The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine
Don Johnson Still Battling For Eastern High Nothing Foul With Local Free-Throw Streak MSU Women’s Hockey Has Its Goals, Too
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14 THE two sides of pressure Tales Of A Child’s Pressure To Perform
Photograph OF DANTON PAGE by Ceil Heller
BY hannah cutri & J.p. pena
22 THE DON OF DIScIPLINE
Eastern High Legend Don Johnson Touched Thousands BY jack ebling
30 Girl meets goal
MSU Women’s Hockey Exists (And Is In First Place) BY ted kluck
34 Welcome back, cotter
Cancer Can’t Stop Amazing Shooting Streak
BY andy flanagan
Oohs & Ahhs, Not Blahs Greater Lansing Parks Provide Winter Fun BY doug warren
NEWS + NOTES
The Tribe of Ovid-Elsie
Football Success Unites Communities
A Great Way To Lose
Healthier Lifestyle Is Worth Its Weight In Goals
By Dr. John H. Braccio
By rita wieber
18 My-Oh-Meijer Holiday Hoops Invitational Brings 12 More Teams To Breslin Center By Ernie Boone
38 Always A Willing Participant Lansing Soccer Ref Gets Call And Rare Opportunity By Dave Hogg
A Decade Of Memories
Meijer, Mike Borek Keep Giving Back By ernie boone
So Many People To Thank
MSU Soccer’s Comeback, Titles A Team Effort By JOE BAUM
42 Edgar Wilson Where Is He Now? By Walt Sorg
44 The Bowlers Are Coming! The Capital City Plays Host To Annual USBC State Tournament By Brendan Dwyer
JANUARY 2009 3
SPORT CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Rita Wieber Rita has worked in the health and wellness arena in Greater Lansing for more than 20 years as an exercise physiologist, a nurse and a college instructor. A former running columnist, she has been running for more than three decades to support her chocolate habit. Rita lives in DeWitt with her husband, David, and their four children.
Andy Flanagan Andy has written about high school teams and athletes in MidMichigan for more than a quarter-century, starting with the Lansing State Journal in 1982. The Everett High and MSU grad helped cover Spartan football from 1987-89. An avid homebrewer, Andy works in corporate communications for Auto-Owners Insurance Company. He and his wife, Jamie, have two children.
Ted Kluck A modern-day George Plimpton, Ted has written for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com Page 2. His books include Facing Tyson and Paper Tiger. He has coached prep football, trained as a pro wrestler and served as a missionary. Ted lives in Grand Ledge with wife, Kristin, and son Tristan.
Dr. John H. Braccio Dr. John H. Braccio has been a well-known psychologist in Greater Lansing for many years. He is the director of Regional Psychological Services, where his children, John and Sara, work with him. He has an active private practice, which includes athletes, and performs in-services and develops self-help programs. His website is www.drjohnb.com.
The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine
Volume #1 â€˘ Issue #5 JANUARY 2009
Publisher NBB Publishing Editor Jack Ebling Assistant Editor Doug Warren Contributing Writers Joe Baum Ernie Boone Dr. John H. Braccio Hannah Cutri Brendan Dwyer Jack Ebling Andy Flanagan Dave Hogg Ted Kluck J.P. Pena Walt Sorg Doug Warren Rita Wieber PhotographY / ART Jordan Byrem Brendan Dwyer Andy Flanagan Al Goldis Ceil Heller Michelle Hoffman Carlos Osorio Michigan State University Terri Shaver MAGAZINE Design & LAYOUT Vision Creative Printing Millbrook Printing, Co. Mailer Aldingers, Inc.
SPORT, The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine is published monthly by NBB Publishing with offices at 1223 Turner, 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 $18.00 per year which is half of the shelf price of $3.00 per issue. Subscribe at: www.SportLansing.com Postmaster: Address changes should be sent to: SPORT Magazine, 1223 Turner, Suite 300, Lansing, Michigan 48906. 4 JANUARY 2009
Editorial Office 1223 Turner, Suite 300 Lansing, Michigan 48906 (517) 455-7810 www.SportLansing.com Copyright ÂŠ 2008 NBB Publishing. All rights reserved.
You’ve Gotta Have Hope The Road To Understanding – A Two-Way Street BY JACK EBLING
“Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.” - Anonymous Before the first issue of SPORT left the printer in early September, one thing was certain. Unless the editor was fired before Christmas, an issue in early 2009 would feature our future. Our first four covers had saluted the young in gymnastics phenom Jordyn Wieber and the young-at-heart in coach-administratorbroadcaster Gus Ganakas. The difference in ages? Just 68 years. But when octagenarian Jud Heathcote weighed in with a back-page tribute to Gus, it was time to hear from a different generation. We needed to be reminded that hope springs eternal. Enter life-shaper Heather Simon (pronounced “simmon”) and her sixth-grade students at Hope School in Holt. Their contributions on the topic of pressure are my favorite part of this issue. All it took was the right teacher, the right topic and the right talent – in this case, writers Hannah Cutri and J.P. Pena and illustrator Jordan Byrem.
