MHSAA football: Hematites bridge Lions-Packers chasm

AUBURN HILLS – The Ishpeming High School football team is bringing together families whose relations might have become slightly frayed from a football debacle that took place Thanksgiving Day.

“We’ve been married 43 years, and I’ve put up with all his Lions friends,” said Green Bay Packers fan Judy DeCaire of Ishpeming about her husband, Fran.

They were having dinner late Friday afternoon at O’Malley’s Restaurant, located in the Crown Plaza Hotel in Auburn Hills, a designated fan hotel for Ishpeming fans coming down for today’s MHSAA Division 7 state championship game at Ford Field in Detroit.

Their grandson, Derek DeCaire, is a senior and two-way starter on an Ishpeming team making its third appearance in this title game in four years, having won the championship against today’s opponent, Detroit Loyola, 20-14, a year ago.

“She’s got a nephew in Wisconsin who owns a bar and is a huge Packers fan,” Fran DeCaire said in his defense after the Lions demolished Green Bay, 40-10, at Ford Field on Thursday. “She puts me on the phone with him after the Packers win.”

“I was born and raised in Wisconsin, so I can’t give up my Packers,” Judy DeCaire said.”

When the subject switched to Ishpeming football, their voices were united.

“We haven’t missed a game in three years,” Fran DeCaire said.

“Derek started playing as a sophomore, but he didn’t think he was going to like football. He’s more of a basketball player,” Judy DeCaire said.

“But once they talked him into it – it was (fellow seniors) Bobby Zhulkie and Alex Briones – he’s liked it ever since.

“They all love (head coach) Jeff Olson,” she added. ” He has been with them for all four years of high school.”

Fran DeCaire’s not surprised at the team’s success.

“They’re well trained, and they worked all summer for this,” he said. “I feel like they can go there and win it.

“They were already beaten even before the game started last year by the Detroit Free Press, and we sat there and watched the first three plays when Ishpeming was on defense.

“It was three-and-out, and I thought, ‘Now we’ve got a good game,'” he added.

A similar NFL tug-of-war is played out by father Ray Chapman and his adult son, Jason Chapman, also of Ishpeming, as they checked in early Friday evening at the hotel.

“What’s real special is that I get to show off Ford Field,” said Ray, the Lions fan, about Green Bay rooter Jason. “It’s only fitting the blue-and-white team should win.”

Jason Chapman was willing to let that go as he looked forward to today’s game.

“High school football means a lot more than the pros,” he said. “The community rallies around the team, and the team rallies around the community. It’s really the pinnacle of what sports is about.”

Ray Chapman agrees.

“My take on it is that both teams are already winners no matter what happens,” the elder Chapman said.

He likes Ishpeming’s chances despite the Hematites again being installed as underdogs.

“They didn’t have to show that much, what with all the running clocks this season,” Ray Chapman said. “They’ve got so much versatility. Briones, he can go under center or play the ‘Wildcat.'”

Another family came together at Thanksgiving and all decided to take a trip to Detroit.

Longtime local radio sports announcer Ed Holmgren was checking in at the Crown Plaza with his grandson, Jordan Mitchell of Marquette, along with son, Darren Holmgren, and Darren’s son, Luke Holmgren, 6.

The latter two live in Oconto, Wis.

“We watched it on TV last year, so we thought we’d come down here this year,” Ed Holmgren said.

“I think it’s going to be a shootout,” Mitchell said.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is