Tag Archives: Muskegon

Gone But Not Forgotten Part 3

Well enough of the history lesson, lets focus on the present.  Right now West Michigan area has a small amount of minor league teams:

Grand Rapids
– West Michigan Whitecaps – Baseball
– Grand Rapids Griffins – Hockey

Muskegon
– Muskegon Lumberjacks – Hockey

Kalamazoo
– Kalamazoo K-Wings – Hockey

That isn’t much, especially considering that Grand Rapids was once known as “The Nation’s premiere minor-league destination” during the 1990’s, according to Grand Rapids Press sports writer David Mayo.  Consider that in 2011 Grand Rapids was ranked as 178th on the Sports Business Journal’s list of the Top Minor League Market.  Back in 2005 Grand Rapids was listed as high as 25th, though losing the Grand Rapids Rampage was a large cause for the drop. Even more shockingly is that back in 1997 Grand Rapids was ranked as one of the top ten markets with sufficient capacity for a potential expansion NBA team by the American City Business Journal.

So what happened West Michigan?  Why have so many teams failed, especially after becoming a premiere minor league destination.  It’s obvious that hockey is king in Michigan, and with the Grand Rapids Griffins winning the 2013 Turner Cup, I can only see them getting more popular in the region. In addition being an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, greatly helps legitimatize the Griffins and helps Red Wing fans in this region have a stronger tie to the Red Wings.  Some of the other hockey teams in the also have some affiliation, like the Kalamazoo K-Wings are like a AA affiliate to the Chicago Wolves (AAA) who are then an affiliate of the Vancuver Canucks (a NHL Hockey Team).  Whereas the Muskegon Lumberjacks are just located in a type of player development league without any professional team affiliation.

But what about the national pastime of baseball?  Baseball has  had a particularly long and sad history in Grand Rapids until 1994 when the Whitecaps finally starting playing.  The Whitecaps seem to be doing well in West Michigan, and one potential cause for this could also be that they are a minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. This is a genius idea of both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers to base at least one of their minor league teams on the west side of the state, instead of having the team in some far away state.  It’s a great way to build up fan support, and give people a connection to the professional team on the other side of the state.

One of my theories on why many minor league teams did not last in the region has to do with West Michigan’s love affair with high school sports. As a transplant to this region I was absolutely shocked, and dumbfounded by the attention that high school sports garnered, in the media, in the community, and in everything.  It blew my mind that high school sports got any attention on regional news broadcasts, and front page treatment on sports sections in the newspapers, and even their own tv shows after the evening news.  Even after living in the region for over 8 years I am still surprised by the attention high school sports get. Now granted I may change my tune in 10 years if my children start playing competitive sports in High School, but for right now I am sticking with my original convictions.  Thinking about high school sports, I find that they would be competing for the same time and money that minor league sports would from potential fans/consumers.  Attendance to high school sporting events, require admission fees, food vendor sales, same evening time-slots, especially on weekends.  So minor league teams have to compete against normal time and money commitments of fans, but also against even more convenient sports entertainment from the local high school teams.

I most likely guilty as anyone for not supporting the teams that we do have.  I can probably count on my hands how many games I have been too since moving to West Michigan, and to date I have only seen the Holland Blast, West Michigan Whitecaps, and Grand Rapids Griffins play.  Though it would be nice to have a nice constant presence of some other teams like in basketball or soccer… you know to give me and the family options on a Friday night…at least until the kids are in high school.

Any other thoughts on theories on the lack of success of minor league sports in West Michigan? Let me know.

Part III in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan –
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II

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Gone But Not Forgotten – Part 2

Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part I ,

Hockey

Finally we will start talking about the sport that is near many West Michiganders hearts… hockey.  Michigan is a hockey mad state, and the West Side is no different.  Looking through the list of defunct teams you see a great number of them were hockey clubs.  It also wouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the two remaining minor league sports teams left Grand Rapids is a hockey team, the Griffins.

One of the oldest hockey teams that I could find in the area wasn’t in Grand Muskegon RedsRapids but in Muskegon.  The Muskegon Reds played from 1935 to 1938 in the Michigan Ontario Hockey League.  They played in the Mart Auditorium along with another team the Muskegon Sailors (who started in 1938).  Another interesting note is that the Chicago Blackhawks used The Mart as their preseason training facility.

Grand Rapids would get its team, the Rockets, in 1949 and they would go until 1956Rockets playing in The Stadium Arena, which is now known as the DeltaPlex. The Rockets left Grand Rapids in 1956 and moved to Huntington, West Virginia ( a hockey hotbed) and became the Hornets.

