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Leaders Zimmerman, Otlewski Profiled 2009 Mid-MIchigan Football Schedules Ex-Spartan Harmon Makes Noise At Buick August 2009 $3.00 U.S.

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SPORT CONTENTS

10 “Abs”-solutely Goal-Driven MSU’S Favorite Red Wing Keeps Scoring BY Jamie weir

COVER Photograph Dennis Preston

16 2009 MID-MICHIGAN FOOTBALL SCHEDULE BY Scott eckersley

18 The only way he knows

Zimmerman, DeWitt Show What SISU Can Do BY Lisa byington

22 Preparation & Celebration Otlewski, Haslett Know Success Is A Journey BY SHANNON SHELTON

26 He’d Rather Drive A Buick

Matt Harmon Makes The Most Of Second Chance BY BURTON SMITH

06

EB-SERVATION

08

SPORTS AUTHORITY

Softball Is Hard To Quit

Senior Tournament Shows Timeless Passion BY BRENDAN DWYER

28

14

SPECIAL OLYMPIC SALUTE

From Competitors To Volunteers Campbell, Lithander switch roles in 22nd Golf Classic By Jennifer orlando

Hatfields & McCoys DeWitt-Haslett Tops Area Rivalries BY JACK EBLING

32

FINISH LINE

My Alaskan Adventure

Bike-Hike-Boat Trip Worth The Wait BY CEIL HELLER

SPORT COMMUNITY

Contribute To SPORT Magazine

Send us your News + Notes, story ideas and Last Shot photographs. www.SportLansing.com

AUGUST 2009 3


Assists

SPORT CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Dennis Preston Ever since his high school days at Lansing Eastern, Dennis has been a freelance illustrator. He specializes in humorous illustration and caricatures, but is capable of other styles. Dennis is also hired as entertainment, drawing caricatures at corporate and private events throughout Michigan. He’s been an instructor at L.C.C. since 1977. You can see samples of Dennis’ art at www.denpreston.com.

The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine

Volume #1 • Issue #11 AUGUST 2009

Publisher NBB Publishing Editor Jack Ebling Assistant Editor Andy Flanagan Editorial assistant Scott Eckersley

Jennifer Orlando A Michigan State senior, Jennifer is excited to be a journalist in the ever-changing world of media. She served on the MSU yearbook and newspaper staffs and currently works for University Relations and with “Ebling and You” on 1320 WILS. Jen is a member of the Student Alumni Foundation and the Italian American Club. She is a Spartan through and through. Naturally, she bleeds green.

Burton Smith A Lansing native, Burton graduated from Princeton University in 1977 and helped the men’s golf team win two Ivy League titles. Golf isn’t even his best sport. A 2007 inductee into the Lansing U.S. Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, Burton has rolled 17 300 games. He and his wife Denyse are the proud parents of Brandon, a prospective MSU Computer Science student.

Ceil Heller Ceil has been a nurse for 39 years and has worked in emergency medicine at Sparrow Hospital for the last 15. An avid cyclist, she has competed several Dalmac events. And she is the new president of the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association. She is also a terrific nature photographer.

Contributing Writers Lisa Byington Brendan Dwyer Jack Ebling Ceil Heller Jennifer Orlando Shannon Shelton Burton Smith Jamie Weir Illustration Dennis Preston PhotographY Detroit Red Wings Al Goldis Ceil Heller Chris Holmes MSU Athletic Communications Terri Shaver Rob Sumbler John Young MAGAZINE Design & LAYOUT Vision Creative Printing Millbrook Printing, Co. Mailer Aldinger’s, Inc.

SPORT, The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine is published monthly by NBB Publishing with offices at 1223 Turner St., Suite 300, Lansing, MI 48906. Postage is paid under USPS Permit #979. Subscriptions: One copy of SPORT, The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine, is mailed complimentary to qualified business addresses in the Greater Lansing metropolitan area. Residential, household, promotional, out-of-area and additional subscriptions are available for $18 per year, half of the shelf price of $3 per issue. Subscribe at: www.SportLansing.com Postmaster: Address changes should be sent to: SPORT Magazine, 1223 Turner St., Suite 300, Lansing, Michigan 48906. 4 AUGUST 2009

Editorial Office 1223 Turner St., Suite 300 Lansing, Michigan 48906 (517) 455-7810 www.SportLansing.com Copyright © 2009 NBB Publishing. All rights reserved.


SPORT EB-SERVATION

Never Too Late To Learn The Score Isn’t Always the Bottom Line

Sports are a great teaching tool. And a golf course can be the world’s biggest classroom. Some of the lessons are unintended. Others are undeniable. But they reach out and grab you when you least expect it. That’s part of the beauty of the game. Mid-Michigan golfers were reminded of that fact a few weeks ago when the Buick Open was held for the final time at Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc. And there was plenty of reason to smile the following day at the Kelley-Perles-Secchia Area 8 Special Olympics Golf Classic at the Country Club of Lansing. They were two events with vastly different histories and budgets, two events with a common theme: Do the right thing. Let’s start with the first of the two Mondays, a Buick qualifying round with a cruel twist of fate that would have driven most players as crazy as John Daly’s pants. For Matt Harmon, the former Michigan State star and Big Ten champion, it was a great opportunity to leave the Hooters Tour for a week and play in front of friends and family. In a perfect world, he would qualify for the Buick, make the 36-hole cut and leave with a paycheck, a boost in confidence and everyone’s respect. To have done that after assessing a two-

stroke penalty on himself and missing the final spot in the field by one stroke was a minor miracle. It was also a reminder that, at least occasionally, good things DO happen to good people. Harmon has always fit that description. When his brother-in-law/caddie Nick Jordan dragged a rake across the edge of a trap while Harmon’s ball was still in another part of the bunker, there was only one thing to do. It didn’t matter if the act was relevant to ball flight. It wasn’t. And it didn’t matter if Harmon saw the mistake. He didn’t. The Rules of Golf are unforgiving. Thus, it didn’t take a PGA ruling to explain what had to happen next. Harmon had to penalize himself – something that never happens in football, baseball, basketball or mixed martial arts. After holing out, Harmon did some simple +2 addition and knew he’d be catching flights to Minnesota and Texas to play in the Onion Creek Classic. He only made it halfway there. Sitting on the tarmac at Minneapolis-St. Paul

International Airport, Harmon got a lastsecond call from Buick Tournament Director Robb Grainger. A late withdrawal had created an opening and posed three questions: Could Harmon exit the plane and fill that spot? Yes. Could he get his clubs back from checked baggage? Not until they’d flown to Austin first. And could he find a caddie? Absolutely. He remembered a guy who made a simple mistake and would never touch a rake the wrong way again. The rest of the week was just as surreal. A 4-under-par 68 in Round 1 gave Harmon a three-shot lead on Tiger Woods. A bogey-free 68 on Friday made him 8-under for 36 holes. And a 70 on Saturday left him just off the leaderboard at -10 with one round to go. The media isn’t supposed to pick favorites or pull for players, regardless of their backgrounds. But when Harmon boarded The Bogey Express on the front nine on Sunday, it was a rotten storyline. Somehow, the pendulum swung just in time. An eagle 2 between two late birdies lifted Harmon back to 7-under and left him tied for 52nd. His check for $11,893 could buy an awful lot of rakes. The following week, Harmon tied for 50th in the Texas Honing Open and earned $1,084. That placed him fourth

Jack Ebling SPORT EDITOR

Jack has covered sports and much more as a writer and broadcaster in Mid-Michigan since 1978. A three-time Michigan Sportswriter of the Year, he was a 2006 inductee into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame. He has written five books–four on Michigan State and one on the Detroit Tigers– and has contributed more than 125 pieces for national publications. The former English teacher and coach spent nearly a quarter-century as a beat writer and columnist for the Lansing State Journal and won 21 major writing awards. He became a sports radio host in 2002 and branched into news talk in 2006. Currently, he hosts “Ebling and You” weekday afternoons and co-hosts “The Jack and Tom Show” Saturday mornings on 1320 WILS in Lansing. A two-time graduate of MSU, he has lived in the area for 36 years and has helped to raise two remarkable young adults. 6 AUGUST 2009

Photography Al goldis

BY JACK EBLING


©2007 A l zhei mer’ s A s s oc i at i on. A ll ri g ht s res er ved.

