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Oakridge football picks up 400th win in unusual way, but proud of tradition

Oakridge reaches milestone, but under unfortunate circumstances.

Oakridge senior Corey Vanderputte (22) stands with teammates for the national anthem prior to a game against Montague Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Montague, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Most milestone victories are celebrated under the Friday night lights when the game clock strikes zero. However, the Oakridge football team’s 400th win looks a little bit different than most.

Oakridge (6-1, 4-1 West Michigan Conference) has recorded its second forfeit win of the season, as Shelby withdrew from tonight’s scheduled Eagles homecoming game after a combination of Tigers injuries and unforeseen circumstances, according to Oakridge coach Cary Harger.

Prior to the season, Mason County Central dropped Oakridge from the schedule in the Week 3 slot.

The forfeit win over Shelby (0-7, 0-5) puts Oakridge’s all-time record at 400-175-3 since the program began playing football in 1964.

“Our kids were pretty bummed when I told them about the forfeit on Wednesday,” said Harger, whose Eagles will have been forced to miss two of their nine regular-season games.

In addition to the forfeiture, homecoming events that were scheduled for tonight are being postponed. The annual pep assembly will be held and homecoming winners announced next Friday as Oakridge hosts neighboring rival Ravenna.

Oakridge is scheduled to close the regular season Oct. 22 at home against Muskegon Catholic Central.

Oakridge head football coach Cary Harger bows his head and closes his eyes after a big play by Montague Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Montague, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Despite the hallmark 400th win coming in unusual fashion, Harger is still honored to be part of it. He was quick to credit many others in the achievement, specifically his predecessor.

Harger spent ample time under the tutelage of Oakridge Hall of Fame coach Jack Schugars prior to taking over the program himself in 2011.

“It’s huge for us to be able to continue the winning tradition.” Harger said. “I was on staff when Jack earned his 200th win, and to reach another milestone makes me proud of all the work we’ve done.”

Harger, along with several other coaches on the Eagles’ staff, played for Schugars and eventually coached alongside him before he retired in 2011.

Since his retirement, Schugars has continued to incorporate his passion for football into his daily life. He coaches special teams under former Muskegon High coach Tony Annese at Ferris State University and also assists his son, Eric Schugars, at Traverse City Central.

After losing his wife 14 months ago, Schugars decided to lease an apartment in Traverse City to be closer to his family.

“Nothing can ever take the place of being married for 49 years. I miss her every day,” said Schugars, whose secondary housing option allows him to spend more time with his family and be much closer to work.

While coaching is extremely important to Schugars, faith and family will always remain the top priorities.

Eric and Jack Schugars are photographed following Traverse City Central’s 49-20 win over Petoskey on Sept. 25, 2020, at Thirlby Field in Traverse City, Mich. Eric is Traverse City Central’s head coach and father Jack is his assistant. (Courtesy of the Schugars family)

Although he’s spending more time away from his home in Muskegon, Schugars’ loyalty to Oakridge goes unparalleled.

“I’m really pleased to see that the Oakridge program is continuing as a flagship of Division 5 football,” Schugars said in regard to the milestone. “When I started, we only had 43 wins in the program’s career. … I was lucky to have 262 with a great staff and great kids that bought into what we were doing.”

The remainder of the 400 wins fall under Harger’s leadership.

“Cary is at 95 wins now, and I’m excited he’s going to get to 100 very soon,” Schugars said. “I’m so proud of the Oakridge community, the staff and the coaches that have followed after me.”

The Oakridge football program has honored its tradition to withstand the test of time. The Eagles have set the benchmark in the always-tough West Michigan Conference over the years.

The Eagles are not resting on their laurels, however. They’re still striving to improve themselves every day.

“Ultimately, we want to get back to play in the state championship and continue what Jack started years and years ago,” Harger said.

Media Specialist for CatchMark Technologies and CatchMark SportsNet.

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