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Of Jungaleers And Technicians

Not a whole lot divides me and The Wife. We grew up in Detroit under similar economic circumstances, wound up doing similar jobs, have kindred views on many big political issues and usually hold like-minded opinions when it come to family and friends. But this coming weekend, we'll find ourselves separated by a chasm that neither of us could cross even if we so desired (and, trust me, neither of us wants to).

This Saturday her high-school alma mater, Detroit Cass Technical High School, faces my old school, Detroit Southeastern High, in the state football playoffs. And for those few hours, the person I'm closest to on this planet becomes my rival. I can't wait.

But the SE/Cass Tech clash isn't just about two schools -- or one married couple -- going at it. For many around here, this game also serves as a metaphor for the class, geographic and social distinctions that have traditionally demarcated life in Detroit.

Historically, Cass Tech has been the crown jewel of Detroit's public high schools, a magnet for many of the city's best and brightest students (as well as some not-so-bright children fortunate enough to come from the "right" families). Over the past century, the school, located near downtown Detroit, has turned out a who's who of successes, including industrial designer Niels Diffrient, comics Lily Tomlin and David Alan Grier, inventor John DeLorean, music legends Diana Ross and Donald Byrd, TV personalities Ed Gordon and Shaun Robinson and former Miss USA Kenya Moore. (And they get a Wikipedia page, to boot...sigh.)

Even though the city now boasts three other magnet high schools, too, Cass Tech is still Detroit shorthand to some for top-flight college-prep education. Little wonder then that its green-and-white clad students are nicknamed "the Technicians."

And then there's Southeastern. Built in 1914, Southeastern, like Cass, is one of Detroit's oldest schools -- but we've never enjoyed the enduring petty bourgeois fanfare (lol...cheap shot, I know) that Cass is accustomed to. Located on the far eastside, SE has usually served a distinctly less affluent group of kids than Cass, even way back in the days when both schools were all-white (and even though Cass too has always had its blue-collar students). SE has traditionally been home to no-nonsense, working-class students whose parents got their hands dirty toiling in the area tool-and-die shops and car plants. (As for famous grads, well, we do have Jets linebacker Bart Scott -- and I think I've heard rumor that actor George Peppard once went there, too, but pickins get slimmer from there...)

SE was built in what was then a largely undeveloped, swampy area of the community heavily surrounded by trees. That's how we became known as "the Jungaleers."

By the time I started attending in the early 1980s, SE was also reflective of an eastside community that was in the throes of some serious ills, much of it stemming from local de-industrialization and the crack cocaine boom. We still had far more great kids and caring teachers than not, but there was also no getting around the tragic realities that plagued our neighborhoods and made it tougher for some kids to learn and some teachers to teach. As a cruel joke, some people took to saying that SE stood for "Special Education."

Whatever. I had made a conscious choice to go to Southeastern. Yes, I'd tested in to Cass, but my heart remained with the Mack Ave. neighborhood I'd grown up in. I wanted to be a Jungaleer and rock the purple and white that, to me, still seem like the sweetest school colors ever. And just so you know: Four years after enrolling, I graduated SE with academic and athletic honors and earned a full scholarship to college. So color me purple, white, proud and grateful.

And now comes Saturday's game, which will mark the second time the two schools have squared off this football season. Back in September, we kicked Cass 35-0. And last year, much to my glee and the Wife's chagrin, we smashed them three straight times en route to winning the Detroit Public School League championship. (We should've been defending that PSL title this year, too, but an apparent paperwork snafu did us in...and yes, I know there's an SE joke in there somewhere.)

The traditional class contrasts that the game highlights are still evident, though not nearly as pronounced as in decades past. Cass is still seen by some as the "elite" school that draws the "proper" kids from upper-middle-class westside oases like the University District and Green Acres. And SE (now known as the Southeastern High School of Technology and home to some cutting-edge DPS technological programs) is still fighting to overturn negative perceptions about its working-class student body and a troubled-but-resilient eastside community bounded by streets like Mack, Charlevoix and Jefferson.

No, the broad strokes and grainy old POVs about Cass and Southeastern certainly can't fully define the current realities for the people or communities vested in either school. But you can still see in them the outlines of Detroit's past and present, the dynamics that have compelled the evolutions of our assorted neighborhoods and our social, intellectual and professional classes.