Perfect Harmony Matt Harmon taught us a tough lesson at Warwick Hills. on the Hooters money list with $57,314. That didn’t count a week in Michigan that was priceless. It was just as much fun to see the smiles at the 22nd Special Olympics outing in Lansing. It was said that the same faces were back from previous years. But that wasn’t quite right. Sons and daughters of longtime volunteer marshals were there to help speed the pace of play. The winners? Try everyone who paid and played in the 67 foursomes, not just the beneficiaries. The scorecards were almost irrelevant. At least, I know ours was. But in a troubled economy, four words were music to the ears – words we never heard in Grand Blanc. As players left the course, the patio or the dining room, they were left with the Special Olympians’ sendoff: “See you next year!” God willing, they will. Like Harmon, they will be grateful for a second chance.

IF YOU’RE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO’S NOT GOING TO SIT ON THE SIDELINES WHEN THERE’S A CHANCE TO CHANGE THE FUTURE, YOU’RE THE PERSON WE NEED. JOIN US FOR MEMORY WALK. AND WALK WITH A PURPOSE TO END ALZHEIMER’S.

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AUGUST 2009 7


GREATER LANSING SPORTS AUTHORITY

Softball Is Hard To Quit Senior Tournament Shows Timeless Passion BY BRENDAN DWYER

With all the youth baseball and softball that comes to Greater Lansing each year, Senior Softball USA conveys images of top high school seniors sharpening their skills for college competition. Instead, we see softball enthusiasts who already collect social security – true seniors, in the purest sense of the word.

you should. You’ll get on the treadmill and lift some weights in the winter because you know you have softball coming up. You don’t want to get out of shape.” As a player and manager for the Pfeiffer Grey Sox, with five Senior Softball national championships and the 2003 world

The last week of August at the Potterville and East Lansing complexes, teams from across the United States will compete in the 2009 Senior Softball Northern Championships, with athletes that range from 50 to 80 years old. Before you say, “There can’t possibly be enough 80-year-old competitive softball players to make a decent-sized tournament,” think again. Mike Price of the Greater Lansing Sports Authority said this year’s tournament will feature nearly 70 teams. And according to seniorsoftball.com, more than 1.5 million men and women over 40 enjoy organized play in the United States. “This is the third national senior softball tournament for the Greater Lansing area and the sixth Senior Softball event we’ve hosted since 2005,” Price said. “The numbers for participation are on the rise. Softball is a lifelong passion for these guys. That shows in the grit and determination they show on the field. Their age is most definitely not a reflection of their intensity to compete and win.” Intensity? Grit?…Really? Are those the right words for some former beer-leaguers who may not know when to quit? Or for guys who can’t wait to get out of the house and talk about old times with the boys? After all, one of the tabs on the news section of the Senior Softball USA website includes an obituaries page. Those notions evaporated quickly with one enlightening phone call. Meet George Stark, 76 years young, from Alto, not far from Grand Rapids. Stark has been an avid member of the senior softball organization for more than 20 years. His words proved that grit and intensity are, in fact, very apt descriptions for the players. They also hinted that a lot more than sharing old war stories will be happening at the upcoming tournament.

championship under his belt, Stark isn’t showing any signs of getting out of shape. That’s especially true when you learn about his other hobby – competitive downhill slalom skiing. Yes, Stark stays busy in the winter months competing in NASTAR skiing events. Last winter, he placed second in the nation for slalom racers 75-and-up at the national championships in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “I know I might be getting old for all this playing, and God bless my wife for putting up with me, but I just wouldn’t have it any other way,” Stark said. “I honestly believe that while I’ve seen my share of accidents and injuries, being involved and staying so active adds years to seniors’ lives, not shortens them. If I stay healthy, I know I’ll play until I’m 80.” We should all be so lucky.

8 AUGUST 2009

Forever Young Players compete at the Senior Softball Eastern National Championships held in

“Young people are always surprised by our ages when they see us play,” Stark said. “I can’t run or throw like I used to. But the fire to play is still inside. I’m in the 75-yearsand-up bracket, and I’ll play in over 40 tournament games this summer, sometimes up to three in one day.” Stark shared that in his 50s he felt overmatched in a local men’s league, so he made the transition to managing teams to stay involved in the game he loved. When he discovered Senior Softball and saw that he could get back to playing against players his own age, it was like a child being let out for recess after a solid month of rainy days. “Playing softball again gave me something to look forward to,” Stark said. “Being part of a team is a real reason to stay in shape and exercise, not just because a doctor says

Photography JOHN YOUNG, GREATER LANSING SPORTS AUTHORITY

Greater Lansing in 2006.


“Abs”-solutely

Goal-Driven MSU’s Favorite Red Wing Keeps Scoring

Photography DETROIT RED WINGS

BY JAMIE WEIR

10 AUGUST 2009


Justin Abdelkader went from being “one of the kids” in the Red Wings system to a hot sports story overnight. With big goals in each of the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, he scored more points through the first three games of that round than Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined. Hockey fans across the country were learning some things about Abdelkader that Michigan State fans knew all along – that the longtime Wings fan-turned-phenom can score big goals. As Abdelkader continues to rise in the ranks as a Red Wings prospect, there is much more – both on and off the ice – to his story. While pursuing a promising NHL career, his work in the Michigan State community will make him not only a fan favorite, but a role model for young athletes. Abdelkader sees East Lansing as a second home – a safe haven where he can be himself and where people ask how his classes are going or if he wants to squeeze in nine holes that afternoon. It’s a place he still is excited to be. And his summer residence is the same one that he shared with teammates his final season at MSU. Even his nickname is different. While Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and his teammates call him “Abby,” he’s “Abs” to those who know him best in East Lansing. Those longtime friends know Abdelkader is the same guy he was before he began his ascent as a pro. A summer Wednesday afternoon finds him grabbing some lunch with former teammates and hockey staffers to discuss plans for an upcoming event during MSU’s Pro Camp. It’s a Shoot for a Cure promotion benefitting children with cancer. The lunch could have been the week after the Stanley Cup Finals, the week after he scored the winning goal in the 2006 NCAA Championship or any random day during his time as a student-athlete. For the Spartan hockey family, there is tremendous pride and excitement in his accomplishments. There is just as much comfort in knowing success won’t change a person who is so special to the East Lansing community. “During the Wings playoff run, if I was at home in Livonia, he’d call to just hang out,” said Jeff Lerg, Abdelkader’s former teammate and close friend. “He’s the same guy now as when he played at Michigan State. He has done a lot of winning and had a lot of personal success. But it has never changed who he is as a person.” Green Red Wing Ex-Spartan Justin Abdelkader faced a challenge and starred in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

AUGUST 2009 11


Abdelkader became an instant ESPN highlight and media darling with his pair of third-period tallies early in the Cup Finals. Not bad for a guy who played exactly four regular-season NHL games prior to this year’s playoffs. He spent the 2008-09 season – his first as a pro – with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, where he was the team’s secondleading scorer (24-28-52). Not surprisingly, he led the team with six playoff goals before

injuries among the Wings regulars, he played in nine games for the big club – more than twice his regular-season total since leaving MSU in the spring of 2008. Abdelkader’s story reflects a charmed life. Named Michigan’s Mr. Hockey after his junior season at Muskegon-Mona Shores in 2004, he headed to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a year in the United States Hockey League. Abdelkader helped the Rough Riders to

