Michigan’s Western-Central Rivalry and Getting Together to Have Fun

Michigan’s second biggest in-state rivalry (depending on who you ask) takes place this Saturday night when the Western Michigan Broncos visit the Central Michigan Chippewas in beautiful Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  Every so often this matchup makes for a good game.  This weekend is officially every so often.  In fact, this will be a great game.

Anyone outside of The Mitten probably doesn’t know much about WMU and CMU.  Let me shed just a tiny glimmer of light on them for you.

The Broncos and the Chippewas are a combined 7-1 this fall.  Each of them have disposed of two inferior opponents at home and gone on the road twice to face Power 5 programs.  Western has beaten Northwestern and Illinois, while Central has upset then-ranked #22 Oklahoma State and fallen short against Virginia.  These two MAC West squads are for real.

No matter the quality of the contest on the field, this rivalry is always guaranteed to produce a sizable gathering and a noticeable party atmosphere.  People forget, ignore and deny it, but these are the real party schools in the state of Michigan.  You have to be more creative when you’re not in a true college town like Ann Arbor or East Lansing.  And, since Eastern Michigan is rather anemic in the football department and Northern Michigan is all the way up in the Upper Peninsula without a team, Western and Central are left to battle for directional school supremacy.

I won’t hyperbolize, but the fact that Mount Pleasant features a Native American casino, which anyone over the age of 18 can legally get into, most certainly comes into the decision-making process of prospective Central students.  Meanwhile, Western is known to some, affectionately or not, as ‘Wastern.’  If it takes more than one visit to figure out why, you’re doing it wrong.

Anyway, as MLive’s Mark Tower reports, the police are getting ready for the ‘influx of partiers’ that will flood the streets of Mt. Pleasant this weekend.  Unfortunately, that’s become a totally natural reaction for law enforcement officials to have.  I’m willing to bet there is at least one alcohol-related incident at just about every major sporting event in this country.

Despicably, this is what our nation has become.  When we get together in large enough groups, some of us get too drunk and end up ruining everyone else’s fun.  I say ‘us’ because we’ve all been that guy or gal a time or two.

I was pleasantly (see what I did there?) surprised to see a friend of mine quoted in Tower’s story.  P.J. Lemanski, press secretary for the CMU Student Government Association, and a former Little League teammate of mine, talked about what the Western-Central weekend means to him.

“It’s just about us getting together and having fun,” he said, in reference to his tradition of hanging out with his friends who attend Western.  “It’s never gotten too serious between us.”

I can’t tell you how refreshing this was for me to read.  Too often we hear about what’s wrong and what’s bad about something.  My old buddy P.J. so efficiently summed up the reason why we play, watch, and experience sports and everything that surrounds it.

This is all supposed to be fun.  We forget that.  We get all wrapped up in proving that the team we associate with is better than the one our friend, neighbor, or mortal enemy supports.  We let it control us and we don’t keep it in check well enough.

Why so serious?  If you’re not having fun experiencing sports, then like having to go to Kzoo a second time to figure out the party scene, you’re doing it wrong.

As a somewhat recent graduate who’s still adjusting to a world that’s gotten serious all of a sudden, this was a healthy reminder for me to take a deep breath and enjoy.

Because P.J. said it best.  “It’s just about us getting together and having fun.”

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikipedia

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