“All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.”
- Earvin Johnson
The most important pick was Miss Simon. After hearing her talk about the Nyaka AIDS Orphan School in Uganda, it was clear how she viewed education. After seeing her
interact in the classroom, it was just a matter of selecting three students – a tougher task than you’d imagine. Early writing assignments and citizenship traits identified a pool of potential essayists and artists. Effort, maturity and modesty mattered. So did the importance of a rare opportunity and interest in sports. “I picked Hannah for many reasons, but mostly because she ‘dances’ with the pen,” Miss Simon said. “Her writing ability is among the best I have seen at this age, which matches her talent in dance. “I chose Josh (J.P.) because of his effort as a student, his citizenship, his respect for others and because he hasn’t had a lot of recognition in school. In spite of that, he never complains. “Once we decided we could have an illustrator, too, I was ecstatic because one more student would have a special chance. Jordan has passion and loves to draw. This is something she can hang onto forever.” That’s all well and good. In fact, it’s more than enough of a reason to devote four pages to their stories this month – and periodically as people progress. Still, I was hoping for something more, for a lesson from pupils to parents and from young athletes to overzealous coaches. I wanted to see if a message could be sent. Mission accomplished. The students picked the topic of their essays. And pressure seemed liked a great place to start. Hannah, J.P. and Jordan thought so, for starters.
“It was fun coming up with the idea,” Hannah said. “We had a little help from Miss Simon. But we all thought of examples of pressure. And I learned something important. When you’re writing a story, you should let your mind go free. Don’t hold back.” There was pressure involved in describing pressure, following instructions and meeting deadlines. Some dealt with that better than others. All did a better job of it than some who have received paychecks here, including yours truly. “Oh, wow!” J.P. said. “It was really hard. The most fun was when it was done. I looked back to the rough draft and saw how it really improved. I know I spent a lot of time on it, thinking of a beginning and transitions. Miss Simon helped a lot there.” When our sportswriters-in-training delivered, a budding artist was already at work. Pressure? What pressure? “I just looked for main parts of story and tried to draw them out,” Jordan said. “It just came naturally. I’d like to be a real artist some day – that or a chef. I like to cook. But I’m not allowed to do stove things. I do a lot in the microwave.” Don’t worry, Jordan. I have the same restrictions, except than I can burn a microwave, too. Some day I’ll learn how to cook. And some day your drawings might bring you a paycheck. Today, they bring our readers some smiles and the realization that kids can be teachers, too.
“We judge a man’s wisdom by his hope.”
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” Saturdays 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 JANUARY 2009
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
SPORT NEWS + NOTES
Something For Everyone By Doug Warren & SPORT Staff
Michigan State running back Javon Ringer was named an Associated Press first team AllAmerican on December 16. The first-team All-Big Ten selection rushed for 1,590 yards, the second-highest total in school history, and led the nation in scoring (10.5 points per game). Ringer, a senior from Dayton, Ohio, also finished as the runner-up for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back. MSU safety Otis Wiley and linebacker Greg Jones received firstteam All-Big Ten honors from the league’s coaches. The three firstteam all-conference selections mark the most for the Spartans since five players received firstteam honors in 1999. Wiley, a senior from Flint, ranked second in the Big Ten and 30th in the NCAA in interceptions (4). He was eighth in the Big Ten in passes defended and fourth in punt returns. Wiley ranked third on the team in tackles (71). Jones, a sophomore from Cincinnati, led the Spartans in tackles (115) and tackles for losses (12.5 for 33 yards). He ranked third in the Big Ten in tackles, averaging 9.6 per game. Jones became the first Spartan to record 100 tackles in a season since Eric Smith had 101 in 2005. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has approved a $244,700 grant from the state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund to develop the long-awaited East-West Connector, a nature trail from Sharp Park to Creyts Road. The 1.3-mile, 10-footwide asphalt path for walkers and bikers will provide access to several neighborhoods including Windcharme Estates and Melody Acres. A sidewalk along Creyts Road will eventually link the path to Delta Mills Park. 8 JANUARY 2009
The Lansing Lugnuts and MSU Spartans will meet in the third annual Crosstown Showdown on April 16, 2009. The Lugnuts, a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, have won both of the previous contests by slim margins. In a seven-inning game last season, the Lugnuts edged the Spartans, 4-2. In the inaugural meeting in 2006, the Lugnuts defeated MSU, 4-3. The Run for the House 5K, a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House, will take place on March 28, 2009. This race will be the first of the season in Lansing and will replace the longstanding Food and Fitness 5K, which ended after 28 years when the Lansing Dietetic Association disbanded a few months ago. The Run for the House 5K will be held at Lansing’s Hawk Island County Park and will feature many components that made the Food and Fitness 5K successful, including the children’s sprint and half-mile that preceded the 5K. Michigan State striker Doug DeMartin was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/ adidas All-America second team on December 12. DeMartin is the second player in the Joe Baum era to earn All-America accolades, joining Ryan McMahen in 2005. DeMartin led the league in scoring with 17 goals and 37 points and became the second player in MSU history to be the Big Ten Player of the Year. His 17 goals were the most since 1968, when Tony Keyes scored 28. DeMartin finished his career with 38 goals and 85 points, both fifth on MSU’s all-time list. East Lansing’s Heather Brooks, a junior playing volleyball for the University of North Carolina, received an All-America honorable mention selection from the