And when the teams from SE and Cass take to the field on Saturday, I hope you'll also get a glimpse of the passion and pride that, despite Detroit's well-cataloged troubles, still burn within our city as a whole.

More than anything else, though, I hope you -- and the Wife -- get to see those mighty Jungaleers whip some Technician tail. Again.

(Sincere thanks to Cassandra Spratling for suggesting this idea...)

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  • 1

    Though using sports as a Metaphor for Much More Than a Game is a familiar journalistic chestnut, you make it work fine, Darrell.

    Readers from just about any big city may think of the dynamics and evolutions of their communities since autumn Friday nights or Saturdays when they were in the stands or on the field.

    Now I just hope your current teammate doesn't feel you stepped out of bounds with that tail-whip talk . . . 'cause I don't even want to think about the penalty if *that* whistle blows.

  • 2

    In the harmonic words of the CT cheer team of old..."Cass Tech, you can do it, all you've got to do is put your mind to it and do it, do it!!""
    (Yeah, it was a DPS-wide cheer that SE used to chant as well, but hey, REAL big stuff can happen when CT puts it mind to something!)
    Good, fun post, Dawsey.
    -CT
    c/o 1991

  • 3

    Yeah, right. I beg to differ with your presumption that SE will "whip some . . . . . . ." If you had witnessed the Mighty Technicians beat Dearborn Fordson last week (and BTW up until last Friday, Fordson had been undefeated 9 - 0) you'd fully understand that Cass Technicians CAN do whatever we put our minds to!

    Yes, in addition to being the parent of a current CT football player (c/o '10) and parent of a c/o '07 CT alum who's currently a starter at Offensive Right Tackle @ LSU (#78!) I, too am a proud Technician - Rock that '76!

    And I'll end with a cheer that I recall. . ."Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey CT! You look so good to me!" (I know it's not the best cheer but calculate how long I've been out of school - I'm doing good to remember any) :~)

  • 4

    Wow The Cass Technical High School is in the playoffs? We're finally on a fair athletic footing with those outlying schools like Southeastern. As a proud Technician ('87), I am going to make a bold prediction:
    Cass 23- SE 20.
    My pops taught at SE, but always talked about CT...good luck guys, I'm just glad we have a decent football team, and they mut be better than the Lions.
    GO Green!!!

  • 5

    Not sure your academic and athletic honors had anything to do with the story. Just couldn't resist, eh?

    Otherwise, a good essay.

    Just so tired of the "me, me, me" nature of today's journalism. Point of view is one thing; but, personal accomplishments? No place.

  • 6

    Go Southeastern!! I typically go for the underdog and I suppose because my roots are blue collar I relate! Really cleaver piece Darrell! Hey sounds like SE did alright, you turned out fine and I'm sure that there are many others who did as well. I lived down the street from SE, right out of college b/c it was the only place where I could afford the rent. I found it to be one of the best experiences for learning "life lessons" although I must admit, I was a littel fearful to move there at first.

  • 7

    Can anyone write articles for this blog Darrell?

  • 9

    You are frequently condescending to your readers, Darrell, and I don't appreciate it. You say things like, "I'm sorry you missed that" in your clever retorts. Maybe we didn't miss anything. Maybe we have a different opinion. Maybe you didn't make your point clearly. Maybe you were wrong.

    It's "your" blog??? Really? I sorta thought it was Time's and that you were an employee hired to write for it. I'm sure they'd be happy to send you the bill for the hosting, maintenance, etc., seeing as how it's yours.

    And please don't tell me I didn't get it. I totally do. 'Tis all about you.

  • 10

    Oy, as my people say.

    Double D certainly doesn't need me to watch his back, but I'll jump in briefly anyhow to suggest it's also our (readers') blog in a way for those who choose to stop by, try a taste and digest what's served . . .

    . . . just as restaurant ingredients become "our meal" when delivered.

    Indulge the analogy a sec more (or not):

    Some diners like when a chef's distinctive personality is evident, as do some blog readers. Others . . . well, there are plenty of joints and plenty of bloggers.

    What this visit got was an entertaining look at how the h.s. backgrounds of a talented writer and the person he's "closest to on this planet" reflect "the class, geographic and social distinctions that have traditionally demarcated life in Detroit."

    Went down just fine. Learned things I didn't know from 33 adult years in Metro Detroit.

    No right or wrong here 'observr' -- just different tastes.

  • 11

    Nicely put, alanstamm. (And not at all condescending!) I get what you're saying and totally respect it.

