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Posted on Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 5:56 a.m.

For high school athletes and coaches, Ypsilanti-Willow Run merger brings uncertainty

By Kyle Austin


One of the many questions following the merger of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run School districts is which mascot and uniforms the new school will use?

Editor's note: Information about the eligibility of transfer student athletes previously stated in this article have been changed after receiving further clarification from MHSAA officials.

Voters wouldn’t go to the polls for nearly another month, but when the Willow Run High School football team took on Flat Rock Oct. 19 in their regular season finale, coach Rufus Pipkins knew it could mark the end of an era.


Willow Run football players practice earlier this season.

Daniel Brenner |

“It crossed our minds, to know that this might be the last Willow Run game,” Pipkins said. “Personally to me I’ve been here so long, I didn’t look at it that way. I thought this would just be another season.”

When residents took to the polls last week, they affirmed that it would indeed be the final season for both the Flyers and the neighboring Ypsilanti High School Phoenix.

Voters approved a pair of ballot initiatives last Tuesday to merge the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts. That means two high schools with long athletic histories will see their separate identities come to an end at the conclusion of the 2012-13 school year.

Any athletic team name, color or mascot for a consolidated district has yet to be determined, along with a building plan. The consolidation becomes effective July 1, meaning all fall teams have played their last games as separate programs.

“That is a little sad, this is going to be the last Willow Run football team, the last Willow Run basketball team,” Willow Run athletic director Matt Seidl said. “It’s historic and a little sad too.”

Ypsilanti will be changing mascots for the second time in six years, after the school changed from the Braves to the Phoenix in 2007.

“Obviously that was a change for the kids that were Braves that were changing to Phoenix,” Ypsilanti wrestling coach Claudell Ruffin said. “For us it’s definitely going to be a little bit of a change, but everything is going to be the same, schemes, strategies, stuff like that.”

Multiple Ypsilanti School District officials were unreachable for comment.

The next few months will involve decisions for athletes and coaches in both districts. Coaches will be finding out who will be leading the new merged teams, and many athletes will in turn be deciding whether or not they will be playing for the new teams or transferring to another school.


Ypsilanti football players celebrate their win over Dexter earlier this season.

Courtney Sacco |

They, like all students and teachers in both districts, are in a wait-and-see mode to find out what happens next. Many of the decisions lie in the hands of the school board for the new merged district, which is expected to be appointed next week.

Pipkins said he hopes that any decision made about a new football program and its leadership is made quickly.

“It’s still fairly early enough where if you get something stable, you can really get something going,” Pipkins said. “If this kind of drags on, you’re going to see the better football players start to look for a better situation.”

In football, both programs suffered amid declining enrollment. Ypsilanti went 1-8, and Willow Run went 2-7. Other fall sports also struggled with on-field results.

Both Pipkins and first-year Ypsilanti coach Ra’Mon Watkins struggled with declining participation and rising attrition.

“They talked about possibly being at another school, kids would have conversations about what schools they would attend,” Pipkins said. “It was a small distraction the entire year.”

At Ypsilanti, Ruffin said he’s fielded a few questions about what’s next for the wrestling program, but it hasn’t had an effect on his numbers.

Seidl said he doesn’t see the merger as having any impact on dwindling participation numbers. He attributes those numbers more to lower enrollments and an interest level and commitment level that he said is the lowest he’s seen in more than 15 years of involvement in high school sports.

“There’s a lack of fire right now in some of our programs,” Seidl said.

Seidl said he can see positive and negative for athletes in a merged district. A committed, high-level athlete could have the opportunity to play for a more successful team alongside more committed teammates.

But a less talented athlete could also not make the cut, as more students compete for the same number of varsity roster spots.

Coaches will also be competing for fewer spots. Pipkins said he’s heard “about a thousand different things,” including that he may have the advantage because he’s been coaching in the district longer, or that he might be at a disadvantage because he doesn’t teach in the district.

And the decision as to who to hire as coach, could have an impact on students’ decisions from both schools.

“I’m going to get a lot of calls from parents asking for what direction to go in,” Pipkins said. “They’re so used to me, if I’m not part of that staff, it’s going to have a bearing on the decision process.”

According to MHSAA spokesperson John Johnson, students who transfer out of the new consolidated district and enroll in a different district by the first day of the 2013-14 school year will likely be immediately eligible to play, but said “nothing is cast in stone yet.”

State rules normally require transfer students to sit out a semester, but included in the transfer rules are exceptions for when a school “ceases to operate, not merged” or if a school is “reorganized or consolidated.” It also states that if a new school is established, students enrolled on the first day are immediately eligible, but the new district would have the power to make incoming students subject to the MHSAA transfer rule.

The MHSAA will likely consider the consolidated district an entirely new district, and the consolidated high school an entirely new school. This could potentially raise another issue as first year MHSAA member schools are not eligible for postseason play until their second year of competition.

Kyle Austin covers sports for He can be reached at or 734-623-2535. Follow him on Twitter @KAustin_AA.



Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 3:27 a.m.

I hope that the students are given a voice in the new mascot. It will be crucial for the success of the new HS for some type of cohesion between the two student bodies. Maybe students can come up with their ideas and pitch them to the entire student body, then decide with a vote.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

I inquired with WISD today and was told that they would be selecting the new school board. They also told me that they would be accepting input from the community, but they will make the final decision. I complained about this and all voters should call and complain. We should have a special election and vote on school board members.