American Coaches Association (AVCA). Brooks led the Tar Heels in hitting percentage and attack percentage. She also recorded 207 kills and 115 blocks this season. MSU volleyball’s Vanessa King, Natalie Emro and Heather McDaniel earned postseason recognition this season. Junior middle blocker King was named to the 12-member All-Big Ten Team. Freshman setter Emro was an unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. And McDaniel, a senior, was Michigan State’s representative of the Big Ten Volleyball Sportsmanship Award. King had a team-high 322 kills, while hitting .348 from the middle. Her .348 hitting percentage in school history. King also led the team in blocks (136) and total points (408). Emro led the Spartans with 1,245 assists, fourth all-time among MSU freshmen. She also posted 144 kills, 71 blocks and 24 aces and was the only freshman in the Big Ten to rank in the top five of any of the five major statistical categories (hitting percentage, kills, blocks, assists and digs). McDaniel, the team captain had 75 kills and 190 digs. The Playmakers Kids Race Series, a five-event campaign in 2009, begins with the Michigan Mile event on May 30 at Oldsmobile Park. Next comes the Rhino Run Mile on June 13 at Potter Park Zoo. The remainder of the series will consist of the Ele’s Place Mile on July 26, the Capital City Kids Mile on September 26 and the Dinosaur Dash Mile on October 4. For further information on any event, go to www.playmakers.com and click on the calendar. Pete and Ann Wade and Diane and Jim Harsha were presented with the Senior Chieftain Award by the Okemos Athletic Boosters (OAB) organization at the
seasonal Meet the Chiefs event on December 8. The Wades and Harshas are not high school seniors. They are couples in their late 60s who were recognized for their outstanding support of Okemos athletics. Both couples are familiar faces in the stands at almost every Okemos home football and basketball game, several away games, including playoff events, and various other teams’ competitions, though they don’t have children or grandchildren in the programs. Steve Taylor, current president of the OAB said, “Their support provides a great example for our kids that community involvement doesn’t end after you
graduate, nor when your children leave the school system.”
Upon Further Review…
Contribute News + Notes
From The December Issue:
Contact Doug Warren
The cheerleading photo on page 16 was taken by Ceil Heller.
The East Lansing girls basketball team lost one regular-season game last season – at home against Okemos.
(517) 323-6452 (8 a.m.-5 p.m.) news@SportLansing.com web:
JANUARY 2009 9
The Tribe of Ovid-Elsie Football Success Unites Communities By Dr. John H. Braccio
Sports have the unique capacity to pull entire communities together. A tribal identification makes us more than mere individuals. People who differ in many ways find a unifying cause and invest emotionally. A good example is the amazing turnout of the Ovid-Elsie community at Ford Field to see a gallant high school football team give its all against mighty Muskegon Oakridge. Though the Marauders didn’t win the game, the players and coaches were committed to each other. And the love and excitement of their magical football journey will be remembered forever. There was no emotional separation between the best player on the field, junior running back-linebacker Chris Robinson, and anyone else from Ovid-Elsie. Everyone pulled together and did what they could, including their raucous fans in the stands. This bonding can happen in good times and bad. After 9/11, the French newspaper, Le Monde, said, “We are all Americans.” With opposite emotions, many in Greater Lansing could have said, “We are all Marauders.” As the tribe of Ovid-Elsie welcomed new members, the sense of community grew. That bond became clear with the heartfelt gratitude of Coach Jerry Goosen and his players. Yes, it was a tremendous football story. But it was much more than that. It was a love story between a team and its community. If you doubt that for one second, you weren’t at Ford Field and didn’t see the support that stretched all along the home sideline. “I stood behind the kids and watched them
10 JANUARY 2009
run through the banners and could hear the roar,” Goosen said when asked to describe the feeling. “It was so inspiring and even spinetingling. My first thought was that it must be fans from Rockford. Then, I came out and saw that they were all our fans. I was in awe. They were so loud and proud.” The fans of Leslie and 14 other schools in the Finals felt similar pride. But none could top the cornfield-to-Ford Field satisfaction that was felt in Ovid-Elsie and shared in neighboring towns. “There is a great sense of pride in our community for our school and everyone associated with it,” Goosen told me. “There were children, parents and citizens lined up in Ovid and Elsie late at night when we returned. There were fire trucks and police cars with their lights on escorting the way. And at school there were 300 people in the cafeteria ready to salute the members of the team, see the trophy and take pictures.” Goosen mentioned emotional meetings with former coaches the week of the game. None meant more than the return of longtime O-E coach and athletic director Bob Foreback, who just had to be at Ford Field and flew in from Florida. “His wife couldn’t make it,” Goosen said. “But to see the game and be part of it was so important to him. Another gentleman
