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Playing sports is one of the great joys in life. For those with disabilities, sports can be a difficult experience -- until they participate in events like the Special Olympics.
Another one of the joys in life is learning the joy of giving back to the community or a cause.
So it was no surprise when the University of Michigan Athletic Department team members that volunteered for Tuesday's (May 14) Special Olympics event at Saline High School returned to work Wednesday with a great attitude and big smiles on their faces.
Zach Eisendrath, assistant director of public and media relations, was the poster boy for the entire athletic department team.
When asked about the previous day's events he smiled and said, "It was awesome, it was incredible." He called these Special Olympians "real athletes" and said this is what "sports are all about."
The games are serious and competitive, and with the variations in talent, the volunteers work hard to make the games fun.
Zach, who works with the U-M football and men's tennis teams, had one young girl at bocce ball who couldn't speak. Physically he demonstrated how to throw the ball and where to throw it so she could enjoy the competition. In another bocce game, a young boy in a wheelchair knew exactly what to do. Zach played him straight up -- and lost. When Zach talked about the match, the smile grew, and his eyes lit up.
His counterparts from U-M who volunteered for the event came back to work with similar stories and feelings that matched the most beautiful day of the spring to date. The Special Olympians showed how they could overcome the roadblocks in their lives, and this U-M team came back to their offices with a positive attitude -- the type of attitude volunteerism can provide.
For Zach, the Special Olympics have a particular meaning. His little cousin has Down syndrome. Zach learned the art of volunteerism years ago, and this time he was excited to be part of giving back to his new community. It is part of his personality, and it creates the euphoric feeling that makes life rich and worthwhile. And every time he works a Special Olympics, he comes back more amazed than the last time.
It is almost impossible to oversell the Special Olympics. This is one sports event that lives up to the hype.
"I signed up for the event and then realized today's the day," said Eisendrath. "I went to the track, helped out, came back and thought wow, this was a wonderful day. I really felt like this was of one the most fulfilling days I had in quite a while."
A portion of the Special Olympics mission statement is to give "continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness and athletic skill, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community."
For the volunteers, participation in Special Olympics provides additional benefits. They have a better perspective of their own surroundings, and they just feel good.
Zach and the 80 U-M Athletic Department members didn't volunteer so they could feel better about themselves, but when they returned to work on Wednesday, the Special Olympics Spring Games helped make everyone feel a part of something bigger than oneself, and that made everyone smile.
To go or not to go? That is the question.
It isn't a Shakespearean question; it is a question that many talented underclassmen in college sports face these days. And when that student-athlete is playing a sport like ice hockey at the University of Michigan, those questions are commonplace.
Head coach Red Berenson doesn't answer the question for the student-athlete at Michigan, but he does help guide them in the right direction.
Berenson is a coach that can give the student-athlete a perspective from both sides of the bench. Not only was he one of the first collegiate hockey players to go straight to the pro ranks, with the Montreal Canadiens, he stayed at U-M for all four years before going to the NHL, then returned to Ann Arbor to earn his master's degree.
"I've told kids in the past if they're ready to play in the NHL, I'll drive 'em to the airport," said Berenson.
In the last 10 days, the U-M ice hockey team has had two players make the jump to sign with NHL teams. While Berenson would have liked to see both players remain at Michigan, he will support their decision.
Last week, junior Jon Merrill signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils. Just a few days ago freshman Jacob Trouba signed with the Winnipeg Jets.
"One of the advantages of staying through your sophomore season -- we don't have many kids leave after their freshman year because they need to be exceptional players to go pro -- is obviously it's a long road to graduate," said Berenson. "The extra 30 hours are important.
"If you go back to Jack Johnson (now playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the NHL), the plan for Jack was to graduate from Michigan whether he played four years or not," added Berenson. "We were all hoping he would play four years, but it turned out he was too good of a player, and I think the same is true of Jacob Trouba. He's too good to have stayed and played college hockey for four years."
Johnson stayed through his sophomore year and won the CCHA's Best Offensive Defenseman Award, the same honor Trouba received this past season after leading all CCHA defensemen in scoring.
Trouba was also named to the All-CCHA first team and CCHA All-Rookie team. The 19-year-old defenseman played in 37 games, scoring 12 goals and adding 17 assists for 29 points to go along with 88 penalty minutes.
At the World Junior Championship in Russia over the Christmas holidays, Trouba's skills were on display to an international audience. He won the gold with Team USA and was named the tournament's best defenseman.
Berenson would have preferred that Trouba stayed through his sophomore season but added that the young man does have exceptional skill and "he is fortunate that he will be able to step right into the NHL."
As for Merrill, the decision was different. He is a junior and is much closer to graduation.
Hours aside, Merrill's injury in the exhibition game against Windsor on Oct. 10 gave him the firsthand experience what a fine line there is in the world of sports -- and in life. He suffered a cracked vertebra and missed a significant part of the season.
"I think Jon Merrill has a whole new perspective about hockey and life after that injury," said Berenson. "He injured his C4 and C5 vertebrae and right now, who knows, he could have been in a wheelchair. Instead he came back, had a good half of season for us."
Even with Merrill going pro, Berenson was happy Merrill stayed and the New Jersey Devils didn't push the defenseman.
"The Devils have been really patient," said Berenson. "They could have signed him after his first year. In the second year, he could have left with all the problems. Third year, he had a broken vertebra.
"I think the kid on one side wanted to come back and finish and the other side is excited about the next step."
He finished his U-M career with 11 goals and 36 assists for 47 points, ending this past season with three assists and a plus-five plus-minus in Michigan's 6-3 win at Ohio State on Feb. 23.
Merrill's and Trouba's futures in hockey are bright. Still, Berenson isn't going to let them forget that they both came to U-M to get a degree. They are not going to the pro ranks without getting a constant reminder what they need to do beyond the sport of hockey.
"I went to school in the summer to get my master's," said Berenson. "It is doable, and I have told these players that."
He has told Merrill that he wants to see him back in school during the summer semester, and he has told Trouba to take online classes and go to school for credit hours wherever he plays hockey.
"They will always be Michigan men," Berenson said. "I will guarantee you that both Jacob and Jon will do everything they can to come back to school, take classes and graduate from Michigan."
We love tradition at the University of Michigan. A walk through the Diag, a visit to the Union, a quick peek in the UGLI or just wandering around campus brings back vivid memories.
For the sports fan, it could be a visit to Yost, and there's nothing better than an autumn football Saturday afternoon at Michigan Stadium.
Tradition and memories are important.
For the track and field programs at Michigan, one event is attempting to cement itself once again as a tradition. And to date, it has been successful.
It is called "The Dual."
Just as the title reads "The Dual" is a dual track meet between two schools. On Saturday (Jan. 14) the Michigan women's track and field team travels to Columbus, Ohio, to go against Ohio State for its second indoor "Dual" battle, while the men host the Buckeyes Saturday night at the Indoor Track Building (field events start at 6 p.m. and track events start at 7 p.m.).
For the student-athletes, the dual meet is one of those events that bring the team concept together. Each event has one team poised against the other. There are more individuals from each team that are able to participate in the dual meet, and because of that they have a bigger share in each other's outcome. The strategy changes completely as more individuals are working with one another to get their team any possible advantage. The emotions run higher too as teammates cheer for everyone on their team -- from first place to fifth place.
The emotional pull carries over to the fans. The cheers emanating from the crowd make the Indoor Track Building come to life as a hockey crowd takes to a game at Yost.
"The Dual" is run annually between the Michigan and Ohio State men's and women's track teams. Anytime those two schools get together in athletic competition, that in itself gets everyone fired up.
The first meet in "The Dual's" rebirth was a men's indoor meet run on Jan. 19, 2008 in Ann Arbor. The house was packed. It was the first Michigan-Ohio State dual meet since 1993. And the actual first dual meet between the schools was a men's competition in 1932.
