Within Reach! Spartans Finish With Fury, Flurry In Outback Bowl Win Over Georgia p-w/fowler
PIRATES AND EAGLES
JONES AND NELSON
Finalists In Divisions 7, 8 Take Towns To Ford Field
From Oakland University To Hoop Careers Overseas
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FEATURES 06 FIRE ON ICE
Passion Burns For Parks, Others At U.S. Juniors
BY DENNY SCHWARZE
10 THEY CAN RELATE
Rivals Fowler, P-W Share Success, Much More
BY RYAN ARMBRUSTMACHER
16 NOT OVER…OVERSEAS
Jones, Nelson Play Pro Basketball Abroad
BY DAVID HARNS
28 MARTIAL LAW
Edwards & Sons Share Sport, Triumphs
BY ANDREA NELSON
34 RUNNING… BUT WHICH WAY?
Away From Biomechanics Means Toward Injury
BY STEVEN A. MORGAN
Spartans Beat Georgia In Outback Classic BY JACK EBLING
05 Only The Beginning 2012 Could Be Even Better For Spartans, sport BY JACK EBLING
32 Attacking The Goal Kristen Rasmussen Succeeds At Every Level BY ANDREA NELSON
36 Hardwood, Hard Knocks Local News Anchor Reflects On His Hoops Past BY GREG ADALINE
Volume #4 • Issue #1 JANUARY 2012
EDITOR Jack Ebling Jack has covered sports and 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 contributed more than 125 pieces for national publications and is the columnist for a popular website (michiganstate.247sports.com). 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. A two-time graduate of MSU, he has lived in Greater Lansing for 37 years. With his wife, Robin, he has helped raise two remarkable young adults, Zach and Ali.
CONTRIBUTORS Matthew Mitchell Matt has been a full-time freelance photographer for eight years, shooting all types of events. He has been the MSU Athletic Communications photographer since 2008, handling 25 varsity sports - the perfect blend of two passions, athletics and photography. The Grand Rapids native is a frequent contributor to sport and a key part of Heart of a Spartan, due out this spring. He and his wife, Jill, live in East Lansing with their daughter, Grace, and 6-month-old twin sons, Dylan and Spencer.
Andrea Nelson Andrea is a senior at Michigan State University, studying journalism with an emphasis in sports and public relations. She is a member of the Honors College and Tower Guard and has a true passion for sports. Andrea helped Frankfort High win backto-back state titles in girls basketball in 2005-06. Today, she combines her love of basketball and football with caring for her two dogs and helping with her familyâ€™s prize-winning alpacas. She is also an assistant editor of sport.
Greater Lansing Sport Magazine is published monthly by Sport Community Publishing with offices at 617 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48912. Postage is paid under USPS Permit #407. Subscriptions: One copy of the Greater Lansing Sport Magazine, is mailed complimentary to qualified business addresses in the Greater Lansing metropolitan area. Residential, promotional, out-of-area and additional subscriptions are available for $36 per year (a saving of 40% off the $5 cover price per issue) by mailing a check to Sport Community Publishing or paying online at www. SportLansing.com. When available, back issues can be purchased online for $10 each. Postmaster: Address changes should be sent to: Sport Community Publishing, 617 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48912. 4 JANUARY 2012
Publisher Camron Gnass Sport Community Publishing Editor Jack Ebling Assistant EditorS Andy Flanagan Andrea Nelson WRITING Greg Adaline Ryan Armbrustmacher Jack Ebling David Harns Steven A. Morgan Andrea Nelson Denny Schwarze COVER Photo Matthew Mitchell PhotographY Greg Adaline Peter Barath Harris Edwards Jr. David Harns Ceil Heller Johnathon Jones Matthew Mitchell MSU Athletic Communications Dane Robison TSS Photography Jeff Vachow Darin Walter WLNS TV-6 MAGAZINE Design & LAYOUT Traction www.projecttraction.com Mailer ICS Editorial Office 617 East Michigan Avenue Lansing, Michigan 48912 (517) 455-7810 www.SportLansing.com Copyright ÂŠ 2012 Sport Community Publishing All rights reserved.
Only The Beginning 2012 Could Be Even Better For Spartans, sport BY JACK EBLING
Each new year isn’t equally happy.
Photography Matthew mitchell/mSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS
Some bring with them the pain and problems of the previous 12 months. Others offer the freshest of starts and the promise of a brighter tomorrow. Welcome 2012 – a year with all the hope one man, some men on a mission and a magazine could want. One year ago, there were many more questions than answers. I had just spent a month wearing catheters after a radical robotic prostatectomy. A planned trip to Orlando for the Capital One Bowl? Aborted. A book about Michigan State’s football turnaround? Not abandoned but certainly on hold after a 49-7 loss to Alabama. And other promising, profitable ventures? No radio show for the first time in eight years and challenges for Greater Lansing sport, despite two-plus years of rave reviews. Today, I’m happy to report that all is well, personally and professionally. With a PSA reading that fell from 11.75 to .002, my health improved exponentially. If I can follow through on a pledge to eat less and move more, everything should be fine for many years. And thanks to all of you who have asked. With another 11-win season, Mark Dantonio’s Spartans answered their critics and cleared another high hurdle with a 33-30 triple-overtime win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2. As quarterback and captain Kirk Cousins said in the interview area after the game, “It’s a great way to end that book.” Indeed, it is. And if you’d like to reserve one of the first signed copies, go to www.heartofaspartanbook.com. Heart of a Spartan should be ready this spring. Two years in the writing and many years in the making, it follows a journey from troubles to triumphs with 50 columns, a dozen features, 33 reflections from past stars, he story of how the program evolved and the
best photography you’ll ever see. For Michigan State fans, the second half and overtimes in Tampa were moments to treasure. Unless you hate the Spartans, it was hard not to smile when a sensational group of seniors celebrated for the 37th time. The next evening in Madison, Wis., Tom Izzo’s basketball team won in the Kohl Center for the first time in 11 years. The Big Ten leaders made it 14 straight wins after a pair of losses as they set sail in 2012. That’s a great place to start with the January issue of sport, healthier than ever as we salute some college football heroes and take a look at basketball from a different angle. Former Okemos and Lansing Everett High stars Johnathon Jones and Derick Nelson had great success at Oakland University. As David Harns explains, they have gone their separate ways but shared a hoops life overseas. If you’ve lived in this area for any length of time, you’ve probably run into someone from Fowler, Pewamo or Westphalia. You’ve heard the stories or seen the passion that peaked at Ford Field in late November. Ryan Ambrustmacher, who has lived one of the state’s best rivalries, takes us behind the scenes as the P-W Pirates and Fowler Eagles fight for state football titles in Divisions 7 and 8. Closer to home, Mid-Michigan hosted the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships in early December. It was another great get for the Greater Lansing Sports Authority, which bid for and coordinated the prestigious event. Sammy Parks of Haslett, Devin Pascoe of East Lansing and Ivan Mokhof of Mason represented the area in the competition. Denny Schwarze tells us how and why. From National Champions to World Champions, we visit with the first family of kickboxing. Harris Edwards Jr. and sons
Harris III and Austin are profiled after their return from Portugal by sport Assistant Editor Andrea Nelson. Nelson also visits with former Okemos High and MSU hoops star Kristen Rasmussen about those early days and her career in the WBNA for this month’s Spartans Will feature. Trainer extraordinaire Steve Morgan checks in with some important information on biomechanics as it relates to athletic performance. In our Finish Line guest column, WLNS anchor Greg Adaline explains how sports helped to shape him. He proved that for every disappointment, there’s a new opportunity. Let me take this chance to remind readers that we always welcome your help – and sometimes need it. This month, we are actively looking for high-quality amateur photographs and story suggestions. To contribute those or to subscribe, go to www.sportlansing.com. Also, just as we were set to go to print, the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame announced its inductees for 2012. Congratulations to Fred Alderman, Bill Allen, Mark Ditsworth, Evelyn Johnson, Doug Miller, Muhsin Muhammad, Keri Reynolds, Al Schrauben, Dave Shaw, 1972 Holt football and 1977 Everett boys basketball.