National Championship Hero Justin Abdelkader will long be remembered for his game-winning goal against Boston College to give MSU its third NCAA hockey title. being eliminated by the Manitoba Moose. The Muskegon native was a fan favorite in Grand Rapids because of his local ties and his spirited play. In fact, fan giveaways last season included both a Justin Abdelkader bobblehead and a metal lunch box that bears his photo. Once the season was over in Grand Rapids, he got the call to join the Wings in their second-round series. Abdelkader might have figured he would be a part of the “Black Aces” practice group for the second straight post-season. Instead, due to mounting 12 AUGUST 2009

a Clark Cup Championship and made his choice to play college hockey at MSU. A top recruit, he was picked 42nd overall in the second round of the 2005 NHL entry draft. After an injury-riddled start to the 2005-06 season, the Spartans went on a 17-2-4 tear in the second half and captured the CCHA Tournament title that spring. In January, he accepted an invitation from USA Hockey to compete at the IIHF World Junior Championships, where he helped the Americans earn a bronze medal. Three months later, Abdelkader scored one of the

biggest goals in MSU history – a tally with 18.9 seconds left to beat Boston College in the National Championship game. While his last season at MSU did not produce any team trophies, the Spartans did compile a 25-12-5 record and returned to the NCAA Regional Finals. A better measure of Abdelkader’s impact was the recognition on his off-ice accomplishments. He was the 2008 winner of the CCHA’s Mike and Marian Ilitch Humanitarian Award, which honors a conference player’s involvement in his community. Abdelkader did his share of team and individual events at MSU: Teams for Toys, DARE graduations, American Heart Walk, Jump Start Your Heart, and Project Read at local elementary schools to name a few. But he left an indelible mark by expanding on an initiative started by a former teammate. East Lansing native and current Anaheim Duck Drew Miller began the Spartan Buddies program in 2005, encouraging fellow MSU athletes to visit the pediatric ward at Sparrow Hospital. The hockey team took on this cause wholeheartedly, forging relationships with several patients throughout their visits. Moved in particular by a growing friendship with a local cancer patient and lifelong Spartan fan, Brandon Gordon of DeWitt, Abdelkader created Shoot for a Cure, which raised money for children’s cancer charities and helped relationships flourish with young patients. “Starting Shoot for a Cure seemed like a great way to build on the program that Drew started,” Abdelkader said. “I’ve loved being around kids as long as I can remember, and visiting the hospital with Spartan Buddies was a great experience for me. Bringing a smile to a kid’s face – even if it only allows them to escape from their medical situation for a few minutes – is incredibly rewarding. “Brandon, though, was a pretty special case. He was a hockey player and a lot like all of us on the team not too long ago. His dream was to play at MSU, and he idolized NHL players. He became a part of our team. As we got closer to him, we saw what he and his family went through. It made us want to do more.” Shoot for a Cure began with the help of Director of Student-Athlete Development Angela Howard in January 2006. The team raised $5,000 in the final three months of the hockey season. With a goal to double the financial success in 2008-09, a series of silent auctions were held at home hockey games. Approximately 20 pro players, all former Spartans, made contributions of memorabilia and photographs.

Photography MSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

“Abs”-solutely Goal-Driven


“This program is so unique in the bonds that current and former players have and their attachment to the Michigan State community,” Abdelkader said. “Shoot for a Cure was just another way they stayed connected and involved. We’re working on another event to raise money during our Pro Camp in August. And no one ever says no. It’s something that most guys did when they were here, so it’s pretty natural to help out when we come back.” During the 2008-09 season, Shoot for a Cure raised an additional $15,000, tripling the first-year effort and pushing the total to $20,000 in 15 months. While the initiative was raising money and awareness for the plight of those afflicted, Abdelkader’s friendship with Brandon continued to grow. Brandon often called Abdelkader and Lerg on game days for a “pre-game pep talk.” They spoke about the players’ successes, the schedule ahead and dangerous opponents. Brandon’s dream of dressing for another game came true when he served as a back-up goaltender for his DeWitt/St. John’s high school team on Feb. 14. One week later, the teenager took a sudden turn for the worse and lost a courageous twoyear battle with osteosarcoma. The MSU hockey team took part in his funeral services at Munn Ice Arena, with Abdelkader and Lerg serving as casketbearers for their young fan and friend. Abdelkader’s influence and friendship with the Gordon family is a special one, even with Brandon’s passing. A journal entry on Brandon’s CaringBridge site after the Stanley Cup Finals began is a perfect illustration. His mother and No. 1 fan, Julie Gordon, wrote: I thought about how much this means to Brandon to have the Red Wings in the fight for the Cup again, especially with Justin playing.  Saturday morning I decided to text Justin for Brandon’s pre-game pep talk. I

Friends Forever Justin Abdelkader and his close friend, the late Brandon Gordon, share a moment on the bench and capture another memory for a lasting relationship.

wrote “good luck tonight, and remember B.G. is always with you… hugs, Julie & Marissa”.  He texted me back that he writes B.G. on his stick before every game and knows he is with him.  I replied “for sure”.  When Abs scored his first play-off goal Saturday night it’s safe to say that I was incredibly excited!  I was so happy for him…I actually felt like I did when Brandon scored a goal…I felt kinda like a hockey Mom again!  Without a doubt Brandon is extremely proud of Justin, as we all are.  Today I got a chance to talk to Justin on the phone.  I thanked him for the goals, for keeping Brandon with him, and for helping me to turn a

very difficult day emotionally into one of the best nights that I have had in months. As a Red Wing and as a Michigan native, there is no doubt that Abdelkader will have legions of fans to root on his burgeoning successes as a professional hockey player. There’s also no doubt that he helped foster more fans in the Mid-Michigan area through his selfless contributions to his community and still touches the lives of those around MSU with his generosity and spirit. But to those closest to him, he’s just “Abs”. And if you’re free, he just might be up for squeezing in nine later this afternoon.

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Hatfields & McCoys DeWitt-Haslett Tops Area Rivalries BY JACK EBLING

In many ways, they’re mirror images – in both communities, an idea that mandates a heavy spray of glass cleaner. DeWitt Panthers and Haslett Vikings don’t agree on what day it is. The closest they come to a consensus is that it probably ends in “d-a-y.” And for Haslett, the “d” requires an assurance that it isn’t a subtle reference to DeWitt. That’s just one of the reasons that DeWitt-Haslett – OK, Haslett-DeWitt, if it makes you feel better – is No. 1 on SPORT’s list of the greatest rivalries in Greater Lansing. And who better to talk about that than Haslett High Principal Bart Wegenke, whose nephew, Brandon, just happens to be a quarterback and top tackler for DeWitt. “Brandon is already geared up for this year,” his uncle said. “Last year, he had 21 tackles and an interception against us. And when I went to congratulate him after the game, he really got me. He said, ‘By the way, thanks for having me and two friends come to the Haslett Football Camp before ninth grade. Having run those plays made all the difference.’” Ouch. Of course, Panther backers say it wouldn’t take long to learn the Vikings’ one-page playbook. Haslett supporters often respond by saying that would be a senior term paper for “DeWittiots.” Panthers answer that their term for the Vikings’ valedictorian is “Veteran Pizza Delivery Guy.” And so it goes. 14 AUGUST 2009