Zephyr Gas Can60_35One of the longest tenured teams in West Michigan was located in Muskegon.  The Muskegon Zephyrs started in 1960 and different variations of this team existed until 1992 (those they did change names quite frequently).  Zephyrs were owned by Jerry Delise, and they got their name from sponsor Zephyr Oil Co. of North Muskegon.  They even won the IHL championship in 1962. For the 1965-1966 season the Zephyrs renamed themselves and became the Mohawks.  They Muskegon_Mohawks_(IHL)_logoremained the Mohawks until 1984-1985 season when the team was sold to a new ownership group for $1, and then they became the Lumberjacks who played until 1992, before moving to Cleveland. But that was not last of the Lumberjacks in Muskegon, oh no… the Lumberjacks never die and rise again harder and stronger. The name was re-used twice.  The 1st time the Muskegon Fury took the name after the Lumberjacks left town, but they eventually relocated as well, moving to Evansville for the 2010-2011 season.  This Lumberjack vacancy was soon filled because Rochester Mustangs moved to Muskegon and became the new Lumberjacks who are still currently playing in the new USHL (a reincarnation of the past league).  No wonder it took me so long to write this post, its quite confusing with the teams coming and going, and keeping the same name, crazy ole Lumberjacks.

Grand Rapids BladesOne of the unfortunate realities of many of these teams is that they often only play for one season and then they disband or relocate.  Such was the case with the Grand Rapids Blades who played for the 1976-1977 season, and even won the USHL championship, then they ceased to exist.  Ready for a rabbit hole?  Ok in more recent history there was another Blades team, but this time located in Kansas City and they belonged in the IHL from 1990 to 2001.  Tying this back to West Michigan, guess who owned the Kansas City Blades, that’s right The Ledger favorite family… the DeVos’.  They purchased the team in 1996, the family also owned the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Orlando Solar Bears as well.  The wikipedia article on the Blades states that the DeVos family rather quickly became the fans enemies, with a series of changes they made, and how they attempted to move the Blades to Oklahoma City.

Give A Hoot!

Give A Hoot!

For all the teams that were born in Grand Rapids, and then migrated elsewhere, the Grand Rapids Owls were one club that did the opposite.  They started out as the Dayton Owls and they moved to Grand Rapids mid-season in 1977.  They lasted until 1980, when they disbanded the club due to financial reasons, and not being able to get a new stadium to play in.  The redundantly named Stadium Arena (now known as the DeltaPlex) was their home ice stadium, they missed out on the Van Andel arena by 16 years. Though Grand Rapids did miss some infamy by a couple of months, because one of the Owls players, Raymond William (Wild Willie) Trognitz was permanently suspended from the IHL, when during a brawl against the Port Huron Flags, Trognitz took his stick and struck it against a Flags player’s head, putting that player in the hospital.  The reason Grand Rapids escaped the infamy, because the team was still the Dayton Owls the time.

ggrizz2- jerseyShortly after the Owls closed up shop, the Grand Rapids Grizzlies took to the ice from 1980 to 1982 for the Continental Hockey League (not to be confused with the Russian version.

Then finally in 1996, the Van Andel Arena was built, and shortly there after Dave Van Andel and Dan DeVos formed West Michigan Hockey, Inc. which was able to bring the Griffins into town.  They effectively solved the problem of a lack of a stadium in Grand Rapids, which brought an end to the Owls.

Then there is roller hockey.  Apparently West Michigan had its own league eloquently named Michigan Elite Roller Hockey League.  In 2001 this league merged with the National Roller Hockey League (love cached websites!)  West Michigan was littered with the following roller hockey teams: Grandville Gators, Grand Rapids RiverFrogs, Kalamazoo Jones Soda (blatant copyright infringement), and Muskegon Comets.  Looks like there might have also been a Lansing Wild Cocks team, and the Kalamazoo team may have changed its name to the Warriors.

Soccer

Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s been tough to dig up much information on soccer in West Michigan.  Grand Rapids had a team called the Explosion and Kalamazoo had a couple of teams one indoor team called the Kangaroos and an outdoor team called the Kingdom.

Well time to come clean, I am stretching this series into a three part-er.  So in the next installment I will be exploring some reasons why so many of these teams have come and gone in West Michigan.

Once again feel free to share any stories you have about these teams, or any pictures or anything else.

Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part III