Intersectional 1: 1.) Riverview Gabriel Richard; 2.) Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard; 3.) Macomb Lutheran North; 5.) Madison Heights Bishop Foley; 6.) Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook.

Intersectional 2: 1.) Clarkston Everest Collegiate; 2.) Marine City Cardinal Mooney; 3.) Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett; 4.) Royal Oak Shrine; 6.) Allen Park Cabrini; 7.) Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes.

Prep Bowl gets a new look

Prep Bowl LI, scheduled for Saturday, Oct 21, at Ford Field, will have a bit of the old and a lot of the new, said Michaels at the media day event.

At 1:30 p.m., the respective winners of Intersectional 1 and 2 will square off for the Cardinal Division trophy.

Here’s the new: the AA Division winner will play one of two schools. Should Detroit Jesuit or Divine Child win the league, they will play Oxford. If either Loyola or Lumen Christi emerges as the champion, then Battle Creek Harper Creek will be the opponent.

At 7:30 p.m., the winner of the Central Division will play the Detroit Public Schools champion, most likely Cass Tech or Martin Luther King High.

“While it’s not all Catholic League schools there at the Prep Bowl, we think it will be good football,” Michaels said.

De La Salle football at Jimmy John

De La Salle athletic director and coach Dan Rohn said the Oct. 13 game against Toledo St. John’s Jesuit will be played at Jimmy John's baseball field in Utica.

“I’m excited to be playing in Macomb County,” he said.

Rohn revealed that the contract to play home football games at Wayne State ends this year. “I’m working with Warren city officials to renovate the Warren community center. It would be awesome. We also would have a track and lacrosse field.”

Coaching a combined 110 years

Bob Stark and Tony Magni renewed their friendship at the recent CHSL media day for fall sports coaches. It’s something they’ve done for 55 years, ever since both started their cross country and track and field careers in 1968. Both are 77 years old.

Stark was a member of Brother Rice’s first graduating class in 1964. After receiving his degree from the University of Notre Dame, he returned to Brother Rice in 1968 and has taught math and coached cross country and track and field since. He gave up track six years ago.

Magni started out at Grosse Pointe St. Paul for three years and then two more at St. Mary’s Prep before hiring on at Catholic Central in 1973.

Stark has won 11 Catholic League titles and Magni 30.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].


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