came in full of emotion and teary-eyed and said, ‘I never thought I’d live long enough to see us play at Ford Field. I can’t wait for this game.” Muskegon Oakridge had never trailed in 2008. And it was trying to pad a 13-7 lead just before halftime when the Marauders intercepted. With 1 second left, a Hail Mary heave from quarterback Jason Goosen, Jerry’s son, was hauled in by tight end Dave Russek for a 33-yard, go-ahead score. The resulting roar was the loudest in an eightgame, championship weekend. With a 14-13 halftime lead, who knows what might have happened if Robinson hadn’t suffered an ankle injury on a horsecollar tackle on a long run in the third quarter? This much we know: Robinson’s determination to keep playing was as strong as Ovid-Elsie’s courage at any point in its post-season surge. “He’s a great guy to be around,” Jason Goosen said of Robinson. “He’s a great kid. He never complains. And he has a great heart. Football-wise, its amazing what he can do. He’s one of the most gifted athletes I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t quit and gives 100 percent all the time.” After rushing for 2,844 yards, the thirdhighest total in Michigan prep history, Robinson should be even better as a senior next season. But whatever happens in 2009, nothing can take away the accomplishments of last fall or the feelings generated throughout the community in a wild, wonderful ride.
JANUARY 2009 11
A Great Way To Lose Healthier Lifestyle Is Worth Its Weight In Goals By rita wieber
Four years ago it would have seemed rude and inappropriate to call Shelly Murphy “The Biggest Loser.” But after a 100-pound weight loss, inspired by the hit reality show that made that label a compliment, Murphy knows she’s a winner. In the summer of 2005, Murphy was at an emotional low. Going through a divorce and adjusting to life as a single mother of two teenagers, she found herself at her all-time high of 234 pounds – too much for her short stature. It was time to do something for herself. “After watching The Biggest Loser on TV, I decided to start a similar program at work,” said Murphy, the business manager at the Center for Women’s Healthcare in Carson City. “I had some great support and resources at work with Dr. Michelle Becker and Jan Russell, our Nurse Practitioner. The show made me realize that working on a lifestyle change with a group of people would be easier than trying to do it alone.” Murphy initiated three 10-week programs with 25 people from work in September 2005. “The first program was based on individual success,” Murphy said. “Everyone paid a $25 entry fee and had to weigh in at the office. Prizes were given to those with the highest percentage of weight loss.” Years of unsuccessful yo-yo dieting were proof enough that Murphy needed to approach things differently. This time, rather than drastic calorie cutting, her program would include daily cardiovascular exercise and moderate diet changes. “I began doing two hours a day of cardio exercise and watched my carbohydrate, fat and sugar intake,” said Murphy, whose workouts included daily, four-mile walks and another hour of exercise to the “Slim in Six” DVD. The hard work paid off as Murphy lost 74 pounds in 30 weeks. Then… a setback. Major surgery in the summer of 2006 put a major kink in Murphy’s program, leading to a gain of 40 pounds. 12 JANUARY 2009
“I knew it was time to regroup,” she said. In February 2007, with sponsorship from Carson City Hospital and the Greenville Gym, a new 10-week “Biggest Loser” program was initiated with 80 participants, including Murphy’s original group from the Women’s Health Center. The participants were split into teams of six to eight people. Group competitions were held every few weeks, including a Dodge Ball tournament, a swimming competition and an indoor triathlon. The program concluded with a banquet and the presentation of achievement certificates. Murphy was back on track. She headed up a new “Biggest Loser” program with an expanded group from Greater Lansing. “I sent out fitness tips and encouraging messages every few days,” said Murphy, who donated the prizes out of her own pocket. “Everyone would report their weight to me on Thursdays. Then, I gave weekly prizes based on percentage of weight loss. We end with a banquet every 10 weeks.” By then, Murphy was experiencing the frustration of plateaus in her weight loss and decided to step up her exercise intensity. “I just went out for my walk one day and decided to try to run,” she said. “I ran the whole four miles my first time out.” Murphy’s mindset had changed. She never went back to walking. “I can do this, I thought,” she said, noting that she gets up at 4 a.m. to get her run done before work and at 6 a.m. on the weekends. “Taking my two golden retrievers was my motivation, and sitting in the hot tub when I got done was my reward.” At the conclusion of her third 10-week program last week, Murphy had officially lost 100 pounds and gone from a size 22 to a size 4. Her group of 40 participants, who now look to her as a mentor, lost a total of 265 pounds. “It’s been a long road full of emotional ups and downs,” she said. “Now, I actually get more satisfaction out of watching others in my group lose weight. I see them jump up and down when they lose three pounds the right way.” So, go ahead. Call Shelly Murphy “The “Biggest Loser.” It’s one of her proudest accomplishments.