“I don’t know why that is. It’s not like we’ve had any big bar brawls,” said DeWitt’s Don Jefferson, a morning DJ on WITL and the father of proud Panthers Brooke and Lauren. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I like a lot of people from Haslett. That’s not the thing to do in DeWitt.” That feeling is mutual – or was when well-meaning people from both districts gathered for a “Pass It Forward” party in early August at Impression 5. The idea was to perform random acts of kindness, then ask that those recipients help others. But to help an arch rival?…Anyone have another idea? “With I-69, the communities are so close,” said Megan Kavanagh, who grew up in Meridian Township, graduated from Haslett High in 1978 and currently earns a paycheck in DeWitt. “It’s the worst in football season. We always hear, ‘We’re going to cream you guys!’ Sometimes they do. DeWitt people always think they’re one step ahead of us. They used to think we were country bumpkins. But when we beat them, we were strong bumpkins!” Strong of mind, strong of body and strongest in the belief that their school and their community is the best, with a passion we

might see if Michigan State and Michigan were located just a few miles apart. “Once a Viking, always a Viking,” said 16-year-old Breana Carter, a Haslett junior and a member of the competitive cheer and track teams. “I think it’s a real good rivalry. You have to beat the best to be the best. They’ve been good a long time in DeWitt. And so have we…But would I have friends there? Definitely not!” Some people don’t have that prerogative. That means it takes ground rules – better ones than Bart and twin brother Bret, a DeWitt-based corporate vice president and a fellow college basketball official, imposed. “Five years ago, when I was hired at Haslett, we agreed to put the competition aside and limit communication that week,” Bart said. “That was fine and dandy for a year. As soon as Brandon started playing freshman football, I kept hearing how bad they were going to beat us. Of course, I had to defend my school. And everything was out the window.” The key in a longtime educator’s eyes has been the sustained excellence of both programs, especially with the influence of rival head coaches Rob Zimmerman of the Panthers and Charlie Otlewski of the Vikings, who have more in common than they publicly acknowledge. “The two coaches play a huge part in this


rivalry,” Wegenke said. “Both want to win so much. Both do an outstanding job. And both get kids to buy in, parents to buy in and the community to buy in. It ripples out from there. It wasn’t this kind of rivalry till Rob and Charlie got here. They’ll never say it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they wind up back on the same river, fly fishing again, when they’re retired.” Retired? Not until they reel off another long string of wins over those other guys in blue and gold, those imposters from… (select one) DeWitt/Haslett. That’s why DeWitt players pass a “Beat Haslett” sign every day and dream of making their scoreboard spit fire against the Vikings. It’s why Haslett has located an old touchdown bell that does everything but play the Panthers’ fight song in a minor key. “I don’t care what the records are, we’ll always get 5,000 people for that game,” Wegenke said. “And we spend more time talking about sportsmanship that week than any other. For administrators, that week is work! I see less of that game than any other.” When your nephew has 21 tackles and a pick to beat you, seeing less of the game can be a good thing.

Four More Matchups To Savor

Fowler vs. Pewamo-Westphalia

Grand Ledge vs. Holt

Eastern vs. Everett

East Lansing vs. Okemos

Fans circle the field to watch cousins collide and communities draw pride in neighboring farm areas. If you’re an Eagle or a Pirate, it’s like the Army-Navy game. There’s P-W vs. Fowler, then the rest of the schedule. Germans haven’t been this divided since the Berlin Wall disappeared.

With apologies to Sexton, which could make a case with either of these schools, the Quakers and Vikings have something no rivalry can match – Jay vs. Earvin for the three best years in Mid-Michigan prep history. Now, the Everett football staff knows every note of the Eastern fight song.

This one goes waaay back a couple of conferences ago. Though several schools see the Comets as their No. 1 rival and jealous districts complain about the Taj Ma-Holt, where else would an “H” be burned into the ground behind a baseball juggernaut’s home plate? Recent state titles haven’t hurt.

With similar demographics and income levels, this rivalry is about more than cars and clothes. Some recent transfers have sparked old feuds. And when you talk about sports other than football and boys basketball, this series is No. 1. Even the girls basketball teams trash talk. Tennis, anyone?

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PO Box 69

Walhalla, MI 49458

AUGUST 2009 15


2009 MID-MICHIG School

Friday, Aug. 28

Thursday, Sept. 3

Friday, Sept. 11

Friday, Sept. 18

CAAC BLUE East Lansing Trojans Grand Ledge Comets Holt Rams Jackson Vikings Lansing Eastern Quakers Lansing Everett Vikings Okemos Chieftains

Highland Park

at Grand Ledge

at Lansing Sexton

East Lansing

Lansing Waverly

Lansing Eastern

at Grand Ledge

Mason

Haslett

at Jackson

Holt

at Lansing Everett

Grandville

Lansing Everett

Okemos

at Lansing Eastern

Lansing Sexton

at Rockford

at East Lansing

Jackson

at Holland West Ottawa

East Lansing

Lansing Eastern

at Holt

at Cedar Springs

at Okemos

Jackson

Grand Ledge

CAAC GOLD Charlotte Orioles DeWitt Panthers Eaton Rapids Greyhounds Fowlerville Gladiators Haslett Vikings Ionia Bulldogs

at St. Johns

Perry

at Eaton Rapids

Fowlerville

Flushing

Portland

at Haslett

Eaton Rapids

Williamston

Lake Odessa Lakewood

Charlotte

at DeWitt

Capac

Lansing Catholic

Ionia

at Charlotte

at East Lansing

Corunna

DeWitt

at Ionia

GR Forest Hills Northern

Williamston

at Fowlerville

Haslett

CAAC RED Jackson Northwest Mounties Lansing Sexton Big Reds Lansing Waverly Warriors Mason Bulldogs Owosso Trojans St. Johns Redwings

at Lansing Catholic

St. Johns

Owosso

at Belleville

at Holt

at Lansing Waverly

Lansing Everett

St. Johns

at Okemos

Lansing Sexton

at Mason

Owosso

at Ypsilanti Lincoln

at Owosso

Lansing Waverly

at Okemos

Corunna

Mason

at Jackson Northwest

at Lansing Waverly

Charlotte

at Jackson Northwest

Mt Pleasant

at Lansing Sexton

CAAC WHITE Corunna Cavaliers Lake Odessa Lakewood Vikings Lansing Catholic Cougars

at Owosso

at Haslett

at Lansing Catholic

Perry

at Hastings

at Eaton Rapids

at Portland

Lansing Catholic

Jackson Northwest

at Fowlerville

Corunna

at Lake Odessa Lakewood

Perry Ramblers

Whitmore Lake

at Charlotte

at Williamston

at Corunna

Portland Raiders

Ovid-Elsie

at DeWitt

Lake Odessa Lakewood

Williamston

Williamston Hornets

at Eaton Rapids

at Ionia

Perry

at Portland

CMAC Bath Fighting Bees Carson City-Crystal Eagles Dansville Aggies Fowler Eagles Fulton Pirates Laingsburg Wolfpack Pewamo-Westphalia Pirates Portland St. Patrick Shamrocks Potterville Vikings Saranac Redskins

Saranac*

Portland St. Patrick**

at Dansville

Carson City-Crystal

Potterville

at Pewamo-Westphalia

Fulton

at Bath

Pewamo-Westphalia

at Fulton

Bath

at Portland St. Patrick%

at Laingsburg

at Saranac

Potterville

at Pewamo-Westphalia

at Portland St. Patrick#

Dansville

at Carson City-Crystal

Laingsburg

Fowler

at Potterville

Pewamo-Westphalia

at Fulton

at Dansville

Carson City-Crystal

at Laingsburg

Fowler

Fulton#

at Bath**

Saranac!

Dansville%

at Carson City-Crystal

Laingsburg

at Fowler

at Saranac

at Bath*

Fowler

at Portland St. Patrick!

