COLUMN: What the CMU-WMU rivalry means to me
Despite COVID-19, the 91st edition of Central Michigan versus Western Michigan football has arrived.
Both Kalamazoo and Mount Pleasant will have something exciting to show off on national television as the Broncos and Chippewas clash in an empty stadium with major implications for the season.
As a CMU student, I am of course pulling for the Chippewas. But I have pulled for both teams in my lifetime.
Let me explain.
I was born and raised in Climax, Michigan, a small town of 700 people between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. I grew up 30 minutes east of WMU. My early exposure to sports were in Kalamazoo. My first live sporting events saw younger me pulling for the brown and gold while my cousin, Spencer, burned the words to the WMU fight song into my brain.
While WMU provided the opportunity I needed to reach my goals, Mount Pleasant called to me on a tour with six inches of snow on the ground and a wind chill of 10 below.
Shortly after I was accepted to CMU, however, Kalamazoo would begin to face hard times.
On Feb. 20, 2016, Jason Dalton murdered six people and injured two people, with the final murder site being a mile from where I attended community college. Less than four months later, on June 7th, a driver ran over nine cyclists with his pickup truck, killing five and injuring four.
Apart from a minor league hockey team and college summer baseball, Kalamazoo does not offer much for sports outside of Bronco athletics. Then WMU completed one of the best seasons in school history. The Broncos finished 13-1, and I saw three of their wins live.
I did not give a penny to the school in Kalamazoo. Every ticket, meal and beverage were covered by the people who I trust the most yet still support the brown and gold.
In every game I attended I was not cheering for the Broncos. I was cheering for Kalamazoo.
The community needed something to rally behind, and the Broncos seemed to fill that void. When the Broncos knocked off the Bobcats for the MAC championship, I shed a few tears, just like I am writing this.
For the first time in 2016, Kalamazoo had something to celebrate and not families to pray for. We hugged our friends, family and neighbors not for comfort in trying times, but in happiness thanks to a group of young men.
Remember in the beginning when I said I was born and raised in Climax? Well, I grew up where I now call my home, Mount Pleasant.
CMU was not only the best place for me to pursue my dream of sports journalism, but the best place for me to become a mostly independent member of society. I will forever be grateful of the incredible community of Mount Pleasant for molding me into the man I am today. Like Kalamazoo, Mount Pleasant relies on college athletics for entertainment and as something to rally around, one of the biggest reasons I attend CMU.
Do not get me wrong, I love both communities. I love being able to reunite with friends and family from both side of this epic clash. I have been fortunate to attend the previous four matchups. Last year alone, I witnessed the good, bad and ugly side of this rivalry.
My friends and I walked into Kalamazoo donning maroon and gold while being cussed at, threatened and fortunately not be the poor soul who was beaten bloody for wearing a Flying C on his chest. Fortunately, I have friends and family that pull for the Broncos and are a bit tamer.
My family and I trade jabs at each other over this single game during the holidays. My uncle gave me a small lecture on how the Chippewas did not deserve the MAC West title last season since the Broncos won 31-15 against CMU two months earlier.
I often get ugly looks whenever I wear CMU gear in Kalamazoo, and my friends who are WMU alumni always give me a hard time over this one game.
And I would not have it any other way.