Tomorrow night, another 1,400-plus crowd is expected to see an event that once ruled the collegiate landscape before almost becoming extinct.
Now with two schools hosting "The Dual" an athletic tradition has been born again. Track and field has bounced back with the same excitement found on the cinder tracks and in the bleachers that everyone enjoyed years ago.
This tradition has a great chance to continue.
During his career at Michigan, Bo Schembechler was not only instrumental in playing a part in some great football games, his name was also one that media and headline writers had quite a bit of fun with.
From the 1969 Detroit newspaper headlines of "Bo Who?" when he was hired to coach U-M to the stories of how Glenn Edward was given the nickname by his sister plus the combination of the ease of his using first name and the difficulty to spell and pronounce his last name made it a fun story.
Rarely was the name Bo used by anyone else of such an iconic nature.
There was the singer Bo Diddley and then the actress Bo Derek in the movie "10."
It wasn't until Auburn had an outstanding, tough running back that another individual named Bo would come to the forefront. And the two football Bo's met for the first time in the 1984 Sugar Bowl.
Many might remember the two Bo's from that game, but what few might know is it was a battle of the two of the great teams in nation -- Michigan was ranked eighth and Auburn was No. 3.
Bo Jackson was a great athlete and is still considered by many to be one of greatest of all -time. He played both professional football and baseball after leaving Auburn. Some believe he could even had been a world class track and field competitor.
It wasn't just Bo Jackson that made this team. He had already missed much of his 1983 sophomore season with a shoulder injury. It was the caliber of all the players on Auburn that made this team so good.
This SEC team had a great defense and an awesome offense. Tommie Agee and Lionel "Little Train" James were the running backs with Jackson. All three went on to pro careers in the NFL. Even Brent Fullwood, a backup back, went on to play four seasons in the NFL!
And then there was Steve Wallace. He might have been one of the greatest offensive linemen in the nation. He played 12 seasons in the NFL and was part of three Super Bowl championships with San Francisco. According to many, he was instrumental in changing the way an offensive tackle played the game.
"The caliber of football player they had at Auburn at the time was amazing," said former offensive lineman Doug James. "I played across from Doug Smith and Donnie Humphrey, two of the best I have ever seen. They were big, strong and extremely quick."
Smith played eight years in the NFL and also played professionally in the now defunct United States Football League. Humphrey played three years in the NFL.
Offensively, it was the option vs. the wishbone, and defensively it just as well could have been two heavyweight fighters slugging it out.
Michigan moved the ball well in the first quarter and scored the lone touchdown of the game on its second possession. U-M quarterback Steve Smith went right and scored on a four-yard run.
Auburn made the early mistakes, and a fumbled punt 47 seconds into the second quarter gave Michigan the opening it needed. But Smith was hit going back to pass and fumbled the ball, and U-M was turned away in the red zone.
The change of momentum was noticeable. After gaining 116 yards in the first quarter, U-M mustered only 31 yards in the second. And after that fumble, U-M registered only two first downs the remainder of the half and five more for the entire game. In the second half, U-M had just 96 yards in total offense.
Even with the change in momentum, the Wolverines had their chances. An incomplete pass with just over eight minutes remaining literally went in and out of the hands of a U-M receiver, forcing Michigan to punt.
Then Auburn nickel-and-dimed its way down the field. AU held the ball for an amazing 7:21 before letting Al Del Greco kick an 18-yard field goal with only 23 seconds left.
And even with that, Smith hit Triando Markray with a 38 yard pass on the last play of the game. And as Markray went out of bounds at the Auburn 25, the clock clicked down to zero and U-M lost the Sugar Bowl, 9-7.
The Wolverine defense was amazing. Nine players finished the game with six tackles or more, led by Mike Mallory with 12 and Tim Anderson with 11.
Bo Jackson, who was named the Sugar Bowl MVP, said it was one of the toughest teams he ever faced, calling the U-M players "like little bees always coming at you."
Yes, Auburn was the better team, but Michigan had its chances.
"We really could have won that game," said James. "I know it was the best team I played against in my five years at Michigan, and I know if we played them 10 times, they would have probably won seven of those games.
"We still should have won that game."
Auburn won the game, yet the season ended on a bittersweet note for the Tigers.
Even though AU was ranked No. 3 in the country and had won the Sugar Bowl, Miami jumped from No. 4 to national champions by virtue of its 31-30 win over the top-ranked Nebraska team in the Orange Bowl plus Georgia's 10-9 win over No. 2 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Not all was lost for Bo Schembechler though.
The friendships that were made by all the Bo's lasted a lifetime. Bo Jackson became friends with Bo Diddley while our Bo Schembechler became good friends with Bo Derek.
Not a bad deal.
Happy New Year to all, and Go Blue!
Here's an interesting question: If the Detroit Pistons had won the flip to see who got first pick in the 1966 NBA Draft, who would be the mayor of Detroit today?
I know that sounds a little out of the box, but that's the first thing that went through my mind Sunday when I read an article about Cazzie Russell's induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
The short story is that the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks had to flip a coin for the right to pick first in the '66 draft. The Knicks won and selected Russell. The Pistons had the No. 2 pick and drafted Dave Bing, a guard out of Syracuse.
The longer story is more convoluted.
Professional basketball was relatively new in Detroit. Fred Zollner brought the Pistons here from Ft. Wayne, Ind., in 1957, and the sport was trying to find it niche in the Motor City. College basketball, on the other hand, was just starting to realize the impact of television and racial equality.
At the time, Wolverine head coach Dave Strack already had the makings of a pretty good team, but he knew Cazzie could make this team a national contender. He made an all-out push to get Russell signed.
Today, head coach John Beilein would bring a young Cazzie and his family on campus. He would proudly show off the new Player Development Center, let them see the beautiful changes inside Crisler Arena and talk about Michigan's plans for expansion with a smile on his face.
Strack wasn't as proud of his facilities. He brought Russell in from Chicago's Carver High School, showed him Michigan Stadium then took him over to Yost Field House. He told him the facility was locked and he couldn't find his keys. Russell never did see the inside of Yost until he started as a student. It was a great move on Strack's part.
In 1963, Loyola of Chicago won the national championship with a thrilling 60-58 victory over Cincinnati. At the time, it was the largest TV viewing audience to watch a collegiate game. Loyola also had four black players starting. In the semis, the governor of the state of Mississippi and its state police tried to stop the game from being played due to an unwritten rule disallowing teams from Mississippi to play an integrated team.
As for the professional game, player recognition was important. The NBA used what was then called "territorial rights." If an individual played in or near the pro team's location, the NBA team could request the territorial pick from the league office. They wanted the same players who had made their mark at the university to make their mark with the local pro team.
In 1965, the Detroit Pistons used their territorial selection to take another U-M star, Bill Buntin.
Of course, the NBA would not allow a team to have that luxury two years in a row. But with Russell now available in 1966, the Pistons requested to have the pick for a second consecutive year. The NBA denied the request, and thus the flip of the coin took place with the Knicks getting Russell.
The Detroit Pistons and local Michigan fans were not happy. For three years, the name Cazzie Russell was synonymous with basketball in southeast Michigan.
In many ways, Cazzie was the Earvin "Magic" Johnson of his time. He was the player who could do everything -- he was a playmaker, he could shoot, hit the boards, handle the ball -- and he was 6-5. At that time, there were few if any players who could do everything Cazzie was capable of performing.
It was easy to see why Detroit needed his brand.
This Michigan team led by Russell was the first TV basketball team of its time. WKBD-TV, channel 50, was the first all-sports station in the city and Wolverine sports were one of its mainstays.
Each game was an event at Yost and on TV. The fans couldn't wait to watch the Wolverines even before tipoff. The Wolverines would run out of the tunnel, head straight for the basketball, and slam dunk as many times as they possibly could to fire up the crowd.
What Cazzie did for Michigan basketball is truly amazing. He put the Wolverines on the national map and laid the foundation for years to come.
The induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame is a testament to his skills and popularity. He was an amazing basketball player and is still an amazing Michigan Man.
We all seem to have a lot on our mind these days. Life seems so much more complicated. Not on a football Saturday though. It is a time to relax, escape and enjoy college football.
For some it is a time to give back to try and help others whose day-to-day lives are much more stressful yet so important to the way we live. This Saturday (Nov. 19) the U-M Athletic Department is having Military Appreciation Day to show its support and admiration for the all the branches of the armed services.
On a smaller scale, a group of tailgaters in the Crisler Arena Blue Lot parking area will do the same. On Saturday, they will bring together individuals from the 2-337th Training Support Battalion, also known as the Wolverine Battalion, to enjoy a tailgate experience and Michigan football.
This is not the public display of appreciation that everyone will see at Michigan Stadium. This is a show of appreciation by a few U-M Victors Club members who have been bringing together the Wolverine Battalion for almost three years.
It all started when Beth Bradley (U-M Athletic Development) received a request from a soldier's mom wanting to do something special for her son's command sergeant major, Marty Mieras, a huge Wolverine fan. The ball was signed and sent. The CSM was thrilled with this gift. Elated upon receiving the football, he noted he was coming back for some R&R.
"Beth asked us and another few families if we would be interested in hosting some members of the military," said tailgate crew member Warren Major. "We said yes and just kept it going.
"What's ironic is we didn't even have any idea the battalion's name was the Wolverines."
Other members of the tailgate crew are Warren's wife Cherie, Bob and Sally Elgin, Sarah Elgin, Bruno and Barb Jandasek, Brett and Krista Jandasek, and Herb and Linda Negendank.
Army reserve captain Joseph Sullivan, who works at Arbor Lakes and is contracted by U-M, and Bradley help coordinate the effort.
It is not official; it is just something these families want to do to for the men and women in our
military and especially those are returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.
"Last year, we even had a tailgate on the road for all of them," said Major. "They have a
Wolverine Battalion in Indiana too, and when we went down there last year, they even gave us a tour of their offices. Like the Wolverines here in Michigan, their offices are all painted maize and blue."
Selfridge AFB is the home for the local Wolverines, while the Indiana Wolverines are located in Camp Atterbury. (Currently, the Wolverine Battalion is headquartered in Waterford. It was moved from Selfridge after individuals suffered Legionnaires Disease in the building on the base.)
This year, there has been one appreciation tailgate, and tomorrow will be number two. The Wolverine Battalion is greatly appreciative. They gave the tailgating families a plaque engraved with the following words:
Award of Excellence for Your Support of the 2-337th TSB (2010) for Efforts and Enthusiasm and Generosity Greatly Appreciated by all of the Troops! Go Wolverines! Hooah!
Everyone responsible for the tailgate was also invited to the battalion's annual Dining Out Gala. There the tailgate crew was treated like royalty.
Next week at the Ohio State game, another member of the Wolverine Battalion will join the
tailgate. First sergeant Mike Poll is coming home for a short R&R from Afghanistan. He's been there since May and will return to Afghanistan. His current tour of duty should end in May of 2012. He became a grandfather for the second time in October and will meet his new grandson when he's home.
This small tailgate crew is just trying to say thank you. Even before they can express it, the men and women from the Wolverine Battalion are the ones who are thanking them for opening up their hearts and making these Saturdays special.
Hooah to the men and women of the Wolverines!
• A Soldier Gets His Wish
There are many iconic coaching figures in Michigan athletics lore. There's Fielding H. Yost, Fritz Crisler, Matt Mann, Cliff Keen, Carol Hutchins, Lloyd Carr and we could go on. But in this day and age, one name still stands out above the rest: Bo Schembechler.
So when the BTN chose to unveil its first-run feature "Big Ten Icons" series on 12 top conference coaches -- one from each league school -- who better to lead it off tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 1) than our legendary football coach?
Few in their life are admired and known by one name let alone two letters, and those who knew Bo easily understand why he is truly a Michigan legend. He stood for the guiding principles of the University of Michigan. He used football as a tool to teach young boys to become men.
I was fortunate to know Bo as a journalist, co-worker, then as friend after he retired. Knowing Bo for 30-plus years would make one think I know all of the stories, yet every time I meet someone who played, coached, worked with or was a friend of Bo, I learn something new. Sometimes it is serious, sometimes it is funny, but each time the story is intriguing.
Having Keith Jackson as the "Big Ten Icons" narrator adds more than just a touch of nostalgia to this show, as those who remember Jackson's play-by-play and commentary know he covered Bo's Wolverines on many occasions and is a college football icon in his own right.
Of course, there will be those U-M fans who crave even more after the 30-minute show ends, and I'm sure producer Ashton Campbell has a vault of great stories he would have loved to air. But this half hour moves quickly and can be enjoyed by more than just Michigan fans.
Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon says in the show, "What you see is what you get with Bo Schembechler." And what we got was truly a legend -- a Big Ten icon.
The "Big Ten Icons" series on coaches debuts with the Schembechler episode on the BTN tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 1) at approximately 3:30 p.m. EDT following Michigan's football game against Minnesota. All episodes will air in their regular time slot at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesdays. More information on the show is available at the BTN site.
The corner of Bourbon Street and Toulouse in New Orleans' French Quarter has a special meaning for me today.
A good friend and colleague of mine once told me of a story when he visited New Orleans many years ago.
He saw all the street entertainers doing their thing on the streets and when he got to Bourbon and Toulouse, the corner was open. He told me how he just started dancing. A crowd gathered. A few people even dropped some money at his feet. When he was finished, he received a big round of applause.
My friend and colleague loved telling this story. And today, I learned that individual passed away. It was Newt Loken, and he died at the age of 92.
Yes, he was a great athlete and a great Michigan gymnastics coach, and when I first started working at U-M in 1978, Newt became an instant friend. He always had a smile on his face, he always had time for a chat, and he always had a story.
Like most everyone in the athletics department, I couldn't help but listen to this man talk about sports, life, family or anything that crossed his mind. He could work with anyone, and everyone wanted to work with Newt.
Don Canham was the director of athletics and Bo Schembechler was our football coach at that time. They were different but both were dynamic. I don't know if Newt helped teach me the ropes in the fine art of dealing with those two individuals, but I sure remember how he dealt with Canham.
I would see Canham speaking to Newt on numerous occasions and sometimes Don was a little upset. But on all occasions, Newt would smile and walk away. He never was rattled; he always had the same demeanor.
Watching this happen on more than one occasion, I asked Newt why he didn't argue with Canham or at least explain his side of the story. Newt's reply was simple. He told me Canham wouldn't listen to him anyway and every time he would go into a meeting with Canham where he thought it would be somewhat confrontational, he would turn down his hearing aid. He claimed he didn't hear a word.
Newt was basically deaf in his left ear. The next time I watched a conversation between the two, I noticed how Newt would listen to Don with his right ear when wanted to listen and when the conversation went south, he turned his head and pretended to listen with his left ear.
After Canham retired, the three of us were at a dinner. I asked Canham, "Didn't you ever notice Newt turned down his hearing aid so he wouldn't hear you complain?"
Canham answered, "I knew all along what he was doing, but how could anyone really get mad at Newt Loken?"
Even when he pulled his favorite trick on the golf course, backing up the cart and having the beeping sound go off when you were in your backswing, no one could ever get mad at Newt.
There are so many stories to be told but the only thing one needs to know is that Newt Loken loved the University of Michigan and he loved life.
The next time I visit New Orleans, I will make a point to walk to the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse just to remember a truly wonderful man.
Lacrosse is a sport with a great heritage. It is a sport Native Americans played dating back to the 17th century.
If you ever want to shock hockey fans, ask 'What is the national sport in Canada?' Of course, the answer is lacrosse.
So, when Dave Brandon promoted men's and women's lacrosse to varsity sport status at Michigan this afternoon, I thought of the irony of the announcement.
