MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Plenty of high schools have traditions surrounding their football teams. In Muskegon, that tradition is winning.
The Muskegon Big Reds are the winningest high school football program in the state, with 877 wins.
“They talk about Texas football and football in the south, but Muskegon always seems to get tossed into that conversation with all of its history and tradition,” head coach Shane Fairfield aid. “We kind of call this the Alabama of Michigan or the University of Muskegon.”
Iconic Hackley Stadium is the home base of that tradition, nestled in the middle of a Muskegon neighborhood.
“So many of the stadiums today are aluminum sheets of metal on the side of the highway,” MHSAA historian Ron Pesch. “This, to me, is probably one of the greatest things this program has that sets them aside.”
He said Hall of Fame coach Robert Zuppke helped lay the foundation for the Big Reds’ home turf.
“When Bob Zuppke first got here, he looked at the initial plans, which were to build a football field, if you can believe this, of 50 yards,” Pesch said. “He said, ‘That’s not going to work,’ and so he redrew the plan.”
Muskegon hosted its first game on Hackley Field in 1907. Twenty years later, Hackley Stadium was built. It has evolved since construction nearly a century ago but still embodies the Big Red tradition.
“It’s a great feeling to watch this place fill up on a Friday,” Fairfield said. “I actually played my first peewee football game in this stadium when I was younger, so now to be the head coach here is pretty special.”
This is Fairfield’s 12th season as head coach of the Big Reds. He follows in the footsteps of coaches like Zuppke, who also coached at Illinois; and Tony Annese, who is now head coach at Ferris State University. Fairfield was an assistant coach in 2008 when Annese led the Big Reds to a state title.
“Along the way, the coaches before me and the players before me have built one heck of a race car and it’s my job just to keep it on the track,” Fairfield said.
He is on pace to become the program’s winningest head coach. With 131 Ws, he is 25 shy of the current record held by Leo Redmond.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think that was something that would mean something a lot, especially being a city kid growing up and finding myself here in this position to accomplish that,” he said.