JANUARY 2009 13
14 JANUARY 2009
The Two Sides of…
BY HANNAH CUTRI A SIXTH-GRADER AT HOPE SCHOOL IN HOLT
Pressure. It’s one word and only two syllables, yet it can change your mood or even your life in a strong way. This word has an encouraging side and a harmful side, and it shows up a lot in athletics. This feeling can come from parents, coaches/instructors or even yourself. No matter where it comes from, it has changed the way I think about life. “Good job Hannah, but next time work on pulling your arm through.” Scott, my stepdad, said when we were practicing at the beginning of my fifth-grade softball season. “I know.” I mumbled under my breath. After many of his pointers to get better, I was getting annoyed. It’s helpful when you get pushed to be better at something, but sometimes it can get a bit frustrating! After two months of practicing with my step-dad, our softball team was 6-3. Along with softball I had other priorities, such as dance. My dance recital was in a couple of days, and Scott and I were outside practicing SOFTBALL! I decided to plead with him: “Scott, can I please go inside? I want to practice my dance routine!” “Fine, but if you’re not ready for the next softball game, it’s not my fault!” he said. That was all I needed to hear. The dance recital music began playing through my mind and it pushed everything else, like softball, out of my head. I leaped through the air of my living room. I felt great! I knew that I was going to be awesome at my recital because of how I felt about dancing. Everything just flows when I do it. I knew I would be dancing for the rest of my life. Before I knew it, I was at my recital and heard, “Dancers from act 15, come on deck!” That was me! “Just take deep breaths!” I thought to myself as I hummed the rhythm. My song was starting and I felt the butterflies rushing to my stomach. The curtain came up, and before I knew it I was dancing. Five-six-seven-eight, pose. The steps continued through the song. Then, I realized that the pressure of being on stage felt so natural for me. I have been living with it for so long already.
When the song was over, I said to myself, “Yes, I have done it! I have completed my mission.” That mission was to do my best and to be proud of myself. I was excited to hear what my family thought of my dance. “Honey, you did great!” my dad said with excitement after the show. “Yeah, that was awesome. This is your thing!” my step-dad added. My step-dad was proud of me and my dancing, and that support was just what I needed to continue accomplishing my dream. I’m proud of the transformation of my step-dad. He went from a softball dad to a step-dad who supports his daughter in what she loves and does best – dance. I like that kind of pressure. This year I’m in Junior Company, a dance group of talented girls who audition, then do a bunch of gatherings together. We’re going to perform at a Pistons game, and I’m the youngest on the squad as an 11-year-old in the sixth grade. Although pressure can come in a negative way from parents, it can also come in a positive way that can encourage you to do better. Your family can give you the power to accomplish your mission. This kind of positive pressure from my family came last spring. I’ll never forget what happened. During a softball game, I heard the opposing crowd cheer, “Woo!” as their team got an out on my team. I happened to be next up to bat. I was gripping so hard on the bat that it felt like a vine clinging tight to the metal railings in a garden. “Come on Hannah, you can do it!” my coach yelled. I was walking up to the plate with a face that looked like I just put on a bunch of hot pink blush. However, under the blush, it was me. I knew that my family could
see the pink, so I tried to cover my fear with some bronzer. Obviously, it didn’t work. They knew it was me under all the “make-up.” First pitch – strike! Now I had to really step it up. “Go Hannah!” I heard from the bleachers. It was my family, and I noticed they were giving the thumbs-up sign to me. Now, it felt like 2,000 pounds of pressure were on my shoulders. I took a deep breath. Second pitch – BAM! In two seconds I had hit a double. I glanced at my family as I ran the bases. They were standing up like overexcited strangers, turning around telling people they did not even know that I was their granddaughter and daughter. Even though I don’t like pressure, it can turn out great. This story was definitely one of those times. However, it doesn’t change the fact that I’ll always have pressure with me, even if I don’t want it. Like when your younger brother is annoying you, but you have to love him at the same time. That is the same with pressure. Even if I don’t want it, I have to deal with it, whether it is from my parents or those coaching and instructing me. That brings me to another source of pressure – coaches. Coaches, coaches, coaches… what are you going to do with them? They’re confusing at certain times. At other times you love them for teaching you how to throw a curveball. Then, at other times you hate them because they yelled at you for not having your toe separator. No matter what, you can always count on them being right there by your side to put some sort of pressure on you. I know all about this from dance and softball. In softball I was one of the best players, so if I messed up my coach would give me “the stare” and then be all disappointed with me. I wouldn’t do my best because of that. One time I was the fifth up to bat and was sweating like a hog. My coach said that it was good to sweat like that because it meant that you were trying hard. I’m wondering if he ever thought pressure, rather than hard work, can have JANUARY 2009 15
The Two Sides Of Pressure the same effect. The fourth batter made an out and was really upset. It was now my turn, and I didn’t want to get upset like the fourth batter. If I was disappointed, I knew my coach would be disappointed. Unfortunately, I struck out. Of course my coach’s disappointment followed. I felt really bad
but had to move on and wipe the weight off my shoulders. Although this hurt me, the pressure helped, too. I learned from it, and it made me a better player. Even though I know that pressure will always be in my way, I’ve learned that I don’t need to worry about making mistakes
and disappointing people close to me, like coaches and family members. Now, I hope that parents, coaches, instructors and other “encouragers” know that kids aren’t going to be perfect at the start. However, with time, positive pressure and a little help, we can sparkle.