Potterville

All home games are bold

* Game Played 8/27

2009 MID-MICHIGAN PREP FOOTBALL SCHEDULES

# Game Played 8/29

** Game Played 9/4

! Game Pla


GAN PREP FOOTBALL SCHEDULES Friday, Sept. 25

Friday, Oct. 2

Friday, Oct. 9

Friday, Oct. 16

Friday, Oct. 23

Okemos

at Grand Ledge

St. Johns

Lansing Eastern

at Owosso

at Lansing Waverly

East Lansing

at Jackson

at Holt

at Howell

at Lansing Eastern

Lansing Everett

at Okemos

Grand Ledge

Davison

at Lansing Everett

Okemos

Grand Ledge

Jackson Northwest

Waterford Mott

Holt

Owosso

at Lansing Everett

at East Lansing

at Lansing Sexton

Jackson

at Holt

Lansing Eastern

at Okemos

at Lansing Waverly

at East Lansing

at Jackson

Holt

Lansing Everett

at Haslett

DeWitt

at Ionia

at Haslett

at Corunna

Tecumseh

at Charlotte

Fowlerville

at Ionia

at Lake Odessa Lakewood

St. Johns

Ionia

Haslett

at Fowlerville

at Portland

at Mason

Haslett

at DeWitt

Eaton Rapids

at Perry

at Corunna

at Fowlerville

at Eaton Rapids

Charlotte

at Williamston

Okemos

at Eaton Rapids

Charlotte

DeWitt

at Lansing Catholic

at Lake Odessa Lakewood

Lansing Sexton

at Mason

Lansing Waverly

at Jackson

Parma Western

at Jackson Northwest

at Flushing

at Owosso

Mason

Lansing Eastern

Grand Ledge

at St. Johns

at Jackson Northwest

Flushing

Lansing Everett

at St. Johns

Jackson Northwest

Saginaw Buena Vista

at Lansing Sexton

Eaton Rapids

Flint Northwestern

at Lansing Eastern

Lansing Sexton

at St. Johns

East Lansing

Mason

Lansing Waverly

at East Lansing

Owosso

at DeWitt

Lake Odessa Lakewood

at Williamston

at Portland

Charlotte

Fowlerville

at Corunna

Perry

Williamston

DeWitt

Ionia

at Williamston

Portland

at Perry

Ionia

Albion

Portland

at Lake Odessa Lakewood

Lansing Catholic

Fowlerville

at Ovid-Elsie

at Perry

at Lansing Catholic

Corunna

Eaton Rapids

at Armada

Lansing Catholic

Corunna

at Lake Odessa Lakewood

Haslett

Chesaning

at Laingsburg

Fowler

at Potterville

Pewamo-Westphalia

at Fulton

Portland St. Patrick

at Dansville

Saranac

Laingsburg

at Fowler

Saranac

Carson City-Crystal

at Laingsburg

Fowler

at Potterville

Fulton

at Bath

Portland St. Patrick

at Dansville

Carson City-Crystal

at Fowler

Potterville

at Pewamo-Westphalia

at Saranac

Bath

Bath

at Portland St. Patrick

Dansville

at Carson City-Crystal

at Saranac

at Potterville

at Saranac

Fulton

at Bath

Portland St. Patrick

at Carson City-Crystal

Laingsburg

at Fowler

Potterville

at Pewamo-Westphalia

Pewamo-Westphalia

at Fulton

Bath

at Portland St. Patrick

Dansville

at Dansville

Pewamo-Westphalia

at Carson City-Crystal

Fulton

Laingsburg

ayed 9/12

% Game Played 9/19

www.SportLansing.com


This is a special excerpt from the AUGUST 2009 issue of

The Only Way He Knows Zimmerman, DeWitt Show What SISU Can Do BY LISA BYINGTON

On an early July morning, a side door at DeWitt High School is cracked open. The noise is deafening. Inside, the music blares, weights clang, and 36 high school football players do their best stone-age impressions. Grunting. Yelling. You can’t hear yourself think. Pacing around the middle of the room is their head coach. His blonde hair is soaked down the back of his neck. But he’s not working out. All he’s doing is encouraging. “More intensity!” Rob Zimmerman screams. “Let’s go!“ That is the only way he knows. Zimmerman, 43, grew up on 27 acres in Perry. His father, Bob, worked without a college degree for 40 plus years at the General Motors forge plant in Lansing. His mother,

he would challenge me all the time.” “He would always tell me, ‘You need to have SISU.’” SISU. The word is typed in black on a piece of white paper, taped on the wall of the DeWitt weight room. Paul Jorgensen, arguably the state’s top offensive lineman, works out in a dark blue DeWitt football t-shirt. In the middle, in gold lettering, is “SISU”. “We’re gonna continue to use that term and try to tie it in with what we’re doing,” Zimmerman said. “This group is a pretty special group, and I thought it was fitting for these guys. I’ve never thought about using it before.”

“Being tough. That’s what SISU means to me.” - Rob Zimmerman

Lorraine or “Liz”, grew up in a “100-percent” Finnish family of nine in the Upper Peninsula. Everyone up there seemed to work in the mining or timber business. “One of my uncles had a camp in the middle of nowhere,” Zimmerman said. “He used to do pull-ups on just this piece of wood. It just seemed like he would do 10,000 of them. He was super strong and very athletic, and

SISU is a Finnish word, with no direct English translation. But the typed definition on the paper talks about character, hard work, and intestinal fortitude. “Being tough. That’s what SISU means to me,” Zimmerman said while remembering his Finnish relatives drilling home the point during vacations to the U.P. “I used to go up there when I was 5 years

old. Out in woods they’d say, ‘Hey, go do this! If I whined or cried…I would hear that.’” “In Marquette you can buy mugs that say SISU on it,” Rob’s father, Bob Zimmerman, said. “It comes from inside of you.” Inside of Rob Zimmerman is a competitor, a puzzle solver and a burning desire to correct a wrong, even if it takes a little help. “I remember the first time we became friends,” said Rich Lackey, a former Bath Bee, describing a track meet between Bath and Perry. “I was beating him (in the discus) when I told him he needed to slow down. He did. Then, he had a great throw and beat me. I don’t think I ever beat him again.” The two have been friends ever since. Their friendship has remained strong since they were high school rivals and roommates for five years in college. These days, Lackey is a district sales manager and lives on the west side of the state. Still, they find time in the summer to travel to the U.P. on fishing excursions, places Zimmerman jokes no woman would ever want to go. “He’s patient, and he’s competitive,” Lackey said of Zimmerman the fisherman. “We compete on who gets the first, the biggest and the most. And he usually wins.” Fishing is something Zimmerman learned at a young age from his father. The 11thyear DeWitt head coach admits golf would bore him. That’s why he says you’ll never see him in a boat, always a river, and preferably catching brook trout.


Photography ROB SUMBLER

The Only Way He Knows

SISU Strong Zimmerman’s teams can finish the decade with 100 victories, capping a dramatic turnaround.

“I like the competition,” he said. “I like to figure out the river.” Figuring it out and wrapping words around our biggest regrets isn’t easy to do. In fact, he doesn’t talk about it much. “I had always wanted to play (at Central Michigan),” Zimmerman said. “That was the school I really liked.” He liked it so much he transferred from Northwood University after one year of football on a 50-percent scholarship. He would try to walk on at CMU. “I think at the time they had 150 guys that tried out, and they kept maybe 35 of them,” Zimmerman said. “I was one of those guys. Of the 35, they only kept three or four (for the fall), and I was fortunate to be one of those.” Zimmerman shifted his position in his chair and his glance to the wall. “You’re the meat squad,” he said. “You have to do something to try and catch a coach’s eye.” He did. “He wanted that challenge,” Bob Zimmerman said. “He played with a broken finger, and he wouldn’t let the doctors put a cast on.” Herb Deromedi and his staff liked what they saw in the outside linebacker. And going into his second year as a Chippewa, Zimmerman made the travel team. But he knew he’d be traveling to watch games from the sideline.

“There was somebody who was younger and better than me, and I knew there was no way I was gonna play over him,” Zimmerman said. “I decided it was an awful lot of work for never getting to see the field.” After thinking it over, Zimmerman quit the team midway through his second season. “That was probably one of the decisions I regret the most,” he said, pausing for a split second. “I wish I would’ve stuck with that.” Though Zimmerman spent a season in England and about nine years with a MidMichigan semi-pro team, his playing dream died in Mount Pleasant. A coaching dream was born a few miles away. “The first time I knew Rob wanted to be a coach was when he went to Shepherd,” Lackey said. Zimmerman worked on Shepherd’s staff, under Gene Hackney, during his junior and senior years in college. His first year, he worked with the freshman and junior varsity. His second year, he became an assistant with the varsity. The coaching bug was planted. “There’s no question, they impacted my decision to want to coach down the road,” Zimmerman said. He finished with a business degree but had developed an eye for teaching and coaching. After graduation, he turned down a $60,000 offer from a cell phone company to

go back to school, earn his teaching degree and pursue his new dream. Growing up in Perry, Zimmerman was responsible for splitting wood, digging holes for fence posts and bailing hay. His father would always use the simplest of tasks as teaching tools. “Every day is a school session,” the elder Zimmerman would say. His son, the coach who took DeWitt to three straight state finals appearances, took a grueling pop quiz every day at Cedar Springs, his first head coaching stop. “I made the transition when I became a head coach to calling the offense, because I had always been a defensive guy,” Zimmerman said, smiling at how he learned on the job. “I didn’t have the knowledge from an X’s and O’s point.” His first year in charge, Zimmerman’s Cedar Springs team ran the Wing T, because that was all he knew. A year later, he switched to the veer offense. After three seasons, Cedar Springs was just 7-20. “That probably motivated me more than anything,” Zimmerman said. Perry and DeWitt are about 20 miles apart. But the Panther program had always been in the back of Zimmerman’s mind. “Having grown up around here, I knew they had good athletes, the community was growing, and they’d built a new school,” he said.


