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Prep School Hockey in Downtown Detroit

As part of Assignment Detroit, is working with 11 high school students from the Detroit area. They come from all walks of life, from suburban prep schools to city schools both strong and weak. The project will illustrate the Detroit region from their point of view—what it's like to live there now, and whether the area has a place in their future or not. You'll see their posts, both written and videotaped, over the course of the year here at Today's post, about a hockey game from this past weekend, is the first in our series.

Picture this: Over 1,500 residents of one of the richest areas of the country (suburban Oakland County) gathering in a poor section of Detroit to watch a high school hockey game—played on an outdoor rink. This was the scene on January 17 at Clark Park in Detroit's barrio.

The occasion was the 75th anniversary game between two prestigious suburban high school rivals: Cranbrook Kingswood vs. Catholic Central. The event was inspired by the NHL's own annual Winter Classic (played most recently in Boston's Fenway Park). Cranbrook grad Rick Loewenstein attended the 2009 Wrigley Field game between the Red Wings and  Blackhawks with his two sons, and came back thinking “Why doesn't Cranbrook have an outdoor classic?” Loewenstein, who captained Cranbrook's squad back in 1978, got coach Andrew Weidenbach on board, and Weidenbach signed up head CC coach and longtime friend Todd Johnson. Game on.

Or rather, an event was on. Two alumni games were also added so former players from both schools were able to come back and slip on their old skates to play against their old rivals. Little Caesars (whose founder, Mike Illitch, owns both the Red Wings and the Tigers), came on as sponsor, as did The Great American Rivalry Series, a Website that promotes these kinds of epic clashes. The schools agreed to donate an estimated $10,000 worth of hockey equipment, clinics, and ice time to the Clark Park Hockey League, which consists mostly of inner-city kids. And kids from both campuses committed to community service work for Clark Park.

As for the game, Division I champ Catholic Central won 5-2 over Cranbrook, which rules the local Division III league. Never mind that both schools' students have impending exams: The rowdy crowd did its bit to make the day more than memorable. One Cranbrook student roared for much of the 30 degree morning with his shirt off, while Cranbrook's coaches raised the sartorial level with matching overcoats and fedoras, and the teams themselves played in retro uniforms. All in all, the event was such a success that organizers say they hope this outdoor classic will become an annual event of its own.

–Michael St. Germain (Cranbrook Kingswood school)

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