BY J.P. PENA A SIXTH-GRADER AT HOPE SCHOOL IN HOLT
There’s more to being a kid than playing video games and hanging out with friends. Believe it or not, there is a lot of pressure, especially in sports. I feel pressure in my life and in sports from my parents, my coaches and myself. My parents have been supporting me by going to my football, baseball, and basketball practices and games since I started playing. As I got older, my dad started to coach me for my Parks and Recreation basketball team, the Blue Bombers. We may not have won a lot of games, but my dad wanted to make sure we had fun and we learned the game of basketball. It was good to have my dad as a coach because he would tell me what things I have to work on, as well as the things I did well. He wanted me to be the best I could be. However, the challenging part about my dad being my coach and my mom being in the stands is the pressure I sometimes feel. For example, my dad yells to me and tells me what to do if a guy comes and steals the ball from me. Even though there are a lot of voices from the fans, I can always hear my dad’s voice as if he were standing next to me on the court. Also, my mom has a hard time being quiet. When I stand at the free throw line getting ready to shoot the game-winning shot, all I can hear is, “You can do it Josh!” I lose my concentration and worry that I might lose the game for my team. Pressure comes from people outside of my family, too, like coaches. Whether they realize it or not, coaches put a lot of pressure on us when we try out for a team. Trying out for any sport is nerve-wracking. I experienced this for the first time in 3rd grade when I tried out for Holt Jr. Rams Basketball. I tried my hardest but was cut on the first night of tryouts. Even though it was hard, I knew I needed to try again, so I did in the fifth grade. On the first night of my fifth-grade tryouts, we were all lined up by our height 16 JANUARY 2009
and given a number. We did lay-ups, jump shots and scrimmaged while the coaches wrote things on a clipboard. I knew they were watching me and taking notes every time I shot a lay-up. Sometimes I made it, and sometimes I missed. I didn’t want to do anything wrong because if I did then I might get a “minus” on the clipboard. I felt a lot pressure, especially when I would notice them writing something down. At the end of the first night of tryouts, we all got in a circle. The coaches said the numbers of the kids who did not make it to the second night of tryouts. I was so nervous that they would tell me not to come back. I was crossing my fingers and hoping I would have another chance to show them my skills. Thankfully, my number was not called. The second night of tryouts was worse. I felt even more pressure because there were a lot of good players, and it was my last chance to make a positive impression on the coaches. Again we did lay-ups, jump shots and scrimmaged for an hour and a half. Finally, the coaches made their decision on who would be a Holt Jr. Ram. We were given an envelope to tell us whether or not we made the team. We were not allowed to look in the envelope until we got to our car. As soon as I got in the car, I opened the envelope. My body started shaking. I slowly opened it and peeked at the first words… “Congratulations, you are a member of the Holt Jr. Rams basketball team.” I read the words out loud to my mom, and we both screamed! I couldn’t wait to call my dad and all of my family and friends. Trying out for sports is a lot of pressure because everyone there is giving their best effort and wants to wear the uniform. I am glad I made the team, but I know there
will always be more pressure next year. It is something I can depend on always being there, especially because I often put it on myself. The pressure I feel from my parents and coaches is nothing compared to the pressure that comes from me. I’ll never forget the first game of the basketball season against Okemos. I was already nervous about playing at the Holt High School gym. I was only in the fifth grade. The court seemed huge. And the noise of the fans was insane. I was doing well and made a few baskets when the unthinkable happened. One of my Jr. Rams teammates stole the ball from an Okemos player and passed it to me. Everyone else was behind me, and I dribbled towards the basket in a wide-open lane. I felt my heart beating and heard my mom yell, “You can do it Josh!” In slow motion I went up for the layup… and missed. The roar of the crowd turned into a sympathetic “Aaahhh.” I blew it! No one wants to make a mistake, especially in front of a crowd of people. I often put a lot of pressure on myself because I don’t want to make mistakes, especially one that might cost us the game. Even though I try to tell myself that it doesn’t really matter, I know that it really does. As I get older, I am learning that playing sports is more about competition and learning from our mistakes than letting pressure take over. I now appreciate these experiences because they help me understand how to handle the pressure I face. Playing sports as a kid is harder than it seems. Thinking of the pressure from my parents and coaches it can make sports difficult. Also putting pressure on myself can sometimes turn a layup into a complete “brick.” However, the pressure I feel as a kid is only the beginning of all of the pressures I will face in my life. I know that I have to learn to deal with this, while understanding that pressure will benefit me by making me work even harder.