In a day and age when the world is becoming more technology oriented and sports are growing with the new look of extreme action, mixed martial arts, Ultimate Fighting and the likes, lacrosse has become an integral part of this growth spurt. The speed of the game, the physical nature of the sport, the extreme look of its 'neat' equipment and continuous action make lacrosse a perfect 'retro' fit for the new age of participants and fans.
The number of participants and fans grows each and every year. In a time when universities are cutting sports, the men's college lacrosse programs have grown from 56 to 61 while the women are up from 79 to 90 teams in the last five years.
Television has to love this too. The new sponsors finding their niche with these sports along with a need for more content that can fit the screen have created a stir among TV executives. The game has a pace for modern day taste and lasts about two hours -- perfect for television programming.
What I especially like is the tradition and history of the game. The great All-Pro NFL running back Jim Brown is considered one of the true greats of football. He is also considered one of the true greats in lacrosse. He was an All-America football and lacrosse player at Syracuse.
Jim Thorpe excelled in the sport in the early 1900s, and arguments of the best in the game go on from there.
Personally, lacrosse probably even helped me in grade school. As long as an event was affiliated with sports, I could remember the date, the score, the meaning of the game, etc.
In 1763 in Northern Michigan, the Ojibwe tribe was under the harsh rule of the British. In early June, pretending to celebrate the king's birthday, Chief Pontiac used the game of 'lacrosse' as a trick to gain entry into the garrison at Fort Michilimackinac. As the soldiers came out to watch the contest as the Ojibwes played a game of stickball (forerunner of lacrosse) against the Sauk, a ball went into the fort. With the soldiers outside of the walls and Chief Pontiac's 'teams' gaining entry, a bloody battle ensued with the Ojibwe and Sauk taking control of the garrison.
To this day, I know this story. And on this day, it again surfaced in my mind.
This sport truly has an alluring spell to it. Now, Wolverine lacrosse fans will have the opportunity to welcome new fans as lacrosse continues to grow.
Good luck to both the men's and women's teams as they prepare to enter Division I varsity competition.
My phone was busy this morning (Tuesday, May 17) with fans and friends calling me about the line forming outside the Michigan Athletic Ticket Office.
A few had concerns about the deadline for football tickets, and others were just curious as to why everyone was gathering. What they were told was probably unexpected. Today's line was for the Michigan softball season ticket holders as they made their way to the ticket office for their NCAA Regional tickets.
The line formed early, and the people waiting for these tickets were the fans who have appreciated the winning ways of the Wolverine softball team and know this might be the best sports value for the money in the Greater Detroit area.
The stats are easy to recite:
- The 17th consecutive NCAA appearance for Michigan;
- Jordan Taylor is one of -- if not -- the best pitchers in the nation;
- Carol Hutchins has the most wins of any coach in Michigan athletic history;
- The Michigan program was the first softball team east of the Mississippi to win a national title
And we could go on.
Still, stats alone don't bring fans to an event. The reason they come is simple: these games are fun.
In today's hectic-paced individual schedule, softball is played in two hours or less. Fans are right on top of the field. They can listen and get a feel for the game. And they are watching the best players in the game go against each other in a double-elimination tournament format.
Once a teams loses two games, it is out.
The site, the sounds and the atmosphere is college athletics at its best. The best reason is the top priced tickets are only $12 for a session.
This is the 10th straight year U-M will host an NCAA Regional. The public sale for the regional tickets begins Wednesday (May 18).
The Michigan action starts Friday night (May 20) when it hosts Western Michigan at 8 p.m. at the Wilpon Softball Complex. Notre Dame and Kentucky kick off the four-team tourney at 5:30 p.m. On Saturday beginning at noon, three games will be played. The NCAA Regional championship game(s) are Sunday starting at 1 p.m.
If you have never attended a U-M softball game, you need to go at least once. And with the weather finally getting better, this would be a great weekend to see for yourself why 2,000-plus fans will be out in force each day to enjoy one of the best collegiate events.
It was a Twitter feed that informed me Tuesday night (April 26) of the passing of Jim Mandich. And while Twitter is a relatively new social media platform, the old fashioned ideals of personal relationships are what set my mind in motion.
Of all things, I didn't think about Jim Mandich the Michigan Wolverine and Miami Dolphins football great. I thought of the last time I had a conversation with Jim and what he didn't talk about.
I was fortunate to have been able to travel to Green Bay's Lambeau Field last season to watch the Dolphins plays the Packers. I had never been Lambeau Field and this was on my so-called bucket list.
As I stood on the sideline, exchanging pleasantries with Chad Henne, waving at Jake Long and low-fiving Charles Woodson as he ran onto the field, Mandich came over to talk. He was still working radio, covering the Dolphins games despite his battle with cancer.
He was nattily attired in a Dolphin colored long-sleeve shirt, tie and sweater vest. He really looked and sounded great. Along with former U-M assistant coach Bill Sheridan (now with Miami), we discussed Michigan football until Mandich had to get back to the press box for his radio gig.
Even though he was thin, he did not look frail. He had great color in his face, he had excitement in his voice, and was he talking about the future -- the future of Michigan football.
He did not talk about his battle with cancer. He did not talk about doctors' visits or hospital treatments. He just wanted to talk about Michigan.
Last night a tweet told many of us Mandich of Michigan is no longer with us. Like many other M Men and Women, he has left a lasting legacy made by a personal touch.
That is what we will remember.
Special people that cross your path come around more often than one thinks, the problem is sometimes you don't realize it until they are gone. It especially happens when someone is young. You expect to see that special person tomorrow, next week, next month or next year.
You enjoy your discussions, you think the world of this person, then all of a sudden that person is gone.
Eric Namesnik was that individual. And this weekend (April 8-10) at Canham Natatorium in Ann Arbor his persona will be honored with the Eric Namesnik Michigan Grand Prix, one of seven stops on the USA Swimming Grand Prix Series across the United States.
Snik (as he was known) was the perfect team player in a sport that for the casual observer seems to be an exercise in individual ability.
He always seemed to be on the verge of Olympic gold. He was ranked No. 1 in the world in the four-stroke medley event in 1991 and 1993. Two times he represented the United States at the Olympics.
In 1992, he won a silver medal in the 400 IM at the Barcelona Summer Olympic Games. He also took home silver and bronze medals in 1991 (Perth) and 1994 (Rome) in the World Championships. And he worked his tail off to win the gold in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. This would have been the culmination of his efforts.
Instead, his Wolverine teammate, Tom Dolan, came into the mix.
"Everybody remembers that," said former Michigan swimming coach and Michigan Sports Hall of Fame member Jon Urbanchek in a recent USA Swimming article written by Bob Schaller. "But if you ask people whom they cheered for -- it was so hard for me because both of these kids could have won the gold medal -- nine out of 10 would have said they were cheering for Eric. Tom was talented, but Eric had such dedication and desire. People pulled for Eric because he didn't have that great talent but did have the dedication and commitment. As a coach I look back at Snik and see that he literally gave everything he could in every workout, every battle. He came in second but did his best, and I was never more proud of anyone. And I was very proud of Tom, too. As long as we went one and two, I didn't care. I told them, 'I can see either of you winning.'"
Snik lost the gold medal to his teammate -- and rival -- Dolan by 35-hundredths of a second, once again receiving the Olympic silver medal.
But if it weren't for Namesnik pushing Dolan at practice every day, Dolan might not have been able to win the Olympic title.
Now turn back the calendar to January 7, 2006. The weather was awful. Icy conditions plagued all of southeast Michigan and travel was treacherous. For Snik and his family, it turned into the day they will never forget. A terrible car crash eventually took the life of Eric Namesnik. He died on January 11. Snik was gone. A special M-Man dedicated to life, family and his sport.
Fortunately, his family allowed his organs to be donated and truly he is still breathing the life of a champion into others today. That donation and the Erik Namesnik Michigan Grand Prix are fitting memories for the man we remember as Snik.