We’ll have much more on those individuals and teams over the course of 2012. If you haven’t seen the sensational, new Hall of Fame display in the Lansing Center, it’s definitely worth the trip. It’s all part of our sports history – the link between our past, present and future. H JANUARY 2012
6 JANUARY 2012
Passion Burns For Parks, Others At U.S. Juniors BY DENNY SCHWARZE
Photography JEFF VACHOW/TSS PHOTOGRAPHY
From afar, the labor that goes into the sport of figure skating is invisible. It’s also incessant. The glamor on television cloaks the grind put forth to get there. Months and years are devoted to routines that only last a couple of minutes. But the payoff and glory of victory can be as golden and gratifying as the practice was grueling. The work begins early, sometimes before children have reached kindergarten. The more serious the child is about the sport, the more advanced the moves become during practices that are increasingly challenging. A new move here, a jump there – all aiming for that scintillating moment where a triumph on the ice in a big competition outweighs the sacrifice that has led up to it. One of those big competitions is the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships. The event was held in Lansing this year from Dec. 8-14, with three area skaters competing: Sammy Parks of Haslett, Devin Pascoe of East Lansing and Ivan Mokhof of Mason. It was the last stop for an event that won’t be held after this year. And organizers began putting things together years ago in hopes of bringing the competition to this area. Often, the event has been held in Tier I cities with large venues. Salt Lake City, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, hosted the event last year. Lake Placid, N.Y., scene of the 1980 Winter Games and the famed “Miracle on Ice” hockey game between the USA and the Soviet Union, has also been a host. Lansing was up against six other cities for the bid and won in November 2010. “The fact that Greater Lansing was chosen for this event is pretty significant and pretty exciting for the community,” event co-chair Meghan Carmody said. The organizers – the Greater Lansing Sports Authority, Lansing Skating Club
and Suburban Ice – went to meet with the U.S. Figure Skating governing body in May and attended the 2010 U.S. Junior Championships to get first-hand exposure to an event of this magnitude. “We kind of did our research out there,” Carmody said. “We walked around, saw what the event had to offer, how they had it set up, what the layout was, and pretty much went through every corner of their facilities to see what we could do and how we could make our event better.” Seeing everything in motion was a bit overwhelming and caused excitement at the same time. The task was going to be a big one. But organizers were confident the Lansing area could show the event what it had to offer. After the event concluded in Salt Lake City last December, Carmody and the organizers went to work with the planning process, teaming up with local restaurants, hotels and other organizations to make sure every last detail was ironed out. In all, 300 competitors, 250 coaches and close to 5,000 spectators were here in MidMichigan. The suddenly bustling environment surrounding the competition was handled smoothly with a solid partnership of the three main organizers. “It was actually a really cool experience because we all have our strengths,” Carmody said. “(The Lansing Skating Club) were the skating people, the GLSA were the planning people, and Suburban had the ice. It was a fun planning process.”
Sammy Parks had been prepping for this event long ago. At age 4, he began working with his coaches from Mason, Oksana Yakusheva and Andrey Mokhov. The two are former professional figure skaters who came to the U.S. from St. Petersburg, Russia. The pair’s son, Ivan Mokhov, a seventh grader at Mason Middle School, went on to finish third in the initial round of the juvenile boys level and fifth in the final round of this year’s U.S. Nationals. Three days during the school week and again on Saturdays, Sammy has to be up at 5:30 a.m. and on the ice by 6:15. Not only did he finish 13th in the initial round at the
On Their Marks Sammy Parks of Haslett, Devin Pascoe of East Lansing and coaches Andrey Mokhof and Oksana Yakusheva await the scores. juvenile boys level at Nationals, with the top 10 qualifying for the final round, he also took 11th in the initial round of pairs with 13-year-old Devin Pascoe. That’s double duty, forcing Sammy to know more elements and routines than a skater who would normally focus on one event. JANUARY 2012
fire on ice “It’s very important for them to be in very good unison,” Oksana said. “They practice four days (per week) for the pairs, one hour per day.” One hour doesn’t seem too long, but the practices are strenuous, especially on the eve of such a big competition. “His coaches do so much. They’re there, they’re pushing him, they’re motivating him every single day,” Sammy’s mother, Maya, said. “I’m the CEO of a company, and I don’t motivate my staff every day like that. “It’s in your face – ‘Come on. Let’s go. Let’s move…No, it didn’t work out. Let’s do it again. Let’s do it again. Let’s do it again’ – and you’ve got to commend (Sammy) for that.” When football players are injured, coaches usually voice their displeasure about the player’s loss of ‘reps’, short for repetitions. From the start of spring on to the infernos of the August heat and all the way into winter conditioning, reps are the most important thing a healthy player can get. One after another, the reps help the mind train the body to perform a skill the same way every time so that it feels as basic as walking. Skating is no different. Constant repetition is essential to drilling home moves and techniques so a skater can perform one move after the next with precision, time and again. “It never stops. You learn something, and you polish, polish, polish day-by-day,” Oksana said. “You polish, polish and finally you present yourself at the competition, then get the score from the judges.”
Day after day of a blaring alarm followed by almost daily preparation at the rink can be an excruciating test of will. So can being away from home and traveling across the country to participate in events. As Maya explained, Michigan does have some seeded events that will help Sammy’s ranking and put him in position to qualify for more prestigious events like the U.S. Nationals. But sometimes travel is inevitable for bigger competitions. The two went all the way to Salt Lake City for last year’s Junior Nationals and to Fort Collins, Colo., for pairs. Sammy has also been to regional events in Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland that weren’t for qualification but still fall under the umbrella of season events. “When you put in this much time and effort, then yeah, you’re traveling. You’re traveling all over, wherever it takes you,” Maya said. But there’s one thing the seventh-grader looks forward to on trips, and it doesn’t involve an ice rink. “He follows chefs,” Maya said, quickly ripping off the names of award-winners like Michael Symon and Bobby Flay. “He has an incredible memory, so he’ll say, ‘Oh, Michael Symon has a restaurant in Cleveland, we’ve got to go check it out,’ or ‘Bobby Flay has a burger joint in New York.’ It’s like the bonus, the frosting on the cake to get to go to these places.
Living On The Edge Ivan Mokhof of Mason placed fifth in the 2011 U.S. Junior Nationals. 8 JANUARY 2012
“He loves the travel. That’s one of the bonuses when you don’t feel like waking up in the morning and getting dressed to go skate yet again.” It’s more than a fair trade for Sammy, the one who has to put in the work. “It’s not like the only thing I think about,” Sammy said. “I do other stuff, too. It’s just that skating is something I like to do.”