“It was the most enticing job in this area, the only one I would’ve come back for.” In May of 1999, Zimmerman walked into the office of DeWitt’s Teri Reyburn, the soon-to-be-named the athletic director. He handed her a “program book” and said DeWitt was one of a few communities where he wanted to coach. “He walked in cold,” she said laughing at the surprise visit. “I was looking at (the program book) and going ‘Wow!’ I wish I still had it. It was an incredible portrait of him as a coach and what he expected in a program…off-season planning, offenses and defenses, community service projects. It was kind of his roadmap.” Reyburn didn’t think she would never get a chance to hire Zimmerman any time soon. But when longtime head coach Gail Thornton unexpectedly announced he would be moving up north with his wife, Reyburn had her chance. “Rob was my first hire,” she said. “There was no way in our minds the varsity football position would open for a few years. Then, ‘Boom!’ Life takes its twists and turns.” In June of 1999, DeWitt had a new social studies teacher and football coach. A head coach who had only won seven games in his career. A decade later, the program book is now a program at DeWitt. The lessons Zimmerman has taught his players have lasted. He gets letters from old players, even some from Cedar Springs “all the time,” his father said. Within the past decade, the Panthers have won six league titles, five districts and regionals, made it to the state semifinals five times and reached three finals. They are 10 wins away from 100 for the decade. Recently named as a head coach for the 2010 East-West all-star game, Zimmerman said he has worked harder this off-season than ever before. He has traveled to three college campuses

Leading By Example Zimmerman sweats with his players and makes Fridays fun. to learn schemes and talk with coaches. And he has made two trips to the University of Florida for a total of nine days. But he beams when he talks about the off-season his players have had. “I think you can gauge where your team’s gonna be by the effort you get from kids,” Zimmerman said of a team with 18 returning starters, not counting three top running backs who sat out last year with injuries. “They’re doing everything I could ask of them right now. They have met all our expectations.”

When the players shift from the weight room to the wrestling room, they do a series of pushups and sit-ups carrying 45-pound plates. They scream and yell and push until their head coach says they can stop. Puddles of sweat on the mat are all that remain. The head coach stands in the middle of the room. It’s pointed out that he has lost his voice. With sweat trickling down his neck, he smiles and says, “That’s a good thing.”

SPORT Visit www.SportLansing.com or call (517) 455-7810 to subscribe.


Preparation & Celebration Otlewski, Haslett Know Success Is A Journey BY SHANNON SHELTON

Jay Lyon had visions of Camp Tapico as a tranquil place where he and his fellow Haslett Vikings would spend a week enjoying the outdoors while easing into football season. Not quite. Head coach Charlie Otlewski didn’t plan for it to be a vacation. “I was kind of looking forward to being with my friends,” said Lyon, a senior defensive lineman. “But it was tough. It was grueling. That was the sorest I’ve ever been.” At least Lyon knew what he’d experience when he made his return visit in 2009. Offensive lineman Eric Vering, a sophomore in his first year with the varsity, could only imagine, based on the stories he’d heard. “Well, I guess I’m looking forward to it,” Vering said a few days before the team’s departure. Since 1994, the year Otlewski arrived at Haslett, the Vikings have kicked off preseason practice with a trip to a Northern

Michigan Boy Scout camp, save for a threeyear period from 2004-06 when scheduling conflicts forced the Vikings to stay closer to home and camp at Michigan State. Chad Stripling was one of the few to miss out on the Northern Michigan experience. Now a sophomore offensive lineman at Alma College, Stripling played for Haslett when the Vikings worked at MSU. “Everyone I talk to says that they came back as a team more than anything,” Stripling said, almost regretful that he never had the chance to fight off insects, go through three-a-day practices and sleep in makeshift cabins under the stars. Otlewski, 43, jokingly compares the experience to “The Junction Boys,” the book and movie about legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s preseason training camp in the sweltering Texas Hill Country when he took over at Texas A&M in 1954. With Camp Tapico, located just south of Kalkaska, there’s one exception. “Unlike the movie, there’s no one going and getting bus tickets,” Otlewski said. “There’s no bus to take.” The only buses are the ones the team has chartered, and they aren’t going anywhere until Thursday afternoon. A handful of players have called their parents and asked to be rescued. But most have stuck around – and returned the next year. A native of Cheboygan, Otlewski played Charlie In Charge Otlewski pushes his players to be all they can be.

22 AUGUST 2009

high school ball from 1980-83 for legendary coach Irv Sigler, who opened preseason practice by taking his players to a camp near Traverse City each year. Otlewski took Haslett’s players there until 2004, then moved to Tapico in 2007. It’s one of the traditions he thought would benefit his program and provide players from a much larger area like Meridian Township with an experience they might not have. “It’s a unique thing,” Otlewski said. “It’s hard to describe what it’s like because you get them away, and the coaches get to know the players better. The players get to know each other better.” Nothing bonds a football team like filling holes in the ground with kerosene to kill bees that might sting players and coaches during practice. Or sleeping in dwellings he calls “tree houses,” with decking material connecting the cabins. This year, a practice area has been added for the few football teams that use the facility for preseason camp. In past years, practices took place in a general open area on the 3,000-acre property. “I grew up Up North, I like the outdoors, and I like to get our kids away from – cement,” Otlewski said. “There’s not a lot of cement out there. It’s kind of a throwback place. You hope that whatever you accomplish there, you try to carry it over. Sometimes teams have. Some teams haven’t. But I think we’re always further ahead chemistry-wise.” Otlewski’s 139-54 record in 14 seasons at Haslett shows there might be something to his theory. He’s never had a losing season as the Vikings’ coach. “We’re going to be young,” he said of his team’s 2009 prospects. “We only have 15 seniors coming back. But we have a very


talented group of underclassmen, so I think we’ll be very good.” Ionia, Charlotte and Fowlerville should also be in the mix in the CAAC Gold Division. But any discussion of titles begins with Haslett’s longtime rival, DeWitt. “It always seems to come down to the two of us,” Otlewski said. Before coming to Haslett, Otlewski played college ball at Adrian from 1984-88, then worked as a graduate assistant at Central Michigan. His first head coaching job was at St. Ignace, the hated foe of his old high school. “It’s kind of like Haslett-DeWitt – a heated rivalry,” he said. “I was the traitor.” Although he was living close to home, Otlewski knew it would always be difficult for St. Ignace, a school of about 300 students, to be successful against schools like Gaylord, Petoskey and Sault Ste Marie, Northern Michigan’s larger programs. He decided to seek a new challenge. His wife, Wendy, was an MSU graduate. During his past visits to mid-Michigan, Otlewski

remembered that there was a high school “by the mall,” not far from the MSU campus. “That’s all I knew,” he said. “Then, a guy I went to high school with – his dad was my coach – had just finished being a grad assistant for Lloyd Carr at Michigan. We talked about it. He gave me the idea of applying. And that’s all it took.” Although the Haslett job would become Otlewski’s dream gig, the initial move was difficult. He and Wendy were living just 20 miles from where they grew up and had just had their first child, Breyanna. She was 2 months old. “I wasn’t very popular with my mother-inlaw,” he said, laughing. “It took me 15 years.” In those 15 years, the Otlewskis have added two more members to their family – daughter Mariah, a seventh-grader, and son Nathan, a fourth-grader. Breyanna is now 15, a sophomore at Haslett. And her dad has become quite popular in his adopted hometown. Otlewski’s competitive nature and drive to bring out the best in his players has transformed Haslett into one of the state’s top

programs. In addition to his football duties, he teaches history and weight training and has coached boys and girls track the past four seasons. “There’s pressure playing here, but I think it’s a good pressure,” Otlewski said. “Fifteen years ago, there wasn’t any pressure. We didn’t win very often, so our kids didn’t expect to win. Now, our community expects our kids to be successful. “It’s like anything. If (MSU coach Mark) Dantonio gets to Year 15, people are going to expect, ‘We’re supposed to win the Big Ten, supposed to do this, supposed to do that.’ It doesn’t always work that way. But I’d much rather have it where there’s expectation and pressure than none at all.” The Haslett players expect that Otlewski will push them to reach their full potential. “He does not like to lose,” Stripling said, emphasizing the word “not.” One of Stripling’s most vivid memories came in 2007, when Haslett played an undefeated DeWitt team and lost 41-18.