It was probably part naiveté but plenty of confidence that Bev Plocki, a graduate assistant coach at West Virginia, started to look for a coaching position in the sport she loved and competed -- gymnastics. After all, she wasn't looking for an assistant position; she was looking for the top job, a head coaching spot.
Letter after letter were mailed out and only two schools were interested in this young coach -- Wisconsin-Whitewater and Michigan. She never expected what would come next -- an offer from U-M.
Just a few years after competing as a student-athlete, Plocki now was heading a up a Big Ten program that finished dead last and winless in the conference. Now, she was the head coach and it was her job to turn a major Division I program into a winner.
The team won seven contests in her first season (1990) and 13 in 1991. In 1992 she led the team to its first Big Ten championship and a second-place finish in the NCAA Regional.
Once she got the team rolling, her next task was to help build the fan base and get a new facility for the budding program. She knew she had to cultivate fans and supporters. And she did that quite well.
She worked closely with the community, promoting her sport at every opportunity presented. She developed strong relationships with her supporters and the results were similar to her success she had with the team.
The fan base started to grow in the late 1990s. The team had to move many of its events out of the smaller Cliff Keen Arena over to Crisler Arena. In 2005, all Wolverine women's gymnastics meets were held in Crisler. Now, Michigan is annually one of the top 10 in NCAA attendance every year.
In 2002, the team moved into a brand new 22,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art practice facility. The Donald R. Shepherd Women's Gymnastics Training Center has 17,000 square feet of training area that is outfitted with the latest in gymnastics training equipment, including resi- and free-foam pits for each event. It was Shepherd's love for the sport and the relationship with the team that led to a $3.5 million gift that made it possible for this grand facility.
Turn the clock ahead to April 2011 and the Wolverine women gymnastics program has more Big Ten championships (19) than any other women's sport in the entire Big Ten.
Now, Plocki is the third winningest active coach at U-M. Only softball coach and 2011 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame inductee Carol Hutchins along with legendary ice hockey coach Red Berenson have won more contests.
Saturday night (April 2) at Crisler Arena, No. 9-ranked U-M will host the NCAA Regional Championships at 6 p.m. looking for a berth to the NCAA finals. This will be the team's 20th consecutive appearance in an NCAA Regional. Top seed and No. 4-ranked Stanford, third seed and No. 16 Ohio State, No. 21 Iowa State, No. 23 Minnesota and No. 24 Kent State round out the field. The top two teams in each of the six NCAA Regional Championships will advance to the NCAA Championships, to be held April 15-17 in Cleveland, Ohio.
In just three seasons, Plocki helped create Michigan as a perennial contender for the NCAA championship. If things go right for the Wolverines, they will be making their 18th NCAA finals appearance in the last 19 years.
There is no naiveté now with this veteran coach. Instead, it is the knowledge, hard work, the team's resolve and the love for the sport and the University of Michigan that have allowed her to flourish and make the Wolverines women gymnastics program an integral part of the great Michigan athletic and academic tradition.
Sunday morning (March 20) at Yost Ice Arena was a time to look ahead. The NCAA Ice Hockey Championship selection was taking place and televised live on ESPN2. You could hear the hoots and hollers from the locker room as the Wolverines were named to play Nebraska-Omaha in the West Regional in St. Louis this Friday at 4:30 p.m. CDT (5:30 EDT).
The same city to which head coach Red Berenson returned just a few weeks ago when the St. Louis Blues honored their great No. 7s before an NHL game. A city where Red helped make hockey a relevant major league sport. A city where Berenson was named NHL Coach of the Year in 1980.
But before this team and Red could look ahead, it was important to look back about 36 hours and take to heart what happened on the ice at Joe Louis Arena.
It was a game most Michigan fans probably thought the Michigan ice hockey team would like to forget. It was Friday night (March 18) and the Wolverines lost to Western Michigan in the semifinals of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament, 5-2.
Sure, everyone knew Michigan was going to make its 21st consecutive NCAA appearance, but this wasn't the hard-nosed, sense-of-urgency type of style the Wolverines display as they battle in tournament play.
Senior captain Carl Hagelin noted how the team felt embarrassed after the loss. Berenson even mentioned to the media during his availability after the ESPN show how the team had been "playing down" to the level of its competition in the last few weeks.
Instead of forgetting about this game and the last few weeks of the season, Hagelin thinks this loss might have been the wake-up call the Wolverines needed. On Saturday afternoon (March 19) just over 16 hours after the loss to WMU, U-M bounced back with inspired play from goalie Shawn Hunwick (a career -high 42 saves in a regulation game) and two goals in a 15-second time span by Chris Brown and Hagelin to lead Michigan to a 4-2 win over Notre Dame.
This rebound game is what the seniors on this team are keying on. Hagelin even mentioned this loss might have been "good for the team" since they had been on an eight-game winning streak despite not playing up to their potential.
Now, the captain from Sweden and the other seniors have to show the importance of each and every detail. One 30-second shift can mean the difference between advancing or going home in the NCAA Tournament.
"In this tournament, if you don't get that first goal it can be tough to come from behind," said Hagelin. "Air Force got that first goal against us a few years ago and then we scored the first goal against Bemidji."
His plan is to help U-M jump on the momentum from the opening faceoff just as a team would be battling during the last minute of closely contested contest. His belief is the team needs to play with that sense of urgency. Everyone needs to know the importance of each aspect their preparation and play on the ice means to the success of this U-M team.
"The way we played (on Friday night), we don't want to be like that," said Hagelin. "This is Michigan and everyone including ourselves expects more."
Yes, it is time to look ahead. Without looking back, the fortunes of this Michigan team might not be as bright as they are this week.
The game will be shown live in HD on ESPN3.com.
Through the years, when Michigan Stadium was renovated, the football team found itself somewhat displaced. In the past, spring football games were held on the practice field with no public invited, a game was moved to Saline High School, and practices that might have been held at the stadium were not allowed -- except for the Friday walk-through, that is.
Now, for the first time in recent history, the basketball teams are facing a similar issue. It first started with the basketball offices moving to temporary quarters in trailers in the arena parking lot. Now the women's basketball team finds itself unable to host any postseason games because of the renovations to the interior of Crisler Arena that, along with the new Basketball Player Development Center, will modernize Michigan's basketball facilities.
Instead of playing in the home confines of Crisler, the team will board a bus and play Eastern Michigan tomorrow night (Thursday, March 17) at the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti. Tipoff is 7 p.m. for the first-round game of the WNIT postseason tournament.
The coaching staff thinks about the renovation and the building. They understand by forgoing the home games and renovating Crisler now, the quicker the program can move ahead.
The players are a different story. They want to get it done now -- on the court.
This has been truly an up-and-down season for the Michigan women. And, like the men's team, these Wolverines were not expected to do well.
Despite the predictions and some setbacks along the way, U-M defeated four teams in the top 25 this season -- including a regular-sesason sweep of conference tournament champion Ohio State -- and was the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament after winning 10 league games. Again, like the men's team, they faced Illinois in the first round of the tournament in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, unlike the men's team, the women's team suffered a rough loss.
One game provided a different outcome for two teams so similar. A win provided one with the opportunity to celebrate a NCAA Tournament selection, while the loss left the women's team on the outside looking in during the ESPN Women's NCAA Tournament Selection Show Monday evening.
Tomorrow, these players will be focusing on the first game of the WNIT.
A strong run in the WNIT along with the renovation of Crisler Arena can go a long way in building this program and making this 2011 season the foundation for the future of the women's basketball program at Michigan.
If snow is involved, a story about a golfer usually involves the fact that he or she:
- Played when it was so cold it started snowing;
- The dare -- "I dare you to play in the snow;"
- 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."
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.
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.
• Flyer for Pizza House Event (PDF)
• Flyer for Noodles & Company Event (PDF)
One of the most enjoyable events of each school year is Mock Rock, as the University of Michigan student-athletes get together to entertain a sellout crowd with their dance moves and crazy costumes and, at the same time, raise money for charity.