There is little time to truly enjoy the magnitude of the three skaters’ accomplishments before getting right back to work. “They did what they can, so I’m really happy how they ended up and how they skated,” Oksana said. “We’re really happy because Nationals is the biggest competition of the year, and we’re happy with how they skated. All of them did really good.” “Not many kids get to do that, and I’m one of the few who did,” Sammy said. “It feels good for it to be over and have a little bit of time to know that you skated well.” He took a breath, then added, “I’m just going to keep training as hard as I can and try to do even better next year.” The same procedure will continue. Up early, out on the ice, heading across the region and country for more pressure-packed events. Less than 48 hours after the conclusion of this year’s U.S. Nationals, Oksana already had new moves on the agenda. “We’re looking forward to working together, and they’re going to grow over the next year,” she said. “We’re sure they’re going to learn new elements. Sammy is going to learn double axel and triple jumps. And Ivan, he’s moving up to Intermediate, so he’s going to learn triple jumps.” There also may be the chance for Sammy and the other two Lansing-area skaters to travel further than they ever have before to skate. Maya Parks explained that Oksana is planning a trip to Russia so the kids can have an opportunity to visit the country and train in Russian rinks. Shortly after the event, Carmody reflected on the arduous process of bringing the U.S. Nationals to the community. As a figure skating coach herself along with her role with the Greater Lansing Sports Authority, the event held a special meaning. “It’s unreal, the amount of community support that we’ve had and to see all these different people,” she said. “We’ve had people just walk in from the street to volunteer for the event just because they read about it in the newspaper, saw it on TV or heard about it from their friend. So, it’s really cool. Honestly, I can’t even explain it. It really hits home.” H
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They Can Re Rivals Fowler, P-W Share Success, Much More BY RYAN ARMBRUSTMACHER
10 JANUARY 2012
They cheer for one another. They come together in times of need. They celebrate together. Heck, they’ll even marry each other in some cases. Sounds more like a bunch of college co-eds or something other than bitter rivals. Bitter may not be the best word to describe the athletic clashes between Fowler and Pewamo-Westphalia high schools. There is a special dynamic between the communities, which are separated by about five miles on M-21 north of Lansing. Small towns, big pride. Tiny populations haven’t prevented Fowler and P-W from producing championship squads and forging one of the fiercest athletic rivalries in Mid-Michigan for years. It was no surprise in the 2011 football season that both rural farming towns went from corn fields to Ford Field in Detroit. Unfortunately, each had their title dreams shattered in late November. Saginaw Nouvel defeated P-W in Division 7 and Mendon topped Fowler in Division 8. Fowler and P-W share a great work ethic, togetherness and passion for sports. Those common bonds often lead to athletic battles that are as tight as their geographic proximity. Imagine the robust athletic squads that could have been produced if Fowler, Pewamo and Westphalia came together as one. Well, F-P-W nearly became a reality back in the 1960s. St. Mary’s of Westphalia and Pewamo High knew they needed to merge. The question was whether would they join forces with neighboring Fowler? They ultimately voted to become P-W. With that, a rivalry was born. While the Fowler-P-W sports contests are intense and have clear dividing lines on game day, those barriers are broken in everyday life. Let’s face it, you will not see both sides holding hands and singing kumbaya prior to a game. It’s very possible however, that fans may gather together at some local establishment after the final buzzer and sing some karaoke. For anyone who has been involved in the Fowler-P-W rivalry, there is sure to be a game or a moment he or she will never forget. Buzzer beaters. Incredible performances. Conference championships at stake.
Games have had to be moved to larger venues to accommodate all the fans and satisfy the fire marshal. Fowler and P-W are to the Central Michigan Athletic Conference what Michigan and Ohio State football are to the Big Ten or Alabama and Auburn are to the SEC. While other schools have had success in the CMAC over the years, a win over Fowler or P-W is still considered huge. Going into most seasons, the other squads in the conference realize a championship likely will have to go thru Fowler and P-W. “To me this rivalry feels like it gets bigger every year,” said P-W football coach Brad Weber, who just completed his fourth year in charge. “We were gunning for the Fowler game the entire off-season after losing to them in 2010. I am sure they are going to do the same now after losing to us this year.” Don’t expect people on opposite sides of this rivalry to take part in school of choice. Live in Pirate country and you go to P-W. Live in Eagle country and you go to Fowler. Opportunities arise later in life that cause people to cross that barrier, though.
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Daric Feldpausch sank a buzzer-beating jumper for P-W in 1985 that handed the Eagles their first CMAC loss that year. He is now in his second season as the Fowler varsity boys basketball coach. “You always have that feeling of additional butterflies when you walk into P-W,”
kids started playing sports,” said Mary Jo, a 1983 P-W graduate. “But then at Thanksgiving this year, we were singing both fight songs. I just couldn’t sing the P-W fight song. Maybe it’s just because my memory is bad, and I’ve been on the Fowler side for so long.”
“You always have that feeling of additional butterflies when you walk into P-W…you really want to win that game
Feldpausch said. “You really want to win that game knowing you once played there.” Jody McKean, a 1992 Fowler graduate, eventually landed at P-W as high school principal from 2006-09. McKean has fond memories of his senior year football battle against P-W. Like most rivalries, anything is possible when emotions run high. Fowler started that season 0-2 and, despite being a clear underdog against the Pirates, pulled out the victory. “We hadn’t beaten them in a number of years, I’m not sure how many exactly, and on the bus ride over, their students passed the bus with a well-decorated car,” said McKean, DeWitt High principal. “Spud (coach Steve Spicer) stood up and yelled, ‘I think they’re celebrating too early.’ To see him that intense was a sign and precursor of a special night when we upset them.” So what was it like for McKean to don the blue and yellow after growing up in blue and white? “It wasn’t that difficult to stand on the P-W sideline after being out of school for almost 15 years,” McKean said. “There were so many people from Fowler who married someone from Pewamo or Westphalia and their kids were attending P-W…kind of a homecoming there.” Thanksgiving weekend 2011 was a continuous family reunion of sorts for the Wirth clan. Bruce Wirth and his three sisters – Tina, Andrea and Paula – all graduated from Fowler and married P-W grads. In a once-in-a-lifetime experience, each couple had a son that competed during state championship weekend at Ford Field. Dustin Wirth (Bruce and Mary Jo) and Adam Schafer (Tina and Kevin) participated for Fowler. Collin Nurenberg (Andrea and Jack) and Bryce Hengesbach (Paula and Bob) suited up for P-W. Confused? Mary Jo Wirth was initially when she and Bruce moved to Fowler in 1994. “It was a little bit awkward at first until the
Bruce Wirth competed for Fowler in a football state championship game in 1980, but the family connection on display at Ford Field may have topped that memory. “To see my mom and the pride on her face seeing all of her grandkids out there was incredible,” said Bruce, a 1982 Fowler graduate. Corey and Robin Smith of Pewamo have witnessed firsthand everything the Fowler and P-W connection has to offer. Although they competed as athletes against Fowler for P-W, it’s a big win off the field that they will remember most. Their son, Brody, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at the age of 18 months in April of 2010. In an instant their lives turned upside down. How were they going to be able to handle this setback from an emotional and financial standpoint? Brody’s only chance of survival was deemed to be a successful bone marrow transplant that was scheduled to be done in July of 2010. “I remember sitting with Robin and Brody in intensive care and mentally making preparations for wakes and a funeral,” recalled Corey, a 1992 P-W graduate. Prior to the bone marrow transplant, preparations by family members were being made for a silent auction to raise money to aid the Smith family. Due to a medical delay with Brody’s BMT procedure, he and the Smith family were actually able to attend the benefit in July 2010. Corey and Robin were apprehensive about a benefit. They didn’t know if it was truly needed and were faced with angst of deciding if their attendance was appropriate. They also didn’t know if Brody should be out in public with a compromised immune system. “We had 1,500 people show up on a 90-plusdegree Friday evening in the middle of vacation season,” Corey recalled. “Where else would that many people show up to support a sick little boy
Photography DARIN WALTER
knowing you once played there.”
