February 2011 Archives

A Golfer in the Snow

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If snow is involved, a story about a golfer usually involves the fact that he or she:

  1. Played when it was so cold it started snowing;
  2. The dare -- "I dare you to play in the snow;"
  3. A Chili Open -- an event played during the winter with black/orange or dark colored golf balls on a snow-covered course. Usually, these rounds are a few holes and played for charity. It's the golfers' version of the "Polar Bear Clubs" -- individuals in the north jumping into freezing lakes or rivers for charity.

This past week the story was a little different.

This story involves men's assistant coach Chris Whitten helping out both his squad and the U-M women's golf team.

Of course, "Snowmageddon" came a few weeks after it was predicted, and this past Monday morning we found ourselves under close to 10 inches of the white stuff. A few more inches on Monday night didn't help the situation, creating small problems for some and havoc for others.

So, when Whitten arrived at University Michigan Golf Course clubhouse Tuesday dressed in his normal attire -- for a golfer that means golf clothes, of course -- he noticed a potential issue.

Whitten, who did not accompany coach Andrew Sapp and the team on their trip to the Puerto Rico Classic, knew both golf teams would be returning late that night -- the women's team of head coach Cheryl Stacey had traveled to its second competition of the year, in Parrish, Fla. -- and he noticed their cars. The cars were parked before the snow fell and had been sitting outside through the nearly 10 inches of snow and freezing rain. Add the wake of the snow that was pushed toward the cars by plows cleaning the area, and there was a couple feet of snow and ice packed around each automobile.

Whitten didn't "putt" around, he jumped into action.

He wrapped garbage bags around his shoes (yes, golf shoes without the spikes) and his pant legs and spent the next few hours digging cars out of the snow and then cleaning their windows, with golf course employee Steve Plunkett helping finish the project.

"It was about a half dozen cars he had to dig out and clean," said Michigan Golf Course general manager Chantel Jackson. "The snow was piled up so high I wish I could have taken a picture of what was happening."

"If we had an employee of the month award, Chris Whitten would have to be the winner," said longtime clubhouse manager Charlie Green. "He went well beyond what most any of us would do to make sure that when the teams returned at 1 a.m. they wouldn't have to spend the next hour or so digging out."

Kudos to Chris Whitten -- he went above and beyond his duty as a golf coach.

And now, if he says one of his golfers has a swing like someone shoveling snow, one can easily say with confidence, "Whitten knows what he is talking about."

True Grit Turned U-M's Hoop Fortunes

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Watching the Michigan men's basketball team over the last few weeks has given us all plenty to cheer about. Four wins in the last five games is a run that has excited the crowds and has made many "experts" take note.

During this run, certain moments stand out. Zack Novak's emotional pitch in East Lansing, Darius Morris' layup and deep three in the comeback against Penn State, Jordan Morgan's 11-of-13 shooting and 27-point performance against Northwestern are just a few of the memories I have of the recent success.

But as a team, the last five minutes of last night's game at Crisler Arena against the Wildcats showed me the tenor of this young team.

With U-M leading 67-52 with five minutes left, Northwestern went on a 14-0 run. A three-pointer by JeShon Cobb, then a quick steal and an easy layup by Cobb just 12 seconds apart cut Michigan's lead to one with just 2:20 left.

This young U-M team didn't wilt. It showed poise, determination and true grit.

The Wolverines scored the game's final eight points for the 75-66 win, keeping the team's momentum going.

Yes, momentum can change on a dime. Just 14 days earlier, the struggles of Big Ten play and a long season were taking their toll on these young players. The Wolverines had lost six straight games. This is where a veteran team learns to cope with the ups and downs.

But what about a young team?

This young U-M team proved it's a tough-minded bunch. Last night, they pulled together when they could have easily folded. They are pulling together with much more consistency. They are becoming an exciting, fun team to watch.

The pendulum of momentum turned quickly, and it turned in favor Michigan. Now, the final days of the season will be harbinger of what the future might hold for this group of young men.

Snow, Snow, Snow

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The snowstorm of the century (according to news reports) has hit the eastern half of the United States, and here in Ann Arbor we are fortunate that we didn't receive the full brunt of the storm. We had the high winds and cold weather, but the snow accumulation was around half a foot, much less that many areas in the storm's path.

Living in Michigan, we are familiar with the inclement weather that plays a role in everyone's life, so we have plans in place for when the weather hits, and today in Ann Arbor those plans worked well.

This is a long way from the days when the athletic department had fewer staff, fewer teams and a smaller budget.

In the mid 1960s, a snowstorm hit Ann Arbor late in the football season. Fritz Crisler and Bump Elliott mobilized the student-athletes to shovel out Michigan Stadium and clean the surrounding area to make sure the game could be played.

In the early 1970s, another winter snowstorm hit and the Indiana-Michigan basketball game at Crisler Arena had to be moved back a day or so. The Hoosiers and coach Bob Knight were in town, but we could not get our fans safely to Crisler.

Today, we have more staff. We also have more teams and more ancillary issues (e.g., television). Fortunately, we do not have any scheduled events for tonight, but that didn't lessen the concerns as the storm approached.

Travel plans for the men's basketball and gymnastics teams plus a real concern for the Penn State women's basketball team to make it here safely from Happy Valley for Thursday night's game at Crisler Arena weighed heavily on our staff.

The men's basketball team was scheduled to bus to Columbus, Ohio, this evening. Instead the team left Tuesday night for tomorrow's televised game at Ohio State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Tomorrow's important women's basketball game at Crisler Arena (7 p.m. ET, BigTenNetwork.com) was also worrisome. Penn State was planning to arrive in Ann Arbor tonight. At the last minute, the PSU administration found a Tuesday evening flight, and the team is now awaiting Thursday night's game in an Ann Arbor hotel.

Fortunately, the "Snowmageddon" turned out to be a minor inconvenience in our area, and both basketball games will be played with few if any problems.

But the plans were in place just in case. And this time, we did not have to marshal any student-athletes to clean any stadiums.