This year, to help reach its 2011 goal of raising $100,000 from donations and ticket sales from Mock Rock, the U-M Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) has expanded fundraising efforts by adding two Restaurant Days.
"We've never done anything like this before," said Mock Rock chair Jordan Sexton, a fifth-year senior on the women's gymnastics team. "We always set our fundraising goals high, and last year we raised $70,000 from Mock Rock but we think we can do better."
The first Restaurant Day is coming up this Wednesday (Jan. 26) at Pizza House (618 Church Street). Fifteen percent of all orders will go to Mock Rock if the customer presents the benefit flyer (download as PDF) in the restaurant or mentions Mock Rock when ordering for takeout or delivery. This is an all-day event.
The second event will be at Noodles & Company (320 South State Street) from 4-9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 10, with 25 percent of the bill going to Mock Rock if the customer mentions Mock Rock when ordering (download flyer as PDF).
"These restaurant fundraisers are a way to get the community involved a little more in the event and rally more student-athletes to the cause," said Sexton. "The generosity of these local businesses will help raise the profile of Mock Rock and hopefully bring in more money for three very deserving charities."
Three charities hand-picked by SAAC -- the Child and Family Life program at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, Student-Athletes Leading Social Change (SALSC), and the Michigan Autism Partnership (MAP) -- will receive donations from SAAC from funds generated by Mock Rock, an annual variety show featuring skits from Michigan's varsity student-athletes. This year's event is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 16, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Hill Auditorium. Tickets will go on sale in early February.
SAAC is also accepting Mock Rock donations online at its website. Donors may specify a team to receive credit for the donation or select "None" to make a general donation.
For questions or information on corporate sponsorship, contact Taylor Day at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Big Ten Network has come a long way since its inception in 2007.
Dave Revsine, Rick Pizzo, Mike Hall, Howard Griffith, Gus Johnson, et al are some of the names you might recognize. But what about Peter Saul, Adam Brewster, David Nows and Brad Hewlett?
Saul, Brewster, Nows and Hewlett may not be big names now, but all are hoping to become recognizable in the future. Currently, they are U-M students that cover Michigan sports for the Big Ten Network, and they cover it well.
Many years ago, WOLV-TV, Michigan's student-run TV station, brought a few Michigan sporting events to a small crowd on Comcast Channel 22. Ice hockey and women's basketball were the two sports that benefited from this coverage.
Today, the same basic idea is taking hold with the Big Ten Network. Instead of a few people in Washtenaw County viewing just a few events, these students are now able to show what they can do on a national stage.
Alex Prasad, a Michigan student, has helped build the Michigan "student" brand on the BTN. Prasad has become the unofficial executive producer for all Big Ten Student U productions that are done in Ann Arbor, with his co-producers Evan Dougherty, Peter Saul and Matthew Dupree. During these two terms, at least 40 events will be broadcast on www.bigtennetwork.com, with many of these events advancing to the network brand on the BTN.
"When we started off one year ago, we were just worrying about surviving," said Prasad. "If we could get a picture and some audio we were happy.
"Now, we are much more strategic and hopefully building for the future."
The idea to engage students to develop digital content for the BTN web site was the main idea behind this student program. Once the programming started to improve and the technology available to the Big Ten schools was leveraged by the BTN, the next step was network TV.
"We came across this opportunity to work on what was the best way to create streaming for the Internet with a 'Flypack' concept," said Rex Arends, BTN's director of technical operations. "We built it (equipment) and with the HD cameras and the CIC Internet connection available in the Big Ten, the quality of the video looked better than what came over the satellite."
There is very little compression needed for the HD files, and when BTN executives looked at what was coming across the control room monitors, he said, "Let's try it during the overnight hours."
The students set up, produce, direct and announce these sporting events. They use up to three cameras, have a video/audio suite, headsets, graphics package, announce box and scoring strip all built by the BTN. The network does add a quality control person in its Chicago control room to monitor every event.
The programming impressed so many other execs at the BTN that now the Student U broadcasts air in all parts of the day and even some fringe prime time.
Michigan does have some unique challenges to keep that quality broadcasting. Some other conference schools have broadcasting courses to help bring students into the program; U-M has to find volunteers.
"It is a unique challenge since we have no broadcasting program here at Michigan, so we have to recruit," said Prasad. "The lack of a program does provide one advantage: the students we get are highly motivated and passionate because they want to do this."
Like football and basketball teams, the competition is also heating up for these broadcast teams across the conference, and the passion of the U-M students has made the Wolverine broadcasts some of the best on the BTN.
"We are growing but we need more students to replace those who will be leaving," said Prasad. "If we can recruit more students, I see no reason why we shouldn't be the best in the Big Ten."
Interested in becoming part of the Student U team? Michigan is currently seeking students who are interested in the broadcasting field. The application deadline is Jan. 28, 2011.
The whirlwind search process was over, and as athletics director Dave Brandon finally sat down in the Jack Roth Stadium Club above Michigan Stadium, he finally had a few minutes to relax and laugh about the one week he will never forget. The day wasn't quite over, but the search and the announcement of Brady Hoke as U-M's new football coach were done.
Brandon talked about "Flight Tracker" and how the private jets were followed on the Internet by media and fans alike. He laughed when he told the stories of how he was sitting, interviewing a coach from his undisclosed confines.
"I am interviewing this coach and I am being called by all these people who either want to warn me that the media will be waiting for me or media trying to confirm my whereabouts," said Brandon. "And I am sitting there doing this interview and really no one knows where I am. It was amazing."
A maize and blue jet had been chartered for someone else, and, ironically, the destination was Baton Rouge. Brandon laughed about what that plane's passengers must have been thinking when they exited the aircraft and saw the media.
He talked about the days when he was being recruited to play football at Michigan in the 1960s. He remembered the newspaper headlines "Bo Who?" and chuckled at "how they tried to say and spell Schembechler."
Finally, Brandon could laugh. He had introduced the new coach, answered the questions he knew he would face, and studied the reaction U-M's new head coach was getting from the number of supporters and the football players that spanned decades.
And the reaction was just what the doctor ordered: positive.
Brandon knows today was just the first episode of the story. He knows Hoke has his work cut out for him. But today was special.
I don't know if Brandon relaxed a little when Brady told the media he would be here "forever" or if it was when Hoke became emotional talking about his former players and saying they were his family's sons. Maybe it was just Hoke's demeanor or when he talked about the "school down in Ohio."
I do know that Brandon feels comfortable because he has the coach he wanted in the first place. A good coach, but even more than that, a good man.
Reading the obituaries for Steve Boros, who died Wednesday night (Dec. 29) at the age of 74, defines his major league career thoroughly. For those who grew up as a Detroit Tiger fan during that era, he was considered one of the most promising players to move into a starting role.
What people might not realize is that Boros was one of the few players to make the jump to pros from the collegiate ranks. The Flint, Mich., native made that jump from the University of Michigan.
As U-M player, Boros hit .324 in his first year on the team in 1956 and followed that with a .381 average the next season. He helped Michigan to a 36-16 record in those two seasons and was named an All-Big Ten conference third baseman in 1957. H ewas named to the Michigan Hall of Honor in 1996.
He left the Wolverines for the pros after the 1957 season and started a career in sport that would span decades.
"Those things just didn't happen in those days," said former Detroit News baseball writer and retired Detroit Tiger public relations man Dan Ewald. "He stood out from the players of that time. He was a cerebral individual, a deep thinker."
The players of those days were curious about having Boros on the team. They had no idea how a collegian was going to fit into the major leagues. It didn't take long for his future teammates to find out.
"He was a gentleman and one helluva guy," added Ewald.
And while he honed his baseball talents at Michigan under the tutelage of the legendary Ray Fisher, it was probably his time in the classroom that made him the big name in baseball well beyond his playing days.