    Could be that I'm put off by DD's laughing at his own "jokes." Poor form to "lol" at your own writing. You're only supposed to "lol" at others' witticisms.

    Or to use your analogy, alanstamm, the LOL gives me serious indigestion.

    Good day to all.

  • 13

    I attended CT for one semester till Dad brought me back to the neighborhood. I graduated from SE. I remember the rivalry between SE and Pershing. I think some of that was due to Spencer Hayward going to Pershing even though he lived in the district for SE. Yeah, that was a long time ago...1960's.

    The neighborhood was rough even then. Kids were killed for no reason...some things never change. The ROTC drill team is named after one of those kids, a close friend of mine in school, Larry McKenzie. There were others that lost their lives, as well.

    My neighborhood is gone--a victim of the revitalization of Chrysler. I realize that, in many ways that was a good thing. Many of the homes were so run down. That is truly a shame for a working class of people trying to scratch out a living.

    I remember some guys dropped out of school to go work at Chrysler. They added some production jobs and were paying $3.65 an hour.

    Much has changed in the neighborhood and the city--not much of it for the better. I just hope Dave Bing can make a difference. Detroit is such a lost city. I live near Atlanta, now. It isn't run down or burned out like Detroit. I can't explain why the difference, but pride comes to mind.

    It is a shame to see Detroit in such a shambles, but I really don't remember it ever being a vibrant city. I don't have the answers!

  • 14

    Darrell, please report the score as I am in New York about to go watch the Michigan State University Spartans....Go Green.
    U have a great blog, keep it going....I also have some ideas I will share with you from time to time. Its good to read positie things about our town.

  • 15

    And by that I mean let me know when Cass Technical HIgh School wins the game bro.

  • 17

    I absolutely agree with the fact that Detroit is no longer in its prime era as it was in the eighties, many things have brought the city down, especially the economic crisis. On the bright side, however its nice to know there is a glimpse of hope in our tunnel of desparity, our schools, well some of them. Cass was and still is looked upon as the greatest in the city of Detroit and one of the top high schools nationwide. The accomplishing individuals that have graduated from Cass Tech are proof of what they truely offer, but its not fair to look down at other schools just because of their title as a "NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL!" Many detroiters look down on their own children, a school should not be catergorized by their geographical stand point, but by the love and nuturing that the students receive from their instructors. And from the learning abilities of the pupils in the school. Where your from is just that, where you are from, only you can stop the process in which you grow and soar to astronomical altitudes of successful endeavors. Just because Southeastern High School does have any "known" achievers that have graduated from there, that doesn't mean they don't exist. I think determing what schools are the best are a personal preference because I am a Renaissance Pheonix (Burghandy & White) and I think Renaissance is the BEST Detroit Public School by far. Cass' reputation is also based upon its long term establishment, its been around for a little over a century. So since the Cass Technicians are Renaissance's Rivals, I say "GO SOUTHEASTERN, ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP!!!"

  • 18

    I absolutely agree with the fact that Detroit is no longer in its prime era as it was in the eighties, many things have brought the city down, especially the economic crisis. On the bright side, however its nice to know there is a glimpse of hope in our tunnel of desparity, our schools, well some of them. Cass was and still is looked upon as the greatest in the city of Detroit and one of the top high schools nationwide. The accomplishing individuals that have graduated from Cass Tech are proof of what they truely offer, but its not fair to look down at other schools just because of their title as a "NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL!" Many detroiters look down on their own children, a school should not be catergorized by their geographical stand point, but by the love and nuturing that the students receive from their instructors. And from the learning abilities of the pupils in the school. Where your from is just that, where you are from, only you can stop the process in which you grow and soar to astronomical altitudes of successful endeavors. Just because Southeastern High School does have any "known" achievers that have graduated from there, that doesn't mean they don't exist. I think determing what schools are the best are a personal preference because I am a Renaissance Pheonix (Burghandy & White) and I think Renaissance is the BEST Detroit Public School by far. Cass' reputation is also based upon its long term establishment, its been around for a little over a century. So since the Cass Technicians are Renaissance's Rivals, I say "GO SOUTHEASTERN, ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP!!!"

    Ashanta M. Woodard
    RHS Yearbook Staff
    ashanta.rhsyearbook@gmail.com

  • 19

    [...] since we all love everything in Detroit, I want all my fellow Detroit Lions football fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

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