when most had not even met him before? Nowhere but the place I am proud to call home.” Even though Brody was still just 1 year old at that time, it was clear he felt inspired by the large turnout. That was the beginning of his turnaround. The bone marrow transplant went through as planned in August. There were more setbacks from that procedure, which meant more time in the hospital. Enough money was raised in the auction to allow Corey to take several months off work. “Looking back, that was such a crucial time,” Corey said. “One of Brody’s post-transplant complications was the dreaded Veno-Occlusive disease, which had no protocol to follow because VOD is nearly exclusively fatal for a pediatric patient. The doctors were learning right along with us. It was important to be there, not only to support Brody with Robin but to communicate with the doctors.” Brody was released from the hospital in
It’s pretty safe to say that Fowler and P-W will continue to have memorable clashes on the athletic field for years to come. Conference championships will be won. Probably some state championships, too. There will be more weddings. More friendly gatherings. More fun times had by all. It’s also a safe assumption that unpredictable life events will take place along the way, causing hardship for somebody in the community. You better believe that people from both sides of this rivalry will come together to offer support in a big way. Sure, there have been threats to the rivalry. The recent economic downturn has forced many people to move away from these small towns to find gainful employment. All that being said, look at the 2011 football season. P-W defeated Fowler 15-14 in another
A Luxurious Auto Salon Every Yard Counts Fowler’s Tyler Koenigsknecht fights for precious inches but is stopped by P-W’s Clayton Platte (33) and Gavin Smith (70) in the Pirates’ 15-14 win last September.
October 2010 in time to celebrate his second birthday. Brody continues to get monitored by the doctors periodically, and all involved remain optimistic about a full recovery. Results of sporting events are certainly not life or death. Sports, however, are a big part of what brings the Fowler and P-W communities together to make a difference when lives are truly on the line. Just ask Corey and Robin Smith. Some traditions stand the test of time, and some do not.
classic, which led to another CMAC title for P-W. Both squads then advanced to separate state title games. The first names change, but the last names stay the same for the most part. Thelen, Hengesbach, Feldpausch, Wirth, Nurenberg and Koenigsknecht to name a few. That means enough families are sticking around to keep this rivalry going strong. It has a dramatic dynamic that’s stood the tests of time with no signs of slowing down. It’s Fowler and P-W. H
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NOT OVER…OVERSEAS Jones, Nelson Play Pro Basketball Abroad
Okemos High quarterback Johnathon Jones dropped back to pass and didn’t see Derick Nelson, a linebacker for Lansing Everett, come off the end of the line, unblocked. “Apparently, somebody was supposed to block me – but didn’t. I could have completely just run thru JJ,” Nelson said, a smile creeping into his voice. “But we were friends, so I kind of just set him down on the ground. He was like, ‘Thanks, man.’”
These guys go way back. Jones and Nelson have been friends since elementary school, playing against each other in football and basketball throughout junior high and high school. Their friendship has survived – and thrived – throughout the years. After high school, Jones joined Nelson at Oakland University, and the two became a formidable pair for the Grizzlies. Because Nelson went to prep school for a year and had to sit out a year due to injury, he and Jones ended up playing their final season together. It was March of 2010, and the Summit League Championship game versus IUPUI had ended. Jones and Nelson were finally celebrating. Together. They had weathered the ups and the downs over the last four years, working through all the disappointments, confident that they would someday win a championship together. “It was nice to go out like that,” Nelson said. When they lost to Pittsburgh in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, Jones and Nelson walked off the court in Milwaukee, realizing that they had played their final collegiate game together. But they both knew that they weren’t finished playing the game they loved.
Finland is a Nordic country, made up of thousands of lakes and islands, located in Northern Europe between Sweden and Russia. Slovakia is a landlocked state, surrounded in Central Europe by five countries: the Still Explosive Former Okemos High and Oakland University point guard Johnathon Jones shows his Mid-Michigan moves in Slovakia.
16 JANUARY 2012
Photography DAVID HARNS/PETER BARATH
BY DAVID HARNS
Back Where He Began Former Everett Viking Derick Nelson has won at every level, even in FInland.
Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Ukraine and Hungary. It was in these two European Union countries that two mid-Michigan basketball players fulfilled their dreams of getting paid to do something they love – playing basketball. You know how it goes, right? Living a life of luxury, shooting hoops to get a fat paycheck, driving whatever kind of car they want, hanging out at all the hottest spots, soaking up the high life, waiting for their turn in the NBA. That might be the case for some of the elitist of elite athletes in Europe, but not so much for Jones and Nelson. Jones’ NBA dream basically ended when the Memphis Grizzlies chose Greivis Vazquez with the 28th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, filling the point guard spot that Jones had been working hard to earn. So he turned his sights to Europe. His agent presented him with a few different opportunities overseas, including Spain and Switzerland. After weighing his options, Jones decided to sign a one-year contract with the Tornadoes in Slovakia. “This was the team that wanted me the most,” Jones said. “They told me that I could play a lot, similar to what I did in college.” So he flew halfway around the world and got to work. He put on the familiar No. 23 that he has worn his whole life, this time on a jersey layered in red and white and sponsored by Adidas. His contract paid him $5,000 per month and covered most of his meals and a place to live, as well as transportation, both locally and when he was able to go home to Michigan to visit. Jones currently lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the city of Komarno, Slovakia, by himself, with a flat`screen TV in the living
room tuned to ESPN when he isn’t playing his Playstation. With all his living expenses covered, “I’m just banking everything,” Jones said. Jones re-signed with the same team his second year, getting an increase in pay, and is netting about $8,000 per month now. His pay is dependent on bonuses for double-doubles, if he can lead the league in assists and how well his team does in the playoffs. Jones led the league in assists last year and is currently third this year. He averaged 12 points and 7 assists during his rookie season. This year, Jones has been asked to score more. And he is up to 16 points per game. Jones’ games are every Wednesday and Saturday at 6 p.m. Slovakia time. Back in Okemos, Jones’ dad, Johnny, is logged on to his computer at noon Michigan time, following the Slovakian stat-tracker which is translated into English on his computer. “His mom and I don’t miss a game,” Jones’ dad said.
Further to the northeast, separated by over 900 miles of land and sea, his former friendturned-rival-turned-teammate had settled into his new home in Finland. “I got into my apartment, plugged in my Xbox, and it blew up,” Nelson said with a laugh. “That officially retired me from video games.” Between practices and games, Nelson enjoys passing his time by reading books and watching one of the 800 movies he has on an external hard drive. Nelson’s first contract paid very similar to Jones’s. But Nelson isn’t banking all of his money, as Jones is doing. He’s sending a lot of it back to Detroit to help Jessica Holmes, the mother of his 5-year-old daughter, Somiyah.