Boros was an excellent communicator. Not only did he understand the game of baseball, he could easily explain it.
It was easy to see why he managed the Oakland Athletics in 1983 and '84, plus the San Diego Padres in 1986. He also coached for four other major league teams before rejoining the Tigers as the minor league field coordinator, director of player development and special assistant to the general manager.
Of course, the story everyone talks about was what he did for the Los Angeles Dodgers. As an advance scout, he noticed that A's reliever Dennis Eckersley threw a back-door slider on full counts to left-handed hitters. Boros noted it and when Kirk Gibson stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the bottom of ninth in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against Eckersley, the 3-2 count home run to win the game for the Dodgers is still a legendary round-tripper in baseball lore.
What makes it even a little more interesting and ironic is that it was a Michigan man's information (Boros) that helped immortalize a Michigan State Spartan (Gibson).
The city of Flint, the University of Michigan and baseball are indeed appreciative that Boros "stood out as a player" and used his background to become a gentleman and become one of the big names in sports.
• Slideshow: Final Practice
There was a mix of former, soon to be former and current football letterwinners at Jacksonville University Thursday afternoon (Dec. 30) when Michigan conducted its last practice of 2010 for Saturday's Gator Bowl (Jan. 1).
The last practice is somewhat bittersweet. You have watched these student-athletes grow to adults in a four or five year time frame, and you wonder what the future will hold for the players leaving college life.
Today, they are being hoisted on the shoulders of their teammates as they are carried off the field for the final time at Michigan. Tomorrow, these same players will be headed into their 'real' lives. A career as a lawyer, dentist, sales rep, teacher, etc.
So it seemed apropos that today was also the day the U-M football M Club Letterwinners were invited to practice. This is the same group that sponsors the M Go Blue banner that the team touches as it runs out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel.
Max Richardson, a running back from the mid 70s, took advantage of the invitation. He is a close friend of former U-M running back Butch Woolfolk. He asked about Butch's son Troy, who suffered a broken leg in pre-season practice. Max asked "How he was doing."
Moments later, Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd (who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in practice in early November) walked by Max. When Max found out it was Troy, the stories came out. Max laughed and told him "I used to change your diapers!"
The two talked. Max could not wait to call Butch, and he did immediately, enjoying the moment.
Michigan's great wide receiver from the late 1940's Gene Derricotte, a member of the University of Michigan Hall of Honor, also stopped by. Derricotte not only set many U-M football records from 1944 to 1948 and was a member of both the 1947 and 1948 Wolverine national championship football team; he was a Tuskegee Airman during World War II. A retired dentist from San Antonio, he traveled to Atlanta to meet his son before coming down for the game and the practice
His background on the gridiron and how he served our country in World War II made him a star once again on the football field, even though he was standing on the sidelines.
U-M's play-by-play announcer Frank Beckmann, an honorary M Club letterman, and others could not wait to talk to Gene after hearing of his exploits.
Equipment manager Jon Falk, also an honorary M Club letterman, made sure he shook the hand of every former player that came out, bringing a smile and a big laugh to all of them as he told a story from their era. And head medical trainer Paul Schmidt, an honorary M Club letterman, talked with many on the sidelines.
As practice came to a close, the letterwinners that stayed for the entire practice gathered to talk to Rich Rodriguez.
But before that happened, the former letterwinners watched the soon-to-be-former letterwinners get hoisted in the air and then carried off the field by their teammates.
As I watched the proceedings taking place, I -- yes, an honorary M Club letterman -- looked at our M Club lettermen and thought to myself if these players being carried off the field today have a life like those former players I have been with during this practice, Michigan and its coaching staff did their 'real' job -- building the young men to be leaders and the best.
• Michigan Bowl Central
On April 8, 2000, the actor Christopher Walken hosted Saturday Night Live. Joined by Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon, among others, Walken starred in one of the great skits in SNL history. "More cowbell" became a phrase that caught the fancy of American pop culture.
The skit took place in a recording studio, where the rock band Blue Oyster Cult was working on the late '70s song "Don't Fear the Reaper." Walken's need "for more cowbell" and the distractions Ferrell was causing by banging the cowbell made for great theater.
On Saturday, when Mississippi State and Michigan meet, the stage for cowbells will be at EverBank Field for the Gator Bowl.
The Bulldog faithful will bring in their cowbells as they have been doing since the early 1950s, and they are definitely an issue for the opposing team. In 1974, the Southeastern Conference tried to ban cowbells from Scott Stadium in Starkville, Miss., but tradition won out as State fans snuck the bells into the stadium, making it almost impossible for anyone to stop the clanging.
Michigan, of course, is preparing for "more cowbell." Cowbells have been clanging in the ears of the center and the quarterback for much of the practices leading up to the game. Watching it and listening to it, does create a few snickers on the sidelines, but this time a cowbell is serious stuff.
The distinctive noise is something I have never been privy to hear at football games. I am pretty sure it won't be as bad as soccer's vuvuzela. A big day for Michigan would go a long way to get that ringing out of everyone's ear.
Interesting Note: The Michigan football team busses were locked out of the Jacksonville University this morning. The gates were locked and no one had a key. The team busses were on the street with curious onlookers wondering what was going on. After about 10 minutes, a Jacksonville police officer took a bolt cutter to the lock to get the busses and the team into the practice area.
• Michigan Bowl Central
When the media portrayal of bowl games gets back to the schools' hometowns, pictures of beaches, games and some practice grace their platforms.
After all, there is no better way to spend a week in late December than playing in a bowl game. But the pictures are truly just snapshots. You don't see the true grit, the need to get your game back in shape and prepare to win a game on the national stage.
The bowl teams haven't played a competitive game in nearly a month. Final exams, holidays and family create an array of personal decisions that in the everyday lives of the individuals cause consternation.
Now add weather problems into the mix and the teams and coaching staffs have to be shaking their heads as they try to get teams back into game mode.
For Michigan, two travel stories involving four players typify the travel problems the Wolverines have faced on this trip. But it also tells you how these Wolverines are thinking about the team first and foremost.
Starting offensive lineman Patrick Omameh finally arrived in Jacksonville on an evening flight Monday, Dec. 27. He and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint were both in Columbus, Ohio, and when their flight though Washington, D.C., was canceled, they had to fly to Philadelphia.
There was only one seat on the direct flight from Philly to Jacksonville. The players had to decide who would take that one seat and get to Jacksonville on time for the first practice. Tousaaint knew Omameh, a starter on the offense, needed to be on that flight. Toussaint made the decision to put Omameh on the direct flight. He would take the long road to Jacksonville through Charlotte, thinking he was getting his teammate to Jacksonville first.
Ah, but the best laid plans sometimes go awry. The flight from Philly was cancelled and Omameh was stuck, and the Wolverines were without their starting right guard for two practices in Jacksonville. Toussaint, on the other hand, made to Jacksonville late on the 26th.
Junior safety Mike Williams and freshman linebacker Quinton Washington also tried to make necessary moves to help the team when they reached their connecting flights in Atlanta. Williams' flight on Delta was leaving as scheduled, getting him into Jacksonville on time for the Sunday practice. Washington's flight was delayed. Williams, who played in two games this past year, knew it was important to get the Washington, a nose tackle who has played in all 12 games, to Jacksonville first.
The players pleaded with Delta to switch the tickets, but in this day and age of travel, the airline's hands were tied. Williams made it to the Sunday practice, while Washington came in later that evening and was ready to go on Monday.
Decisions on the fly are something football players need to make on the field. These four players had to make decisions about how they would fly and the value to the team of their fellow teammates.
There is a different feel to each bowl game, but in many ways they are quite similar when it comes to what the cities want to portray. The committees try to get the PR photos that will showcase their cities: the beaches, the top video game rooms, the great food and everything the Chamber of Commerce can showcase. The media will eat it up, sending back snapshots of what the team is doing on the side.