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Northwood helped me build self-confidence. In class, I was able to practice leadership and problem-solving skills in a simulated real world environment. Today, I am on an executive management path which will eventually help me become a CEO or an entrepreneur. Even more important, I’d like to be a role model for young women in the future. Jodi Burgess Vice President, Marketing TechSmith Corporation
my-oh-meijer holiday hoops Invitational Brings 12 More Teams To Breslin Center BY ERNIE BOONE
18 JANUARY 2009
Photography Melissa Hoffman
It’s December, and March is a long way off, but a half-dozen high school basketball teams made major statements about th eir season expectations over the Christmas break with impressive victories in the Meijer Holiday Hoops Invitational at the Breslin Center.
McCallum, who was named to the AllTournament team, was the only Yellow Jacket to play more than 16 minutes. He hit 12 of 17 shots with four assists and zero turnovers. Unranked Cadillac beat 15th-ranked Eastern 61-52 behind the crowd-pleasing performance of 6-7 Ben Simmons. The Drake University pledge hit 16 of 26 shots from the field and was 3-for-5 from NBA 3-point range for a career-high 36 points. Simmons was all over the court. He Fans looking for last-second finishes left grabbed six rebounds, dished four assists disappointed as top-ranked Detroit Coun- and collected two steals to claim the tourtry Day (Class A) , Traverse City St. Francis nament Most Valuable Player award. “It was great playing in a place like this,” and 13th-ranked Pewamo-Westphalia (both Class C), easily disposed of respected rivals. Simmons said of the Breslin atmosphere. Eaton Rapids, Cadillac and Laingsburg “We were surprised that they didn’t try to pressure us earlier. We knew they liked to also won. But those who enjoy top-notch individual play at a fast pace, so we tried to take our performances found plenty of outstanding time, use the clock and take our shots.” Rico Stewart scored nine of his 15 points shooting, athleticism and determination on to lead a late Eastern comeback. The Quakdisplay. Junior point guard Ray McCallum Jr. ers applied full-court pressure and outscored conducted the Country Day offense like the Pirates 19-12 in the final period. But it an orchestra. The 6-foot-1 transfer from wasn’t enough. All-State forward LaDontae Bloomington, Ind., led all scorers with 27 Henton scored 14 points, grabbed seven points. The son of Detroit Mercy coach Ray rebounds and had three steals. Traverse City St. Francis remained undeMcCallum Sr. was able to break down the Comets and get to the basket at will. The feated, stopping Flint Beecher, 62-39. Yellow Jackets put a bevy of Division I pros- Size and strength and shooting made the pects on display and easily handled Grand difference as the Gladiators hit 24 of 49 from the field and held a 43-21 rebounding Ledge, 82-56. The Comets’ Jon Horford, a 6-9 junior stand- edge. Corey Williams led all scorers with 18 out, acquitted himself well, however, scoring points, and Holden Greiner added 17 points 20 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He and 11 rebounds. “We have high expectations for our kids,” battled Country Day’s 6-8 Donavan Kirk, with 13 points and six rebounds, and 6-11 St. Francis coach Dave Ginsberg said. “We DaShonte Riley, with five points, 11 rebounds won the state football championship. Now, they expect us to win in basketball.” and four blocked shots. Nine members of the state football champs play on the basketball team. Jon Horford scored 22 points and grabbed 8 boards Pewamo-Westphalia took a step forward in the CMAC in Grand Ledge’s loss to Detroit Country Day. league race, beating archrival Fowler, 56-31. Bryant Schmitt led the way with 16 points, 11 rebounds and two assists. The Pirates took a commanding 34-14 halftime lead, then continued to pile it on. In the opening contest, Dillon Bates scored 10 points to lead Laingsburg to a 55-39 win over Ithaca. Win or lose, the day-long event is seen as excellent preparation for state tournament competition. Each coach left with lessons well-learned and a better
Alex Gauna shoots Eaton Rapids past Grandville. blueprint for a March return. “We’ll be back,” Eastern coach Rod Watts said after a fourth-quarter Quaker rally fell short. “I didn’t stutter when I said that. I believe we’ll be back here in March.” Watts thought the Quakers were awestruck in the Breslin atmosphere, leading to Cadillac’s 18-7 first-quarter cushion. That realization could be just what Eastern needs to focus for a tournament run. Winners also planned to build on the experience. Eaton Rapids allowed a late Grandville rally to force overtime, then went 9-for-10 at the foul line to post a 66-59 victory. “It was great for our program,” first-year Eaton Rapids coach Adam Trumpour said. “We want to be one of those programs that make people say, ‘Those kids play basketball. They play hard, they know how to win.’ “It’s good for the program to play a highprofile game in a great venue with all the media attention. We got a lot of pre-season attention – frankly we haven’t earned it. “We have some work to do. We have to do a better job of getting (6-9 Alex Gauna) the ball and protecting him, keeping him out of foul trouble. It was a great learning experience.” The three ranked winners spent their day teaching lessons and serving notice that they should be forces come March. Since seven Holiday Hoops participants have won state titles, Country Day, St. Francis and Pewamo-Westphalia were in the right place. JANUARY 2009 19