“She’s a great mother, a great woman. I can’t thank her enough. She raises our daughter very well,” Nelson said. “With me being gone, she does a lot by herself. I try to do as much as I can from afar, but it’s not the same as being there. It’s one of things I don’t really like about playing overseas.” Nelson played well in Finland, and his team made it to the finals during his first season, losing the championship series, 3-2. “I’m still a little salty about that one,” Nelson said. It was then that Nelson made the difficult personal decision to play in the summer league in Australia. He had exactly 6 days at home before he had to get back on a plane and head to Australia. “It’s a long time to be away from home,” Nelson said. “A long time to be away from my daughter.” He actually played in two different leagues at the same time in Australia, driving 2 hours one way between his home teams. The extra work paid off when the paychecks were cashed, though, with his monthly income going up to about $7,000 per month in Australia. Nelson began the Aussie season late and had a difficult time transitioning between the two styles of play. He went from averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds in Finland to 20 points and 9 rebounds in the more physical Australian game. The Australian season ended in September, and Nelson was faced with another difficult personal decision. His team in Finland wanted him back, but he would have only been home for one week between seasons. After much thought, Nelson decided to take some time off to be with his daughter and his family back in Michigan. Having only spent one week of the last 52 at home, he knew he needed a few months back in the states before deciding what to do next in his basketball. While home in Lansing, Nelson keeps his skills up and stays in shape, working out nearly every day at Everett and in area gyms. Nelson and Jones both noticed differences in the game itself between Europe and the United States – the size and speed of the players, the ability to play zone and no 3-second violations, to name a few. They was nothing, compared to the off-court challenges that playing overseas entails. Both Nelson and Jones have had a tough time integrating into the local culture because of the language barrier. They both understand the basics. But it isn’t ever easy. “The first time I was here, I don’t know what happened,” Jones said. “The coach just started going crazy, yelling, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. So I asked one of my teammates what he was saying. He said, basically, ‘Get the ball to one of the Americans.’” American players are considered “imports” in
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the European Union. In fact, in Jones’ league, each team is only allowed three imports. The rest are local players. The stadium where Jones’ team plays its home games holds around 3,000 and is filled to capacity every game. Jones said it gets very loud during games, with vuvuzelas, drums and other instruments. Nelson also had a tough time picking up the local language, calling Finnish one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. “The only words I picked up were the curse words, especially on the court, and hello and thank you,” Nelson said. Those who did speak English, spoke broken English. And it was just as difficult to understand that. “The owner of the team…his English wasn’t very good,” Nelson said with a laugh. “I would just kinda smile and nod my head, saying ‘Yeah, OK, yeah,’ not really knowing what he was saying.” Nelson enjoyed his time in Australia more because the people were friendlier, the local language was English, and it was easier to be able to have a real conversation with people. He appreciated the food and restaurants that reminded him of back home. When asked, both Jones and Nelson say quickly that overseas hoops isn’t for everyone. “It depends on how much love you have for the game,” Jones said. “It was always a goal for me to play professional. If you are willing to sacrifice being away from your family, then I say go for it.” His girlfriend of three years, Brandy Baldwin of Farmington might disagree. She “hates it” when he’s gone, Jones said. But she knows how much it means to him. Last year, Baldwin did visit him in Europe for 10 days. But that only made the separation that much more difficult when she had to leave. “I really don’t like being away. There is nothing like being at home with your family and with your girlfriend,” Jones said. “But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It has been great for me.” Nelson’s advice for those who are trying to follow in his and Jones’ footsteps? “It’s not for everybody,” he said. “It’s tough to be over there by yourself. The first couple months are real tough. It’s a culture shock. It’s hard to get acclimated. If you are fortunate enough to make it, you have to produce. It is real easy to get sent home. It’s definitely a business. It’s different than college. They want you to produce and produce now.” Neither Jones nor Nelson plan on doing this too much longer, though. Johnny On The Spot Jones has a decision to make _ keep playing or get started in coaching.
“I want to gain some experience because I want to coach eventually,” Jones said. He’s been doing a lot of camps in the offseason and has a passion for coaching. Playing professional basketball is a resume-builder. During the upcoming offseason, Jones plans on applying to graduate school and has to make his decision for next year by July – whether to play another season overseas or get on with his coaching career. Nelson also has a tough choice to make. He is currently leaning towards heading back to Europe for the second half of the season, February through May. But his daughter gives him pause. “To be able to hop in the car and see her as opposed to a 12-hour flight to see her – kind of makes me not want to leave,” Nelson said. It’s not just his daughter that makes him consider giving up professional basketball. Nelson will probably end up playing a couple more years but doesn’t want it to stretch much further than that. He wants to get his law enforcement career started. He wants to be a police detective and realizes that he doesn’t want to wait until he’s 35 to get started in his career. “I’m not done playing basketball yet, though,” Nelson said. “I think about it every day.” Nelson does have one more basketball-related dream that he’d like to realize before he and his good friend finish playing professional basketball. He’d love to play on the same team as Jones again. “I didn’t realize how good of a point guard JJ was until I started having to play with other point guards,” Nelson said. It might sound crazy. But in a continent filled with basketball players who are earning a living by playing a game they love, don’t count that idea out just yet. A Jones-to-Nelson alley-oop, announced in a foreign language to a capacity crowd, just might happen someday, completing the circle that began years ago on the playgrounds in mid-Michigan. H
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Bowled Over Spartans Beat Georgia In Outback Classic BY JACK EBLING
20 JANUARY 2012
JANUARY 2012 21
If it had been easy, it wouldn’t have been Michigan State. But there was no better way for a class with class to say goodbye than to shout, “Hellooooo, Bowl Win!”
One Last Hurrah Quarterback Kirk Cousins celebrates his school-record 37th and final win as a Spartan player.
22 JANUARY 2012
The celebration that followed was one of the most meaningful in a proud program’s history and a warm, fuzzy feeling five years in the making. “I kept thinking, ‘It can’t end with a loss. It can’t! We’re not going to allow it,’” said quarterback Kirk Cousins, as fine a representative as college football has had. “But it was a couple of inches from happening.” When Dantonio talks about “a game of inches,” he means the stretch Anthony Rashad White somehow summoned to block the last kick from the Bulldogs’ Blair Walsh, the SEC’s top career scorer. He means the second and third efforts of Le’Veon Bell on the tying touchdown with 14 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, a play call that could’ve backfired with a lesser back. He means the vertical leap of Keith Nichol on a go-ahead grab near the crossbar and the horizontal lunge on the first of two Darqueze Dennard interceptions, a momentum shift of seismic proportions down 16-0. But a win like this one has so many heroes – from unheralded walk-ons to transfers to five-star recruits. They all had MICHIGAN STATE on their chests. How about “Who’s he?”-holder Brad Sonntag, who handled a low snap on the Spartans’ lone extra-point, then helped his team go 2-for-2 on field goals in overtime, while Georgia was 1-for-3? How about Dan Conroy, who hadn’t kicked all day, then coolly drilled a PAT to make it 27-all and hit from 35 and 28 in OT to join an exclusive bowl-winners club with Dave Kaiser, John Langeloh and Paul Edinger? How about Mike Sadler, a 4.0 student whose educated instep set Outback Bowl records with a 50.1-yard average on eight kicks and a combined 401 yards in boots, including four that died inside the 12? How about Brian Linthicum, a senior tight end who started at Clemson and ended his college career with seven catches for 115 yards, both career-highs, including his team’s only offensive play of more than 25 yards? How about William Gholston, who wreaked havoc with seven solo stops, two sacks, five hits for losses, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup? He wore No. 2 because Georgia thought there were two of him. And how about MSU’s Dennard, a two-star recruit from The Peach State who reminded his heralded homeboys that losing is still the pits?
Will Do MSU defensive end William Gholston had five tackles for losses and harassed Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray all day. “Everything happens for a reason,” the sophomore cornerback said of being able to walk the streets of Dry Branch, Ga., for the rest of his life. “When I went home for Christmas break, I was really getting it. We were supposed to get our heads beat in.” Instead, the Spartans beat down another barrier, earning their first bowl win in a decade and ending a five-game post-season skid, the last four in unfair fights under Dantonio’s leadership. MSU was the only Big Ten team to win on the busiest day of the post-season. Michigan also started with a win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl the following night. But Penn State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin are all 0-1 this year. The Spartans aren’t responsible for that. They are responsible to each other. We saw that again when players made mistakes and held themselves accountable. You can count on this: MSU has just had the only two 11-win seasons in school history. No NCAA Division I team or NFL franchise in the state has done better, not even the one in Ann Arbor.
