The information found in this section was researched by Coach Kevin Shubnell through resources at the University of Detroit-Mercy library and the archives at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and the archives at De La Salle Collegiate High School. Most of the information you see here was found in back issues of The Michigan Catholic, which can be found in the library at the University of Detroit. It is truly amazing how much coverage CYO football used to get back in the 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, and to some extent the 1970's. This information is here to educate and inform all CYO football fans across Metro Detroit. Enjoy.
Detroit CYO Football By Kevin Shubnell
Football has been a part of the Detroit CYO's athletic program since the fall of 1942. In that year one of the greatest traditions in Metro Detroit began. Over the first few years the number of parishes and schools that participated in CYO Football grew substantially. In the inaugural season there were 12 teams in the "loop." By 1947, the fifth year of the program, that number had risen to 50. By the tenth season, 1952, there were 64 teams. The league reached it's zenith in the late mid-1960's when there were over 90 teams competing at the varsity level in the Detroit CYO football program!
For the first 14 seasons of CYO football there had been a playoff of the division champions and a championship game. The final four championship games (1951-1954) were the first game in a double-header at U-D Stadium. The second game that day was the “Soup Bowl” or as it is known now, the Catholic League First Division (A-B) championship game. More than 10,000 people, many arriving early for the high school game, attended the CYO Championship in those final four seasons. Due to the immense growth of the league, in 1955 it no longer became feasible to have a playoff tournament because there were too many teams and not enough room on the calendar. CYO Athletic Director Frank Connolly felt a tournament would substantially shorten the season for those teams that did not win their divisions and make the playoffs. By 1955 there were 80 teams and only enough time to allow for a 12 team tournament. Connolly scrapped the playoffs and championship prior to the 1955 season, much to chagrin of the dominant teams of the time that wanted to continue to compete for the outright CYO crown. Rather, Connolly placed all 80 teams into 10 divisions and assured a round-robin giving each team a seven game schedule. The majority of the teams in the CYO welcomed this change as it increased the schedule from five, and in some cases four, games to eight. Connolly also did not like the fact that most teams were ending their seasons in the first weeks of October when the weather was still relatively warm. While these 28 seasons produced no CYO champions, the amount of teams in the league and the amount of games being played was a testament to Frank Connolly and the power that is CYO football.
Unfortunately, since 1970 the number of teams in the CYO steadily declined. Several factors contributed to this downward swing. Demographics were changing as Detroit was quickly becoming more and more suburban. Enrollments in the Catholic schools and parishes in Detroit were declining. Many parishes and schools were being forced to close. Although the number of CYO football teams in the 1970's and early 1980's was high when compared to today's numbers, it was a far cry from the peak in the 1960's. The decline in the number of teams continued in the 1980's.
By the end of the 1970's there were only eight divisions remaining in the CYO. Beginning in 1978, division champs were invited to participate in the Catholic League Prep Bowl at the Pontiac Silverdome. The teams would play in what has become a tradition, a 20-minute running-clock exhibition. All teams in the CYO still played an eight game schedule. This changed in 1983, when CYO Athletic Director Ron Read brought back the playoffs and CYO Football Championship Game. Due to the number of teams and divisions, an 8-team playoff tournament was the feasible option. The CYO Football Championship Game was back, and it would once again be part of the Catholic League Football Championship at the Prep Bowl.
The decline continued in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, with the number of teams reaching their lowest total since 1944 with just 22 teams in 1994. Discussions about how to spur more interest began. The problem in many cases was the financial costs a CYO football program demands. There were not as many quality coaches and administrators willing to dedicate the time to start a new program or keep a struggling program afloat. Demographics also played a role in the decline in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Enrollments were once again on the slide and more schools would close. There was also the issue of parish boundaries. Many parishes, large enough to field their own teams, were joining partnerships with parishes that had football. Many programs did this to allow kids to play CYO football, some did this to be able to field a team, the problem was that it was too easy to join an existing program, rather than start anew.
In recent years we have seen a change in this trend. In 2003 the CYO expanded to five divisions for the first time since 1992. New programs, as well as some that have returned after a hiatus, have sprung up all across CYO Football. Rochester Holy Family, Livonia St. Edith, Pontiac Marist Academy, Walled Lake St. William, Birmingham St. Regis, Plymouth Our Lady of Good Counsel, and Utica St. Lawrence all have their own football programs. In 2005 St. Joseph of Lake Orion revived their program and St. Isaac Jogues followed suit in 2006. Ann Arbor Catholic will join the league in 2007 and Our Lady of Victory of Northville plans to enter the varsity fray in 2008.
While the days of eight divisions and 80 teams may be a distant memory, it is clear that CYO football is beginning to grow again. With the dedication of the players, coaches, administration, the parents and fans it is safe to say that CYO football in Detroit is alive and well. Let the tradition continue.