Note: This story has been updated to include a statements from Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and Almont Superintendent William F. Kalmar.
It’s rare when a high school football game is ended by officials calling the game with time still on the clock, but unheard of when it happens in a state semifinal game.
But that’s what happened Saturday at Walled Lake Central in the Division 5 semifinal between Almont and PSL runner-up Detroit Denby.
Almont led 36-8 with less than four minutes remaining when officials halted the game due to too many personal foul penalties on Denby.
Denby coach Deon Godfrey said things started to get ugly before the game even started when Almont fans used racial slurs toward Denby players, who have knelt during the national anthem all season.
After the game, Godfrey said Almont fans and band members were taunting Denby players.
Brandon Folsom, a sports reporter for the Port Huron Times Herald, captured video of the postgame confrontation between Denby players and Almont fans. No arrests were made and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department is reviewing the incident.
“The school district (Detroit Public Schools) is deeply disturbed by the actions witnessed this weekend during the Almont-Denby game,” DPS Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement given to The Detroit News. “Based upon preliminary findings, it is our understanding that Almont adult spectators were cursing and spitting on our coaches and players after the game while leaving the field. The disrespect toward the city, school, and players continued on social media after the game where Almont fans used numerous racist stereotypes. We look forward to getting to the bottom of what occurred based on factual evidence to determine the district's next steps on how to best support our school and its administration, coaches, and students."
It was an unfortunate end of the season for Denby, which was making its first state semifinal appearance in program history.
“The game was called because (officials) said we were getting too out of hand with playing too rough,” said Godfrey. “They called 39 penalties on us to six on them.”
Almont coach James Leusby said Denby was not guilty of dirty play.
“No, on the field it was the boys playing football,” Leusby said. “They (officials) just came over and said, ‘Coach, we’re going to call this for the safety of the players.’
“Their coaches came and shook our hands after the game and they were very congratulatory, and they said things like, ‘Win it all.’ They were very professional and did what I would expect.”
Leusby said he didn’t know what happened postgame, saying: “We were all over in our group taking care of our stuff, so I don’t know.”
Godfrey said police officers escorted the officials to their cars after the game but said Denby’s players were unprotected as they headed off the field.
“The police didn’t do anything to secure us; my athletic director, along with a couple of coaches, were leading our guys to the locker room,” Godfrey said. “We waited until the crowd started to disperse, and soon as we started to go to our locker room, their band tries to come in between us, and that’s when the melee started. Their fans were at the rails, blocking our path. We had to go across the field and up the ramp to the school to where our stuff was. The police didn’t do anything to prevent this.”
Almont Community Schools Superintendent William F. Kalmar issued a statement about the incident on Monday. Here are portions of that statement:
“We are saddened that the incredible accomplishments of the Almont Raiders football team, including making it to our first MHSAA state final, have been overshadowed by the regrettable behavior of a handful of spectators at Saturday’s game.
“We are investigating fully allegations that that members of the Almont Raiders Marching Band taunted players from Denby High School while both groups attempted to exit the stadium after the game was called by officials. At this time, we have no evidence of such behavior by members of our marching band, dance team, cheerleaders or student body.
“… We are cooperating with the authorities in attempting to identify those spectators who may have aggravated the confrontation by taunting the Denby players.”
Almont, 40 miles north of Detroit, is a village of about 2,800 residents in Lapeer County.
Almont (13-0) moves on to face Lansing Catholic (12-1) in the Division 5 state championship game Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Ford Field. Almont limited Denby to 122 total yards for the game, minus-19 rushing.
“We came out ready to play and executed our game plan and we ended up coming out on top, so we’re living our dream right now,” Leusby said.
Jennifer Chambers of The Detroit News contributed to this report.
All games at Ford Field
Division 8: Beal City (12-1) vs. Reading (12-1), 10 a.m. (FSD)
Division 2: Muskegon Mona Shores (11-2) vs. Detroit King (10-2), 1 p.m. (FSD)
Division 6: Maple City Glen Lake (12-1) vs. Monroe St. Mary CC (11-1), 4:30 p.m. (FSD Plus)
Division 4: Grand Rapids CC (12-1) vs. Detroit Country Day (13-0), 7:30 p.m. (FSD Plus)
Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia (13-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (12-0), 10 a.m. (FSD)
Division 1: Brighton (11-2) vs. Davison (11-2), 1 p.m. (FSD)
Division 5: Lansing Catholic (12-1) vs. Almont (13-0), 4:30 p.m. (FSD Plus)
Division 3: Muskegon (13-0) vs. River Rouge (12-1), 7:30 p.m. (FSD Plus)