Photography Matthew mitchell/mSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS
In just the third triple-overtime game in bowls history, the Spartans rallied three times on January 2 to stun Georgia 33-30 in an Outback Bowl matchup of Big Ten and SEC divisional winners. “We’ve been doing new things,” Mark Dantonio said in a passable impression of Muhammad Ali, circa 1974. “We’ve been chopping trees. We done wrestled an alligator. We tussled with a whale. We handcuffed lightning and threw thunder in jail.” Escaping from the prison of their image, his players pushed decades of past disappointments to the bottom of Tampa Bay. With a second-half flurry reminiscent of Ali at his finest, MSU got off the canvas and fought back with 30 minutes of amazing football, then summoned the strength for 25 more plays.
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“I kept saying that this win would mean more than beating Michigan,” said Nichol, a study in perseverance. “We know how to beat them. We’ve done it four years in a row. It’s becoming part of our culture. But we didn’t know how to win a bowl game.” Now, they do. And the recipe isn’t much different. It’s blending skill and will until the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, until the fingers all become part of a fist.
and marched through Georgia for 85 yards in 1:41 without the benefit of a timeout. That tying drive will rank with a marathon push against the Wolverines in 1995, a series with 103 yards of offense, as one of the most patient, passion-filled possessions a coach could want. Cousins-to-Nichol for 15 yards…to B.J. Cunningham for 7 and again for 22…to Bell for 3, Nichol for 6 and Keshawn Martin for 11 and…hmm, that ’s only 64 yards.
“Just believe and keep fighting the fight… when we got the first touchdown, it all started to change.” After a first-half rope-a-dope that saw a 2-0 deficit grow to 16-0 with the longest pass and punt return in Outback Bowl history, the Spartans began to punch back in a 4-hour, 10-minute battle of attrition. From the start of the fourth quarter till the final blocked kick, MSU outgained the Bulldogs 237-79, had 15 completions to Georgia’s five
Ah, yes, we can’t forget a 20-yard scramble by a quarterback who wasn’t supposed to be able to run and a last-push, 1-yard smash by another unappreciated prospect. “I got hit at the 1-1/2 and knew I had to get in,” Bell said. “Everyone who was in on that play gave a little bit extra. Georgia thought we’d give up. But we weathered
the storm. I couldn’t be any happier for the seniors.” In many ways, their 37th win – four more than in any four-year period of MSU football – was the best. It was definitely the best description of why so many things have changed. And it was exactly the way it would’ve been scripted. A group of lightly rated recruits with heavy burdens weighed in at just the right time, as Cousins noted. “K.C. and the Sunshine Band” were No. 1 again. If the Spartans had won 31-14, it wouldn’t have been as fulfilling. Or as fitting. They lost the game five different times. And won it six. But you can’t keep good men down – unless they’re willing to stay there. Dantonio, his staff and especially their players have never seen themselves as incompetent. Just incomplete. That circle was closed in Raymond James Stadium, before a surprising number of true-green believers. “Just believe and keep fighting the fight,” Dantonio said of one of his five favorite triumphs. “When we got the first touchdown, it all started to change.” It’s starting to change in another way, too. MSU has a one-game winning streak in bowls and a warmer winter ahead. Will it ever lose again? H
Le’Veon’s Lunge MSU running back Le’Veon Bell won’t be denied and dives over the goal line for the tying TD, setting up a triple-overtime triumph.
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Edwards & Sons Share Sport, Triumphs BY ANDREA NELSON
Like father, like sons. To say that Harris Edwards Jr. and his sons Harris III and Austin are a talented martial arts trio is an understatement. 28 JANUARY 2012
Photography DANE ROBISON
With a few years of experience and a couple World Championships between them, it’s safe to call the Edwards family a martial arts dream team. “For me it’s the fact that we have been so connected together in everything we do,” Harris Jr. said. “I have made sure that I have truly been passionate about my connection to both of my kids.” The legacy started almost 35 years ago when Harris Jr. began studying martial arts in Detroit. When his two sons were born, he didn’t waste any time sharing his passion. “Both of my kids started martial arts when they learned how to walk,” Harris Jr. said. “If you live around a baseball or football house, that’s probably what you’re going to end up doing. So in my household, my kids ended up in martial arts.” Harris III and Austin were born four years apart but were both introduced to martial arts when they turned 2 years old. “I just grew up with it,” 13-year-old Austin said. “I can’t remember that far back.” But the type of martial arts the boys study is different than what their father learned as a beginner. Harris Jr. lived in Detroit and was trained how to defend himself in street combat as a mixed martial artist. When it was time for his own sons to study the sport, he wanted to train them to compete in tournaments, an opportunity he never had. The boys entered their first point tournaments when they were 5 years old. Harris Jr. wanted his sons to learn how to win and lose in a large environment and learn specific techniques without the danger of getting hurt or hurting their opponent. Point fighters study light-tomedium contact and wear protective equipment to minimize injuries. This is the type of martial arts Harris III and Austin continue to compete in today. Their father said he will support his sons if they decide to try mixed martial arts. But he won’t let them make that decision until they’re 18 years old and can make better choices about their future in the sport. “When he turns 18, if he comes to me and says, ‘Dad I want to try my hand at mixed martial arts and a cage fight,’ I will give him 100%,” Harris Jr. said. “But I never told him he needed to. I never told him he should. I’ve never forced either one of my kids into any kind of sport activity.” Harris III is undecided if he’ll pick up mixed martial arts after his next birthday. “I don’t know if I want to do it as a career. but I might do it a couple of times,” he said. If either of the Edwards boys decided to try their hand at their father’s specialty, they’ll have one of the best teachers in the world at their immediate disposal. Harris Jr. is currently a Grand Master in martial arts with a 9th degree black belt, one of the highest rankings in the world.
You wouldn’t know that if you saw him. First, he doesn’t have the size you would expect to see in a martial artist. Second, it’s hard to get him to talk about his own accomplishments. Harris Jr. is perfectly content talking about his sons and the students he mentors at the martial arts school he founded after graduating from high school. “I love mentoring the children, taking them in and teaching them how to develop selfconfidence and help them develop honor,” Harris Jr. explained. “And those that come in here weak come out strong.” Austin’s explanation was short and sweet. “He taught us to be individuals,” he said. And the two boys have been. Harris III is the spitting image of his father in the way he looks and moves and enjoys competing in tournaments at the international level. It’s his skill and competitiveness that prompted the Grand Master to give him the nickname “S.W.I.F.T.”
Harris III lost his first fight but came back the next day on his 16th birthday to redeem himself. He left his first competition at the international level with a silver medal in point fighting and two bronzes in continuous fighting and team sparring. The success Harris III had at the 2010 World Championship set the bar high. But he was in good company when he stepped into the spotlight for the 2011 World Championship. “This year we competed,” Harris Jr. said. “I say ‘we’, because he begged me to go compete with him in Spain. I let him talk me into this, and we both made the team.” “I asked him the year before,” Harris III said. “I got done with the tournament and said, ‘You should come out and try, because it would be awesome if father and son went over there.’” Better late than never. Father and son both earned gold and silver medals in continuous and point fighting in regionals, then nationals,
“It’s cool because I can get all of the coaching I need… he taught me how to be respectful and disciplined.” AUSTIN EDWARDS
“My dad came up with it,” Harris III said. “It’s all the kind of stuff that I am. Silent, Wicked, Intercepting, Furious, Technique.” Austin has a different finesse to his fighting. He’s just as talented as his older brother but doesn’t care to compete in the same type of tournaments. “I guess I’m not the tournament fighter,” Austin said. “I just love martial arts.” He still travels with his family to support his older brother, and they’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately. Last year Harris Jr. found out the World Kickboxing Council was putting together a team of the best martial artists to compete in a World Championship in Portugal. He took Harris III to the regional qualifier in Cincinnati, where he competed against the previous year’s United States World Champion point fighter. It was Harris III’s first tournament after breaking his jaw. But he refused to back down from the challenge. “I just didn’t want to get hit really, and I used evasion,” Harris III explained. “Everybody was cheering for him, but it didn’t matter. I blacked out the crowd, and I did what my dad told me to and came out winning.” Harris III won a gold medal in continuous fighting and a bronze in point fighting, which qualified him for the National Championship in the Pontiac Silverdome. He cleaned out the medals in Pontiac as well, earning a gold in both continuous and point fighting. Then it was off to Portugal.