Dan r OBryan

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 3:21 a.m.

i agree ,we need a recount also


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 2:42 a.m.

NO...not the Flying Phoenix's. How about bringing the Braves back? Or better yet, the Thunder. Anything but Flying Phoenix's PLEASE. The downright sad part of all this is that the Braves, Flyers (two great traditions) and Phoenix's are no more :(. Also, hopefully the MHSAA will allow the kids to have immediate eligibility to play in all sports. Both of these school districts have lost quite enough, IMHO. Hopefully the kids will not lose out on a year of eligibility, resulting out of something NOT of their own making or in most cases (unless they were 18 years old on November 7th) vote.

Unusual Suspect

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

I suggest "Hurons."


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 11:25 p.m.

> "I'm going to get a lot of calls from parents asking for what direction to go in," Pipkins said. "They're so used to me, if I'm not part of that staff, it's going to have a bearing on the decision process." So, "pick me or I'll convince a dozen kids to take their funding elsewhere." Nice guy.


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 6:15 p.m.

So....who is going to pay for the new uniforms etc that go along this consolidation and name change?


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 7:33 p.m.

They're building a school district from the scraps of two failed districts, so I highly doubt this is even close to being even a minor priority. I would imagine finding out what students go where, who is going to teach them, who is the going to be the superintendent, who are going to be the principals, what buildings they will have to close and/or try to sell, how they are going to pay the bills, where they are going to find money to pay the bills, etc. all supercede what color the jerseys are or what the mascot is.

Kyle Austin

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

That's something that came up with multiple people I talked to, especially considering Ypsilanti had to change uniforms after going from Braves to Phoenix. Hopefully we'll know more once this board comes together.


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

I just don't like the fact that the voters are not choosing the school board. WISD is selecting the school board. We the voters should be complaining about this action.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 2:46 a.m.

Ann, can you check on this? I heard (not sure if this is true) that the voters of this combined school district (yet to be named) will not have an opportunity to elect a school board for three years? Also, like @Twill68, appointing the school board members by whomever, does not sit comfortable with me. The voters of the combined district should be able to immediately vote on their perspective school board leaders after the official consolidation date.


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 4:58 p.m.

Actually the voters will elect a school board once the district is officially consolidated. Since there is no official school district yet, there can not be an elected school board for something that does not exist. Once the school district is officially formed, which will be 7-1-2013, then the school district will be official and at that point they will have elections during one o the 4 approved election periods to select a board. They might even be able to elect a board in June, because normally a June election led to board members starting on 7-1, which happens to be the start of the fiscal year for schools in Micigan per state law.


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

How about either the Neptunes or Plutos to reflect the fact that alot of mortgages just went further underwater?


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

I'd like to see the mascot/nickname be the "Bombers" or the "B-24s" to harken back to what the area was known for in the WWII era. Local historical ideas are the best mascot names for high schools and colleges.


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

I would like to see the new school district come up with a new name for their mascot. In Ypsilanti, "Braves" became a very controversial name. The name "Phoenix" was never accepted by many die-hard fans of the Braves. This is an opportunity to get a fresh start.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 2:50 a.m.

@Heather, Although THE BRAVES is still loved by many YPS alumni, with the new "combined" district its' time for a change. The new name in order to be accepted IMHO cannot be a combination of any of the districts' former names - Braves, Flyers or Phoenix's


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 10:47 p.m.

at Heather why was the name 'Braves' controversial?? Because outsiders made it that way, many people who were part of YHS never embraced the name change. In many minds YHS will always be 'The Home of the Braves'


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

Here is another issue for the combined school district. If they do indeed consolidate the high schools into one school, which conference to the athletic teams belong to? I would assume that Ypsi+Willow Run would retain the Ypsi spot in the SEC. Given the size of the school, at nearly 1500 students combined enrollment, the school would fit in much better as and SEC team than with the Michigan Metro schools. The one question I might have is could this spur the combined school to leave the SEC for Western Wayne Conference alongside Belleveille, Dearborn, Fordson, Romulus, and Edsel Ford? If that were to happen, what would the SEC do regarding a 12th team? I can think of two schools that could be interesting candidates to take the spot should Ypsi leave. Milan and Pinckney. Milan would be the better fit, and might be more likely to be convienced to leave the Huron League should a spot in the SEC open up.


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 12:48 p.m.

I think the new nickname should be the Liberators. The plane was mass produced at Willow Run during WWII and was the reason that Willow Run Airport exists. Henry Ford built the plant and airport to helpl with the War Effort during WWII. The location of Willow Run High School is near the plant (a few miles north), but many of the Willow Run plant workers came from Ypsilanti and surrounding areas. Having a nickname that represents both sides of the community would hopefully help bring the community together.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 2:51 a.m.

Not a bad idea. Liking this!


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

I was thinking Bombers but I like your idea better.


Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

Love this idea...good for both communities

Kyle Austin

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

Good suggestion. I know the Willow Run faithful could get behind that, and maybe the Ypsi folks could too, considering they may not be too attached to Phoenix