AUGUST 2009 23


Photography ROB SUMBLER

Preparation & Celebration

Riding To Victory Otlewski’s Vikings carry the lessons of football camp with them on Friday nights. Otlewski was not amused. Not only was the margin of defeat embarrassing, the Vikings had lost to their hated rivals. He channeled that energy into getting his players ready for the playoffs, where they would once again face the Panthers. “Coach O” focused on lifting his players’ spirits, while acknowledging how poorly they had played. He noted that they were still going to postseason play and that they needed to make what could be their last game one of their best efforts. “Although he was mad, he got us very fired up,” Stripling said. The Vikings didn’t beat DeWitt in that rematch. But the result was much closer – 14-10. As one of seven children, Otlewski said he learned if there was something that he wanted, he would have to compete with others for it. Card games with his grandmother, father and uncle became strategic battles. The idea of playing for “fun” was a concept he just couldn’t grasp. Even on a coaches retreat, which he’ll also hold in Northern Michigan, or a fly-fishing trip to Alaska with a few coaches and family members, he’ll find a way to turn a friendly outing into a competition. “I hate getting outfished,” he said. “I have a group of coaches that I flyfish with a lot. And when we go to Alaska, every day is competitive. We were catching tons of fish. But I didn’t want to get outfished.” 24 AUGUST 2009

The Vikings see that competitive nature daily during the season. Newcomers get their first glimpse during their August trip to Northern Michigan. A typical day has players waking up at 6:15 a.m. and beginning practice at 7. The first session lasts until 10 a.m. After a four-hour break, the Vikings go at it again from 2-5 p.m. A final practice takes place for

how much talent you have,” Otlewski said. “I think chemistry is a huge factor. How well they play for each other is more important than what their 40 time is or how big they are or which colleges are recruiting or not recruiting them. I think that’s way overblown in today’s high school athletics.” When the players leave – both the camp and Haslett High in general – they might

“It’ll be the best food that they’ll eat in four-and-a-half days, but it’ll be the hardest that they’ve worked.” - Charlie Otlewski

an hour, usually from 7-8 p.m. The latter practice usually consists of a team-building exercise, such as a ropes course or an archery competition. When the players are back home during the preseason, the final practice period might involve watching a movie – usually with a football theme. Haslett football is known for its ground-bound approach and execution. While some have called it “football in a phone booth,” there is plenty of deception. And when a master like former quarterback Nathan Turner is handing off or faking and keeping, the Vikings can be an announcer’s nightmare. “At least at our level, it’s not always about

look back and curse the second they stepped onto the bus to visit Camp Tapico. Then, they’ll remember the fun times they spent with their teammates, the good food that Otlewski’s wife and mother prepared for the teams and the winning records at the end of the year. “It’ll be the best food that they’ll eat in four-and-a-half days, but it’ll be the hardest that they’ve worked,” Otlewski said. “I think our players over the years always talk about what camp was like and how hard it was. At the same time, they can look back and have unique memories about it.” They learn, at Camp Tapico and in life, there’s no free lunch. It’s Otlewski’s Law: Players and people eat what they earn.


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AUGUST 2009 25


He’d Rather Drive A Buick Matt Harmon Makes The Most Of Second Chance BY BURTON SMITH

26 AUGUST 2009


Photography Al goldis

Matt Harmon, a former Michigan State golf standout and Big Ten Player of the Year, found himself on the outside – literally. In the Buick Open Monday Qualifier, his caddie and brother-in-law, Nick Jordan, dragged a rake over some distant sand before Harmon played a shot from the same bunker. Talk about a trap! That innocent swipe violated Rule 13-4. When Harmon learned what had happened, he first told Jordan that nothing was wrong, so his brotherin-law would finish the round. Then, he assessed a two-stroke penalty on himself, a decision that cost him a qualifying spot by one shot. It was a lesson to all players: The Rules of Golf designate your caddie as part of your equipment. In Harmon’s case, there was never a question about how to proceed. The game always comes before personal gain. But this time, the right people noticed. The next day, Harmon headed to Texas for a Hooters Tour event. He was already in Minneapolis, aboard a connecting flight to Austin. But just before he was told, “Please turn off all electronic devices,” Harmon got a call from Robb Grainger, the Buick Open Tournament Director. Paul Azinger had just withdrawn. The question was: Could Harmon get back to Michigan? Step No. 1 – Get off the plane! Airline policy states that a passenger can leave and take all carry-on baggage before the plane’s door closes. But checked baggage is an entirely different matter. That fact is located in the fine print on your ticket. Frequent flyers know it. Now, Harmon does, too. Step No. 2 – Get a flight back home to Grand Rapids from the Twin Cities, then make sure his golf clubs get turned around in Texas and get on the first flight back to Metro Airport in Romulus. Mission: Accomplished. Step No. 3 – Get to Warwick Hills County Club in Grand Blanc and get ready to play the best rounds of his life. For two days, that’s just what Harmon did, defying all logic and personal history. In his first two Buick Opens, Harmon didn’t make the 36-hole cut to play the weekend. This year’s first two rounds were different. They were lessons in consistency, a pair of 4-under-par 68s. His first round had six

birdies and two bogeys. And his second round was even purer: Four birdies, no bogeys and 16-of-18 greens-in-regulation. At 8-under par, Harmon was just two shots behind Tiger Woods and on the first page of the leaderboard of the last Buick Open. Harmon’s third round included six birdies, including the first two holes and two more on the front nine. Another clean round would have left him at -14 and in great position for a Top Five finish. Instead, his birdies were almost negated by four bogeys, two on each side. The most notable problem hole on Saturday was the 18th. After missing the fairway to the right, Harmon’s ball rolled under a tree. Despite missing a putt for par, his round of 70 put him at 10-under-par 206 for the tournament, tied for 19th overall. Harmon had taken advantage of a great opportunity and exceeded all expectations for the week, except perhaps his own. But one day of the tournament remained. And though he had won events on the Hooters Tour, this was a new experience. After starting with a fairway-splitting drive and a two-putt birdie on hole No. 1, the rest of Harmon’s front nine was a nightmare. He missed every fairway until the turn and finished with a 5-over-par 41, three-putting three times and making his first 6 of the week. A poor tee shot led to another bogey on the short 12th hole. But Harmon pulled it together and gave his fans a finish to remember. He birdied the 13th, eagled the 14th and went 2-under on the back. Then, on the

Fan Favorite In the non-Tiger Woods division, Matt Harmon captured spectators’ hearts.

signature 17th, Harmon hit an iron to 7 feet as a raucous crowd roared its approval and chanted “Go Green!…Go White!” Harmon responded by high-fiving every gallery member outside the ropes from three sides of the hole. When his birdie putt fell at one of the PGA Tour’s wildest venues, it was a perfect exclamation point to a memorable week. Harmon finished with a very respectable 72-hole score of 7-under-par 281 and was first in driving distance with an average poke of 332 yards on the week’s measured holes. Unfortunately, he was also first with 14 bogeys. But that can be corrected, just like a caddie’s mistake on a Monday. Afterward, Harmon described his week as “emotional” and saluted the fans at No. 17 for their determination to give something back. After all, the Buick Open had been held in Flint area for 52 years. What better time to cash his first PGA Tour check?