earning spots on the USA Team to compete at the 2011 World Championship. “It was very fun,” Harris said. “Having him fighting and cheering for him, then having him cheering for me, it was pretty cool.” His father loved it just as much. When Harris III was in the ring, Harris Jr. was in the coach’s chair right on the edge, trying to coach his son to another World Championship. “We had a game plan, and that’s, ‘I want you to go out there and never, ever stop moving,’” Harris Jr. explained. “And that’s his secret. He is so evasive it’s not funny. When he fights like that, it’s hard to hit him.” Harris III faced an opponent in the finals who had beaten him at Nationals earlier in the year. But he knew what he had to do. “If I kept moving, then I could get around him and do what I needed to do,” Harris III said. “So I just listened to my dad. At the end of the fight, my score was higher,and it was just awesome when I got him.” Harris III had won the gold medal at the martial arts World Championship. Then, it was dad’s turn. Harris Jr. hadn’t competed in a point tournament in 24 years and was coming off shoulder surgery, but that didn’t matter to him. He walked away with a bronze medal. And even though he was excited about his accomplishment, nothing could compare to watching his son receive the gold. JANUARY 2012
Like Father, Like Son Harris Edwards Jr. demonstrates a kick to Harris Edwards III.
“I was elated more when he got his,” Harris Jr. said. “I was blown away, I was so happy for him.” But both boys know they wouldn’t be nearly as successful without their father by their side. “It’s awesome because not a lot of people have a dad who is their coach or even in their life,” Harris III said. “He’s been a great coach and a great father, so it’s worked out perfect.” “It’s cool because I can get all of the coaching I need,” Austin said. “He taught me how to be respectful and disciplined.” Austin travelled with his father and brother to support them in their journey for a World Championship. There’s no question he has the talent to compete alongside them. He just doesn’t have the desire to be an international fighter. Even the President of the USA Team recognized Austin’s skill. He asked Austin to be on the USA Team after watching him beat a defending gold medalist. He’s good. But at 12 years old, Austin told the president that he didn’t want to be on the team because his cardio wasn’t up to par. “What I admire about my younger son is the same thing I admire about my oldest son,” Harris Jr. said. “I taught them to be
individuals, to never do this because of me. Do this because you want to do it.” Austin continues his martial arts training, but picked up a new sport as well. He’s on the Grand Ledge basketball team, where he’s using his quickness on the court instead of in the ring. “It’s really fun because you get to shoot the ball a lot, and it’s interactive,” Austin said. “The speed of martial arts has to be good for basketball because of all the skills.” No matter what sport the boys are involved in, it’s hard for Harris Jr. to describe how proud he is of his children. “I’m elated,” Harris Jr. said. “I can’t even express the words. I’m so joyful and so proud of them, and I tell them all the time. I tell them I love them and I’m super proud.” And it’s just the beginning. Harris Jr. and Harris III plan on returning to the World Championship next year, but they won’t have to travel as far to compete. The 2012 Martial Arts World Championship will be held in Montreal. All three boys plan on attending whether they’re defending their titles or cheering each other on. The dream team will be there no matter what. That’s what family is for. H
Play in our indoor leagues all winter long, and be ready when the snow melts to melt up your score card.
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Attacking The Goal Kristen Rasmussen Succeeds At Every Level
When Kristen Rasmussen was growing up, her dream was to become the first female to play in the NBA. The WNBA was created a few years later. Though she didn’t have to worry about competing with Shaquille O’Neal, Rasmussen never lost sight of her goals. And that hard work paid off when pro basketball came calling. “Doing everything I could to obtain that goal and then getting that call saying I was drafted, it was amazing,” Rasmussen said. “I can remember sitting there waiting for a call, waiting to hear my name. It kept going on and on, and I didn’t hear anything. I was getting so nervous.” Finally, her phone rang. The Utah Starzz’ decision to pick Rasmussen 51st in the 2000 WNBA draft began a successful 11-year career
in the United States and overseas for one of the best female basketball players in the world. “There are only 12 teams with 12-14 players,” Rasmussen said. “If you’re one of those it’s just like, wow that’s a huge accomplishment. You have to always want to get better every time you step on the court. You know there’s someone else trying to take your spot, so that’s a bit of motivation. It was for me.” Motivation, dedication, determination – none of those were a problem for Rasmussen, even when she played at Michigan State. She still ranks among the top 25 players in MSU history in 23 different statistical categories. She’s No. 2 in career blocked shots, rebounds and offensive rebounds. The Okemos native had always been told she should become a Spartan. And a few recruiting trips were all it took to seal the deal. “I just really enjoyed the atmosphere that was there,” Rasmussen said. “The Breslin Center is gorgeous, and the fan base that was there was into us succeeding. It was a really good basketball community.” It was a community that set her up for success for the rest of her career. Rasmussen played for seven WNBA teams and in six countries overseas in 11 years. The journey may have been difficult at times, but Rasmussen understood that she had to make the best of every situation. “I really enjoyed the path I was given,” Rasmussen said. “I think when you’re Goal Driven Ex-Spartan Kristen Rasmussen played 11 years of pro basketball in the WNBA and in Europe.
32 JANUARY 2012
presented with a situation, you can look at it one of two ways. You can look at it as, ‘Oh, I’m not good enough. They don’t want me anymore.’ I looked at it like, ‘This team really likes this part of my game, and I’m going to help them as best I can.’” She helped plenty. The 6-foot-4 center earned five All-Romanian honors, made it to the semifinals of the WNBA, Spanish LFB and Greek Cup and was a Spanish LFB Finalist. “Looking back on it, it still doesn’t seem real that I was a professional athlete and got to play around the world,” Rasmussen said. “I feel like I’m just like everybody else. I just happen to have a really cool job.” Though her professional basketball career ended in 2011, Rasmussen has taken a new role on the court. She is currently the head coach of Division III Simmons College in Boston. Rasmussen recognizes the difficulties of her position, but is enjoying the new path her life has taken. “It’s difficult your first year at this level, because you’re given players that were recruited by somebody else,” Rasmussen explained. “At the same time, they’re great kids. Anything that I can do to help them become the best players they can be when they leave, I’ve done my job.” But Rasmussen hasn’t forgotten where she came from. Whenever she’s in East Lansing, she makes sure to stop in for a visit with Suzy Merchant’s team. She has had a career many girls dream of and will do anything to help them see those dreams are obtainable. “I’ll help them in any way I can,” Rasmussen said. “One of the most interesting things that I find about women in basketball is that they put themselves in the way of being successful. Everybody has the confidence, the knowledge that you’re great, but if you stand in your own way of obtaining your goals, it’s really hard to overcome that.” Few universities are lucky enough to say a WNBA player went to their school. Kristen Rasmussen gives MSU those bragging rights. But she’s just as proud to be a Spartan as the Spartans are to call her one of their own. Rasmussen Will. H
Photography mSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS
BY ANDREA NELSON
train hard and smart!
