Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark with images courtesy of Tim Reilly
MUSKEGON, MI – For years, an aura has surrounded Muskegon Catholic Central’s football program, in many ways reflecting the mystique and shine of the Crusaders’ metallic-gold helmets.
MCC has been playing football since 1953, when the school was founded. Tonight at Muskegon Heights, the current crop of Crusaders has the chance to notch win No. 500 in the program’s glittering history.
Senior Sam Convertini, a second-generation Crusaders football player, is proud to put on that helmet but he’ll tell you it hasn’t always looked so good.
“Back then, (the helmets) didn’t used to be this shiny. It was an ugly brown,” said Convertini, whose father, Kolin Convertini, was an MCC all-stater in the late-1980s. “But now, I feel like, yeah, looking at that, that’s pretty intimidating,” he said as he admired his helmet after practice Wednesday, “especially with all the scraps all over it.”
Since the school’s inception 68 years ago, when Mike Corgan served as head football coach, through the current era led by Steve Czerwon, MCC has amassed an all-time record of 499-209-7 for a winning percentage of .703.
The Crusaders have earned 13 state championships, starting with a mythical Class B title in 1974. They own 12 state crowns in the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoff era: 1980, 1982, 1990, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2006, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, ranging from Class B to Division 8. The dozen state titles place MCC second in the state, just one behind Farmington Hills Harrison.
Czerwon, 44, has been affiliated with MCC for 31 years of his life and he’s been a member of the Crusaders coaching staff for 18 seasons. As head coach, he guided his alma mater to state championships in each of his first four seasons (2013-16).
Czerwon embraces the privilege of being at the helm of the Crusaders team (4-1) that will always be remembered as the one to reach the 500-win milestone.
“It means a ton on a personal level. It gives you some meaning to what you’re doing, which I think all of us kind of long for. Hopefully it gives you that,” said Czerwon, a 1995 MCC alumnus, who played quarterback for the Crusaders.
“I’ve been proud, since I’ve been head coach, we’ve had a 26- and a 27-game win streak. Personally, I’ve been proud of that and proud that the kids who were part of that win streak were able to get up for those games and not take a night off. That little part’s meant a lot to me.”
Elliot Riegler, a senior starting quarterback on the current team, is a third-generation Crusader. His father, Andy Riegler, was starting QB on MCC’s 1990 state-title team. His maternal grandfather, Dick Perri, played for the Crusaders in the 1960s and Riegler also has uncles who played in the program.
Elliot Riegler is hoping to lead the Crusaders to win No. 500 as they take on Muskegon Heights (4-1) tonight. If so, he eagerly anticipates a ceremony next week on homecoming night commemorating the milestone.
“Getting that 500 would be huge,” said Riegler, who understands how proud it would make MCC alumni but also how nice it would be in years to come when he returns to the stomping grounds of Kehren Stadium.
“It’s just so nice having a community that you can just come back to and everybody knows just your family. The fact that it’s a small school, everybody knows everyone. But it’s good just having all that family success to go back to.”
From Roger Chiaverini to Pete Kutches to Mike Holmes to Czerwon, MCC has been a model of consistency.
Holmes, the Crusaders’ all-time winningest coach (224-63-1 record with six state titles in 25 seasons), noted that consistency and family dynamic as hallmarks of the program’s success.
What it means to don that gold helmet is passed down from generation to generation. MCC football terminology created by “Chev” in 1971 is still being used today, according to Czerwon.
Longtime MCC assistant Mike Ribecky links the Chiaverini years to the current regime, beginning as an all-state lineman in 1972 and 1973 through now as a 44th-year Crusaders assistant. As a right-hand man for MCC head coaches dating back to the ’70s, Ribecky commands respect and he’s a stickler for fundamentals, discipline and details.
Holmes said that MCC’s success begins with fundamentals and their emphasis.
“For all the years that I coached, the first practice plan was exactly the same every single year. I got that from Chiaverini: ‘This is how you do it, this is how it was set up, this is how you teach them,’” Holmes said. “There’s a certain progression of the installation of the offense, there’s a certain progression of the installation of the defense, and we’ve had good coaches.
“I mean, Mike’s been there forever and ever and ever and he played for ‘Chev’ and he came back and coached with Chev and coached with Pete and coached obviously with me and then with Steve. Good coaches and dedicated kids and, you know, good, hard-nosed football – good fundamentals.”
Sam Convertini, the third of four brothers to wear the green and gold, knows he’s got big shoes to fill in carrying on the Crusader tradition.
Nor is this something that Riegler takes lightly. He’s been attending MCC games since he was a young boy. All he’s known is Crusaders football. That’s why being a part of win 500 would mean a lot to him.
“Just tradition. To keep that up for so long, it’s not a mistake, it’s not an accident,” Riegler said. “You have a lot of people who have stayed in the program for that long – like Ribecky, he’s been here for about as long as that time. You keep the right people around and keep growing the program and you’ll keep that winning up.”
Czerwon is on the same page. He played for Holmes and Ribecky, and now he’s trying to uphold the lofty standards.
Czerwon continues to pass along the winning tradition to the new wave of Crusader football players. Being a key part of the 500-win milestone is significant to him.
“It means a lot for these kids. It’s why we do it, it’s why the coaches do it, it’s why the parents make the choice to send their kids here – it still means something,” Czerwon said. “I think kids tend to live in the moment more, but I know we’ve got a lot of people that have followed this program since its inception and I know 500 means a lot to them.”
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