And despite the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce to show their cities as a place for play and enjoyment, the real scene for a bowl team is getting ready to play and, in some cases, getting everyone to the bowl site.
• Michigan Bowl Central
For those that grew up in a family based around the tradition of the Christmas season, the saddest day was when it was time for the Christmas tree to come down.
The anticipation of the holiday season and the excitement of Christmas morning had come and gone. Rudolph and Santa were names I wouldn't hear in the house for another year, another time.
Early this morning, I went to Michigan Stadium. And for some reason, I felt like a little boy watching the Christmas tree coming down.
The ice rink at the Big House was being dismantled piece by piece. The dasher boards were down. A crew was using sledge hammers to break the ice. And only the Big Chill logo at center ice and a hastily made snowman in the southwest corner of the field gave one a semblance of what really happened on Saturday (Dec. 11).
And when I looked back on the Big Chill and the weeks leading up to this event, it was indeed just like another Christmas season for me, the players and individuals that were able to play or skate at the Big House plus the 113,411 fans that witnessed and enjoyed a one-of-a-kind event.
I watched the ice go in during the Thanksgiving weekend. I watched the athletic department and ice rink event management group work and worry about the Big Chill -- day and night --- similar as a mom would work and worry about everything for a holiday event.
There is something about sport that brings out the little kid in all of us, and even more so during the holiday season. I noticed the wide-eyed youngsters, excited to step on the ice and play a game or skate in the Big House. It was wonderful to see the same wide-eyed look on the adults.
It didn't matter who you were -- Red Berenson, the Michigan or Michigan State team -- this was more than a game, for fans and players alike. Last Saturday and the days leading up to The Big Chill were special, and everything went off without a hitch.
Oh, we got lucky, no doubt about it. Mother Nature delayed the rain, then the snow and frigid temperatures just enough to let us enjoy the game and the event. Even Central Collegiate Hockey Association Commissioner Tom Anastos brought mom into the effort saying, "All this proves is Mother Nature is truly a hockey mom."
I don't know when I will see an event like this again. So, like a little boy who knew Frosty and Santa were names I wouldn't hear for a long time and who watched mom take down the Christmas tree, this morning I watched the high-lows putting the boards away. And I knew Scooter and Patrick, who were among the men who put the ice down, were names that I might not hear for a long time.
The rink was coming down just like the Christmas tree I remembered as a boy. This special season was over.
Fortunately, we can all now sit back and enjoy the real holiday season, thinking back to the fun we had the last few weeks and looking forward to another favorite part of the year: bowl season and the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1.
Steve Burns is Michigan soccer. And if you tell him this, he will shy away and tell you he has been blessed just to be a part of the program. He is a humble man
who has taken every step of the journey within the sport of soccer to get his team where it is today.
He knows what it means to win championships. He also knows that every step up the ladder you take, the more you have to work to win those championships.
He won national championships at the club level here at Michigan in 1997 and 1998 and then found out that going varsity in 1999 was tougher than he thought. He knew the game and recruiting would change, but he had to find out how it would change and learn from his mistakes.
In 2003 and 2004, the team went on to play the NCAA Championship round and then once again, he was humbled when he found out that this wasn't going to happen every year. Once again, the game had changed, the stakes were higher.
A program is not built in one year, it is built around successes -- year after year. Now, Burns was getting ready to impact on the hardest part of his career -- taking a Michigan program that he nurtured from infancy to making it a true collegiate power. In 2008, he made it back to the NCAA Tournament and he knew going into the 2010 season that this was a year U-M could do it again.
But even early on in the year, Burns was humbled. This time the Wolverines lost to a highly ranked Akron team, 7-1. He had to quickly figure out what happened and how he could get the U-M team to rebound quickly. Piece by piece, he did just that. The Wolverines haven't lost a game since that evening.
It has been a long road, but Burns has persevered. Now, he has his team readying itself for the most important weekend in Michigan soccer history.
On Friday night (11 EST, ESPN2), Burns will be taking the U-M team to its first final four of the College Cup
. And this time, the U-M team takes on that same Akron team it lost to on Oct. 19 by that 7-1 score
The Wolverines are ranked No. 15 and the Zips are No. 2. A win would once again humble Steve Burns, but not in the way he has been humbled before. It would be a perfect "humble" for a humble man and a great team.
When Denard Robinson was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year
Monday evening, I chuckled to myself that just hours before at the U-M Club of Ann Arbor luncheon at Weber's Inn, a U-M fan had asked Rich Rodriguez why Denard was not getting the type of hype he deserved.
He came out of the box with shoelaces untied with one dazzling performance after another. Anything short of stupendous was greeted as commonplace.
What will make Robinson a name to remember in U-M lore is not one game or one season. It will be the culmination of his achievements as a member of the U-M Athletic Department.
He is the first quarterback in NCAA history to rush and pass for more than 1,500 yards in a season, and the sophomore signal caller is definitely one of the most exciting players to watch. Not only did he receive the Big Ten recognition from media and coaches, he is semifinalist for the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien national awards while still being mentioned as a possible Heisman finalist.
He is fast, scary fast. Earlier this year, he went out and ran a 6.81 in the 60-meter dash
, winning the event during the Ohio State-Michigan dual meet with little if any form out of the starting blocks.
He said it was "a new experience" to run indoors and win a meet against a Big Ten school, and this year's performance on the football field was a new experience for defensive players who lined up against the Wolverines.
And while many believe Robinson might deserve more recognition, Denard himself doesn't talk about stats and records, he will wait for the recognition he really wants -- a Big Ten title.
University of Michigan associate athletic director Bruce Madej will regularly offer his view on different topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. This is the first of those blogs.
If this were only a sports story, one would start, "A packed house jammed into Grace Lutheran Church this morning in Fremont, Ohio ..."
Unfortunately, this isn't a sports story; it is a farewell to one who we can easily define as a true Michigan Man.
The Grace Lutheran Church was "standing room only" as families, teammates and a plethora of friends paid their respects to Rob Lytle at his memorial service in Fremont today (Wednesday, Nov. 24).
His days as a football player at Fremont Ross High School, the U-M and with the Denver Broncos
are legendary. But what can't be looked up by going through the stats and game stories are what made Lytle a tough, team-oriented player that created a humble, giving character after he hung up his cleats.
Even in death Rob Lytle was a team player, donating his organs to the University of Michigan.
He played halfback for Bo Schembechler in 1976 and placed third in the Heisman Trophy voting, only to be moved to fullback in his senior season. Bobby Thompson from the Denver Broncos said at the service, "All he did was talk about team goals while he was in the pros."
Tony Gant said, "Rob never told me what to do; he just helped me do it."
Gant gave an eloquent speech at the service. After all, he was another Fremont Ross great who came to Michigan in the 1980s to star as a defensive back.
"When I was a 'star' quarterback in high school, I was one of those players who thought I could do it all. I didn't need to throw the ball, just give it to me," said Gant. "Throw the ball? In fact, I though third and 36 was a running down.
"Rob heard how I was playing and when he got back to town, he called me and all he wanted to do was just played catch, throwing the football around as he tried to improve me."
Gant told a story about how Lytle was getting some grief for not pushing Tony to attend Michigan.
"Rob never told me to go to Michigan when I was being recruited," said Gant. "He told me when I would make the decision, I would make the decision I knew was right for me."
When Gant was ready to leave Michigan after his freshman year, he called Lytle.
"Rob took me to the track and we worked out over the summer and I watched how he prepared and worked," said Gant. "I wasn't mentally prepared to play football at Michigan, and all he did was work with me to get better."
When Gant broke his leg in 1984, Schembechler reminded him about Lytle's toughness, going into the training room and chiding him that Lytle wouldn't be in here. "Bo measured your toughness by Lytle," added Gant.
Lytle was tough, yet empathy and sympathy (and sarcasm) made him the man his friends will remember.
Rob Lytle, Rest in Peace, November 12, 1954-November 20, 2010