Media Information Director
DPS Office of Athletics
Until this winter when Western International High’s boys’ basketball team began the season ranked No. 1 in the state, the pride of its athletic program was the baseball team, a perennial Detroit Public School League powerhouse that’s riding a streak of seven consecutive PSL championships and nine in the last 11 years.
The Cowboys’ baseball prominence is not likely to change. But the perception of Western as a baseball-only power has been altered forever by the Cowboys’ now-validated boys’ basketball team, the newly-crowned Michigan High School Athletic Association Class A state champions.
With a 62-59 finals victory Saturday against Saginaw Arthur Hill after a 55-46 semifinal victory Friday against University of Detroit Jesuit, Coach Derrick McDowell’s team completed a perfect 26-0 season and earned the first state championship in Western history.
“It’s very seldom that I show emotion, but to be honest with you it means a lot to me personally,” said McDowell, who took three Redford teams to the state finals. “It’s my fourth time here and I finally got it.”
With no basketball history to speak of, Western was a curiosity when it began the season ranked No. 1 in the state. The Cowboys were coming off a disappointing 6-15 season in 2013-14, but still felt destined to make this the year when hard work and talent all came together.
Some observers attributed the Cowboys’ high hopes to the arrival of guard Josh McFolley and forward Gerald Blackshear, a pair of seniors who didn’t become eligible until January after transferring from Mount Clemens. But the Cowboys were 9-0 without them and, after moving into the starting lineup, they only had to be sweet icing on the cake.
“I had all the pieces anyway,” McDowell said. “They were extra pieces. We were 9-0 without them and that shut up a lot of the naysayers. We weren’t looking for them to be Superman and Batman, to come in and save us. When they became eligible it just added to it.”
As the Cowboys’ achievements kept mounting, including their first PSL boys’ basketball championship since 1922, the success brought out generations of Western fans and the support and the believers continued to grow.
“That’s why so many eyebrows have been raised,” said junior point guard and captain Brailen Neely. “When we were at Calihan to play Renaissance (for the PSL title), people were like ‘Western, well they’ve never had a program.’ But to see our fans come out, it’s been just a great experience.”
Proud Strong Learners is the mantra of the PSL. With Henry Ford having reached the Class B finals — giving the PSL two of the eight teams playing on the season’s final day — the pride and the strength of the league’s brand of basketball was on display for all the state to see.
The learning part of the equation was not so evident, but was the most important factor in Western’s success.
“It was a process,” Neely said. “My freshman year we were young. We only had one senior and we had a lot of growing to do. Our 10th-grade year we thought we had it so we weren’t really listening. We were knuckleheads and it showed in our game. We didn’t have our best year and people didn’t come see us, which humbled us. This year, we were on Coach Mac’s page and it led us to tremendous success.”
Clad in red warmup jackets and red and white caps with a red “W” above the bill, members of Western’s baseball team were prominent in the mob of students, alumni and fans that celebrated the historic victory Saturday at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.
“I am so proud of those guys,’’ gushed Western baseball coach Juan Sanchez, his team still expected to be a PSL powerhouse and proud like all Cowboys’ fans that Western’s boys’ basketball team now holds domain over the entire state.
For photos of Western High’s semifinal and championship victories, click on the links to the Detroit Public School League page on Facebook.
FORD HIGH’S TROJANS (21-6) fell one victory short of winning the school’s first state championship, cruising to a 64-38 victory against Cadillac in Friday’s Class B semifinals but losing to red-hot shooting Wyoming Godwin Heights 85-68 in Saturday’s title game.
Just getting to Breslin, while capturing district and regional trophies along the way, was a notable achievement in itself. Like Western, the Trojans’ success rallied their students, faculty, alumni and the entire community.
“We had a great season and we never quit,’’ said Trojans’ coach Ken Flowers. “That’s the best way to look at it because nobody expected us to be here.
“I told the guys I know it hurts and they are crying their eyes out, but they took this program to a place it’s never been before. We now have a foundation of good things to come.”