AUGUST 2009 27


SPORT SPECIAL OLYMPIC SALUTE

From Competitors To Volunteers

Campbell, Lithander switch roles in 22nd Golf Classic

They couldn’t have been any prouder. And with good reason. Mike Campbell and Dennis Lithander wore autographed hats and rubbed shoulders with the people whose signatures sprawled across their bills. While area celebrities like Miss Capitol City, Alicia Jaros, and MSU Head Basketball Coach Tom Izzo were fun to meet for the two best friends, the reason Campbell and Lithander were at the Country Club of Lansing the first Monday in August was never far from their minds.

Special Volunteers (From left) Dennis Lithander, Mike Campbell and Scott Manor enjoy a different role at the Kelley-Peries-Secchia outing at the Country Club of Lansing..

28 AUGUST 2009

They volunteered their time at the 22nd Kelley-Perles-Secchia Area 8 Special Olympics Golf Classic. And it was even more special that Lithander and Campbell were Special Olympians who benefited from the money raised. Since its inception, that total is well over $1 million for programs in Ingham and Eaton counties. “(The outing) is to help people like us and to help programs like Special Olympics,” Campbell said. “And it’s giving people like me the opportunity to grow and learn about ourselves in the process.” Surrounded by 200 golfers and 100 volunteers, being on the golf course came naturally to Lithander and Campbell, members of the Area 8 Special Olympics golf team coached by Campbell’s dad, Bruce. Four of the team’s 10 golfers competed in the state tournament in Ypsilanti in July. Campbell’s son, along with Andy Doran, Steve Terrell and Justin VanDrie represented Area 8 well on a nine-hole, par-33, executive course at PineView. Terrell fired a 1-over-par 34, finishing as medalist and earning the gold in Division I. Young Campbell finished with a 37, good for the gold in Division II, while VanDrie shot a 47 for a silver in Division III. In October, four gold-medal winners from the state tournament will be chosen by lottery to participate in next year’s national tournament. Being a golf coach for the past six years, Campbell said he truly enjoys working with the athletes. “They’re receptive and appreciative to me as a coach,” he said. “It’s good to see them grow and improve. I try to focus on their strengths.” Though not every golfer could attend the state tournament, that didn’t stop the rest from enjoying each other’s company and competing

in a different sort of way. They formed a bowling group that meets once a week. “It’s neat to see the camaraderie among the teammates. These guys are buddies for life,” Campbell said, pointing to his son and Lithander. “Oh yeah, we are,” young Mike agreed, while Lithander nodded. The friends met while competing in Area 8 athletics. Both have a long list of sports they participate in, including basketball, handball and poly hockey. Lithander, 26, is five years older than Campbell, and both live in Delta Township. Besides the fact they are close in age and reside in the same area, it’s easy to tell that the two share a bond – the joy they receive from the thrill of playing. “I’m going to keep on playing for the rest of my life!” Lithander said of his participation in Special Olympics. “Even if I’m in my 90s.” Young Campbell agreed at first, then switched his maximum age of participation to his 60s. He plans to be a coach after that. Mike said it was quite an enlightening experience to realize there were team sports offered through Special Olympics. It was in 2001 when he started in team sports. That was the same year he met Lithander. “After (participating in team sports) my eyes opened, like ‘Wow,’” he said. The ‘wow’ might have worn off by now, but the feeling they get from participating in Special Olympics athletics never gets old. “It makes me feel like you – like a person who doesn’t have special needs,” young Campbell said. “It makes me feel like a normal kid.” On August 3, he felt like dozens of other volunteers – but with one difference. Going from Special Olympian to volunteer, the circle had been completed.

Photography CHRIS HOLMES

By Jennifer orlando


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Sara Ringle Runs The 400 SPARTAN INVITATIONAL • EAST LANSING, MI 04/04/2009 PHOTOGRAPHED BY DANE ROBINSON


SPORT FINISH LINE

My Alaskan Adventure Bike-Hike-Boat Trip Worth The Wait

It was the adventure of a lifetime. I’d saved for four years to go to Alaska. Then, I found this multi-adventure, biking-hiking-kayak-canoe trip. We started and ended in Anchorage. And we saw some of the most beautiful country imaginable. We rode our bikes. We hiked to glaciers. And we saw wildlife. We saw moose. We saw caribou. I even did a special fly-in to Brooks Falls to see the bears. This state of Alaska is like no other. My next goal is to go in the winter and see it when it’s nothing but snow. But it was 60 degrees most days in late July. Just when you’d think you should put on your rain gear, the sun would come out. We drove up the Parks Highway toward Denali. That was where we got onto our bicycles and rode for 40 miles to Cantwell. We stayed in a darling little cabin. When you look at these places online, you think, “What have I gotten myself into? This looks like a dump.” It wasn’t. We averaged about 30 miles a day on our bikes. When you talk about the Shinsky Orphange Fundraiser averaging more than 110, that’s really moving. But you have to understand, there’s not really a flat spot in Alaska. It’s all mountains. And the majority of it is glaciers. I was never worried about the bike. We had excellent support from the tour guides. We had one in a van and another guide on the road with us. We had six people in our group. If we broke down, someone was there to change the tire. And they had extra bicycles on top of the van. My biggest fear was that a bear would run in front of my bike. I’m not the fastest cyclist. But the closest I got to the bears was to take some photos. I did that at Brooks Falls in the national park. It took us two-and-a-half hours to get there in a float plane. And with winds at 40 knots, we almost didn’t make it home. We had to ride in winds like that, too. The winds come out of the south in Alaska. So

32 AUGUST 2009

when we rode south to Valdez, we were into the wind most of the time. Coming out of Richardson Pass, we went straight down for eight miles. And that’s very scary. You can’t

Sky High Ceil Heller takes a break between biking, hiking, kayaking and canoeing on her great Alaskan adventure.

ride your brakes the whole time because you’ll heat up your rims and pop the tires. At the end of the eight miles, we were still going downhill but had to pedal because the wind was blowing so hard in our face. It was a real adventure. We kayaked on Prince William Sound in Shoup Bay. I mean, we touched glaciers! But the people of Alaska are hearty souls.

One of our tour guides said she ran five miles a day unless the temperature hit 20-belowzero. If it was 15-below, she was still going to run her five miles. As they say, it’s a long winter. And you have to get out. You can’t just sit inside. You’ll get depressed. I can understand that. You have hours and hours and hours of darkness. They only see four hours of daylight in the winter. The toughest part of the trip was a sevenmile climb with an elevation of 3,200 feet, nearly two miles. I’m not a good climber and never have been. So that was really difficult. It was the third day into the trip. And I was a little tired and not prepared for that type of climb. But the only time I was scared was on that float plane home when the pilot said, “We’re going to try to get through Lake Clark Pass. If we can’t, we’ll have to turn around and come back.” That was pretty scary. At the national park, we were close to the bears. But we were on a viewing deck. So we were safe at all times. I just didn’t want to see a bear on my bicycle. When we went on our hiking adventures, the guides had bear spray, a high-powered pepper spray. I saw two eagles. People say, “When you go to Alaska, the eagles are all over the place.” For us, that was the way it was with moose. But we also saw seals and sea otters and a goat on the beach, which is extremely rare. They usually stay in the mountains. But a bear had chased the goat down to the beach. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who’s athletic and in search of adventure. They can bike. They can hike. And they can canoe and kayak. Going four days without phones was one of the best parts. I’ve done two other lengthy trips. I went cross-country in 2000 from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and down the Mississippi in 2002 from Minneapolis to New Orleans. But this one was the best.

Photography CEIL HELLER

BY CEIL HELLER


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sport: August 2009