Dowagiac football fans irked by changes to season ticket policy

Published 9:43 am Wednesday, October 6, 2021

DOWAGIAC — After more than 35 years as a loyal season ticket holder for Dowagiac Union High School Football games, Dowagiac resident Bob Peters had finally earned his ideal seats at the 50-yard-line to watch his alma mater and the team he loves play football. However, this year Peters is nowhere near the 50-yard line — he has not even stepped foot in the stadium in protest of changes made to the Chieftains’ season tickets.

When the season pass ticketing options were announced for the 2021 season, Peters was one of several community members upset to learn that the reserved seat policy had been changed, stripping them of their time-earned seats. Instead, their tickets would be for a reserved section, but individual reserved seats were no longer an option.

“They totally pulled the rug out from under us,” said Peters, a Dowagiac High School graduate who has lived in the city for most of his life. “There are a lot of us that are very upset. No one is going to the games this year in protest of this.”

While administrators have said the change was made for practical reasons, the move left several season ticket holders feeling cold.

For these fans, attending these games is about more than their love for Dowagiac football, it is about their love for and loyalty to the city of Dowagiac, according to Peters.

“Most of us were born and raised in Dowagiac, and if you weren’t born here, you stayed here,” Peters said. “We went to school here, most of us went to our jobs around the area. We raised our families here, they went to school here. We pay our taxes here. … Honestly, most of us will probably die here.”

Dowagiac Union Schools Superintendent Jonathan Whan, who was hired in 2019, said the changes were made because not enough seats were getting filled, and it gave the appearance of empty bleachers front and center.

“It just didn’t make sense to continue that process,” Whan said. “We historically had 450 seats available for reserved seating. We had only been selling roughly 220, right around 50 percent, which meant we had gaps in the center of our bleachers. The idea was to condense the reserved seats into a reserved section.”

Peters said he has friends who have held their season tickets for 45 and 55 years, and this policy was “like a slap in the face” to those who participated in the long-held tradition.

“They have to know the Dowagiac people are very loyal,” Peters said. “We support our team. Even when they’re in their 50s, 60s and 70s, they come to the games. This new superintendent doesn’t understand that.”

Whan said he has heard the concerns of the ticket holders, and is open to working on a solution.

“We understand there are some people that are upset. We are sorry about that. That was not our intention,” he said. “We were trying to make an adjustment. We will continue to reassess it and try and work with community members while still trying to resolve the issue of having only half the seats filled.”

Peters said the district was supposed to send out a letter informing season ticket holders of the change, but he never got one.

“If we would have gotten those letters, we could have voiced our opinion on it right off the bat, and maybe this wouldn’t have occurred for this year,” Peters said.

Whan said communication was supposed to have gone out through the athletic department, and the school district is working to make communication better.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Whan said. “We’re trying to honor their perspective and their request while still trying to accommodate and make the most efficient use of our seating.”

Peters said he will take every opportunity to voice his opinion and plans to do so at a future school board meeting.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love my city,” Peters said. “Hopefully with enough public pressure, this decision will be reversed, and we can enjoy our reserved seats like we have in the past.”