Running…But Which Way? Away From Biomechanics Means Toward Injury BY STEVEN A. MORGAN Director Maximum Athletic Performance
Since 1991 Biomechanics has been an integral part of my life. Prior to that year, as an undergraduate student athlete at Michigan State University, I avoided those classes for fear of the “mechanics” portion of the class. The math terrified me. Yet, I must admit, I was intrigued by a class that could help me pitch better and run faster. I conjured up the courage to take a course and really loved the idea that all human movement could become more mechanically efficient. I was encouraged that this was indeed true, based upon observations of teammates and the practical experience that came along with being a Big Ten student-athlete. Later, I became a certified personal trainer/strength-and-conditioning coach and actually began training athletes. I watched several athletes in various programs become injured acutely as well as chronically due to incorrect biomechanics. Jumpers knee and patella tendonitis are just a few of the serious conditions that can develop in athletes over time if proper biomechanics are not taught and developed. Ballistic forms of training or exercises, such as plyometrics, olympic weightlifting, will exacerbate existing conditions.
THE BOTTOM LINE Regarding Knee Malalignment If you are either bow-legged or knock-kneed, you are at higher risk for osteoarthritis and patella tracking issues. That means you may develop knee pain and functional problems later in life. Hip flexion is used in walking and running to bring the leg forward and through. The hip flexors are located in the front, side and rear of the hip. This allows them to flex (shorten) the femur. It is also an important mover in climbing stairs or walking uphill, and forcefully used in the activity of kicking. Most coaches and trainers place little if any emphasis on training the hip joint for the movement of flexion, since most do not understand basic biomechanics. However, hip flexion is a very important joint movement for sprinters, skaters, high/long jumpers, and others who must develop quick and powerful leg action. It has been shown that fatigue in the hip flexors may alter the running mechanics and
lead to injuries that can be avoided through better conditioning of this muscle group. Or as we say at Maximum Athletic Performance (www.maximumathleticperformance.us), Train Hard and Smart! Observing young athletes run and jump, one can clearly see that most have some type of joint malalignment (hip, knee, ankle). Using sportcords and resistance bands in the beginning of the program can create a platform to launch deeper into strength training, especially for the immature athlete. Valgus alignment shifts the load-bearing axis to the outside, causing increased stress across the lateral (outer) compartment of the knee. Varus alignment causes the load-bearing axis to shift to the inside, causing more stress and force on the medial (inner) compartment of the knee. It is my hope that through a better understanding of basic biomechanics, everyday movements with the potential to cause overuse injuries shall be identified by coaches, parents and trainers. A corrective program designed to aid the athlete in strengthening and aligning the troubled area can be undertaken, resulting in fewer injuries and better performance. It’s important to keep your weight within a normal range. Adding extra load to a compromised structure will significantly alter movement patterns. Train Hard and Smart! H
WHAT IS BIOMECHANICS? It is the evaluation of motion of a living organism and the effect of force – either a push or pull on a living organism. The biomechanical approach to movement can be qualitative, with movement observed and described, or quantitative, meaning that some measurement of the movement will be performed.
G E N U VA L G U M
G E N U VA R U M
KNEE ALIGNMENT CHECKLIST This article will focus on conditions of the knee as they pertain to the qualitative nature of coaching, helping the athlete to enhance movement efficiency, thus potentially increasing athletic performance. 34 JANUARY 2012
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PROPER FOOTWEAR – Make sure that shoes aren’t too worn and are appropriate for activity. VALGUS OR VARUS – Determine which condition applies to you. STRENGTH TRAIN THE HIP FLEXORS – First with resistance bands, then weights or machines. HIP TO ANKLE – Stretch all of the muscles of the kinetic chain. TURN TOES OUTWARD – Widen your athletic base/position.
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Hardwood, Hard Knocks Local News Anchor Reflects On His Hoops Past
The pain was unbearable, even nauseating. Through a filter of blurry, bitter tears, I stared at the list, Scotch-taped to the freshman basketball coach’s door. The list determined who was in and who was out. And at 15 years old, I so desperately wanted to be “in.” The cut was swift and decisive. It was blunt, and it stung. No matter how I tried to justify it, no matter how many times I told myself Michael Jordan got cut from his ninth-grade team, the truth crept over me like an unavoidable wave. I wasn’t Michael Jordan, and I didn’t make the freshman basketball team at Sterling Heights High. The only remaining option I had if I wanted to restore my shattered dream was to sign up for Parks and Rec basketball. It was widely considered the Developmental League for high school basketball rejects. A basketball purgatory, reserved only for those who would never amount to much in life. For 50 bucks, you could round up your buddies and field a team. I figured if I couldn’t make “the team,” I would make “a team.” My team was a concoction of high school guys that never really played organized basketball. It was obvious. I played point guard because, heck, I started the team, and felt it was my right to run the show, regardless of how poorly I ran it. Initially, it didn’t occur to me, that the primary responsibility of the point guard is to distribute the ball. Naturally, my best friend, Steve, was the off guard. Not necessarily because of shooting ability, but because he was my best friend. My buddy, Jason, who walked up court more often than not, was our forward. Jeff, a talented soccer player who could probably kick a basketball into the hoop better than he could shoot it, was our other forward. Then, there was Angelo, our center. Angelo was a talented piano player, who once did a spot-on rendition of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” at a school choir concert. Unfortunately for Angelo, to use another Joel reference, he could never hit a “Big Shot” on the basketball court. Probably because his shoes were so worn down and bald, he would have had better grip with his socks. 36 JANUARY 2012
My dad assumed the coaching reigns of our fledgling team, despite the fact he had never coached basketball before. He wasn’t exactly an X’s-and-O’s tactician, but he quickly channeled his inner Jerry Tarkanian, pestering the refs and pacing the sidelines.
Hardware The Hard Way Adaline points to a trophy that proves there’s more than one way to win.
Our expansion franchise, in its infancy, operated under a very meager budget. That meant we didn’t have uniforms. Luckily, the league provided recycled mesh jerseys for our convenience. They were available in a plastic trashcan at the gym for everyone’s use at each game. They were sweaty, gross, and downright degrading. And for that first season, they were ours. So there we were: A ragtag team with ragtag jerseys, playing in front of a ragtag crowd of about 25 fans. I wish I could say we went out
and whipped our opponents with dazzling team play and spectacular individual performances. Instead, it was a bloodbath. In the third quarter, I watched from below as a guy on the other team dunked in my face, Patrick Ewingstyle, to push their lead past 30 points. We played nine games, and were blown out nine times. I think the closest we ever got to a team was an eight-point defeat. Perhaps that season was the basketball gods’ way of explaining to me that it was time to hang up my Reebok Pumps and call it a career. But I decided to stick with it. The next season, my persistence paid off. We added a few better players, got better jerseys, and our record improved. During that season, one of the new guys on our team said to me, “You can pass the ball, you know?” It was revolutionary. I passed, they scored, and we won half our games. The year after that, half the players on our school’s varsity team abruptly quit because they didn’t like the coach. Their immaturity was the perfect chance to re-engineer my roster into a winner. I offered a few of the guys the chance to play on a team where they would be valued. I told them they could hog the ball without repercussions, and they could be the stars they thought they were. Pat Riley would have been jealous. I signed the starting point guard and two forwards from the high school team, and we instantly became a winner. It was the perfect coup, and my team reaped the spoils, running the table to the championship. It was an especially sweet victory, in contrast to the heartbreaking rejection of my freshman year. I recently dusted off that championship trophy that, incidentally, is as tall as a high school freshman. Holding it, I was reminded how failure, cuts and setbacks aren’t final. Even when things look hopeless, when you don’t make the cut, when you can’t catch a break, when the bills don’t get paid or the job doesn’t work out, remember: There’s always another opportunity to get it right. You will get another chance, in another game, on another day. One day you’re cut, and another, you’re champ. In Parks and Rec leagues and otherwise. H
Photography GREG ADALINE/WLNS TV-6
BY GREG ADALINE WLNS TV 6
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