SPORT QUICK HIT
A Decade Of Memories Meijer, Mike Borek Keep Giving Back BY ERNIE BOONE
Our high school years produce lasting memories. And some of the most lasting are of athletic competition. Few who were there have forgotten the Earvin Johnson-Jay Vincent battles in the mid-1970s – or Magic vs. Kevin Smith in the 1977 Class A state finals. But making new memories is a major reason why Mike Borek directs the Meijer Holiday Hoops Invitational, a high school basketball fan feast at Breslin Center. Borek’s day job is managing Meijer stores. His passion is providing opportunities for prep athletes and mental snapshots for fans. Since 1999, Borek and the Holiday Hoops volunteers have tried to bring the state’s best teams and best players to Breslin Center, an idea that started with newspaper publisher Terry Fitzwater. They began with an event that put Lansing Waverly and Orchard Lake St. Mary, the eventual Class A and Class B champs, in the finals of a four-team, two-day tourney. The popularity of Waverly’s Marcus Taylor made
the first attempt a guaranteed success. Since then, five more state champions and a slew of Division I college standouts have made appearances in the Holiday Hoops. While attracting top talent from Detroit to Traverse City, Borek is just as interested in giving local teams that may never reach the state semifinals a chance to play in Breslin and create life-long memories. When the group decided to abandon the original format, Borek insisted upon opening the event up to more local schools and having any proceeds go to charity. That formula has worked well for everyone concerned. “Our goal is to provide kids with an opportunity to play at Breslin before large crowds and to raise money for charities,” Borek said. “We would like to see the lower bowl filled and to raise $40,000 or $50,000.” They haven’t gotten there yet, but the event annually hosts 10 to 12 teams from
throughout the state, draws about 3,200 fans and raises $10,000-$15,000. Borek is constantly searching for ways to move the organization toward its loftier goals. “We haven’t found that magic formula,” Borek said. “We want a balance between bringing in the top teams and players from throughout the state, so that local fans get a chance to see them, and hosting schools that area fans care about and follow.” This year’s showcase featured teams with All-State candidates and recruited players from Detroit Country Day, Cadillac, and Traverse City St. Francis, as well as local stars from Eaton Rapids, Grand Ledge and Lansing Eastern. It closed with a passionate rivalry, Pewamo-Westphalia and Fowler. Borek and the tournament group will continue to search for a perfect format to advance their cause. One thing is certain, however. With 12 teams participating and more than 3,000 in attendance on December 27,2008 they created lots of memories.
Photography Michelle Hoffman
Mike Borek has directed the Meijer Holiday Hoops Invitational since 1999.
20 JANUARY 2009
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The Don of
Eastern High Legend Don Johnson Touched Thousands BY JACK EBLING
22 JANUARY 2009
No one ever had to ask Don Johnson, “So… what do you really think?” For 36 years at Eastern High School and 25 more since his retirement as principal in 1984, Johnson thought every kid had potential. And he thought – no, he knew – his way was the right way. To be successful, you spent time on your schoolwork, built positive relationships and, more often than not, participated in sports. Basically, you put a headlock on life. “One superintendent said, ‘Don, you like confrontation,’” Johnson said on the first Saturday of 2009. “I didn’t go around punching kids. I patted them on the back when I could. But if your head is above the clouds and nobody throws any stones at you, you’re not doing your job.” Johnson did his job as well as any leader Greater Lansing has had. If you talk to some of the students he shaped, more Quakers than in some towns in Pennsylvania, he is still coaching and teaching them today. “He certainly affected my life,” said Jim Sinadinos, as big a success there as he was on the mat. “Wrestling involves a tremendous amount of sacrifice. A real closeness develops. I was a 5-foot-3 basketball player. But Don saw something else. He’s an inspiring guy, a blocker and a tackler – so fundamentally sound.” Some have compared him to Biggie Munn at Michigan State, though Johnson had a longer career as a coach and administrator in Mid-Michigan. But 53 individual state titlists in wrestling and five Class A championship teams weren’t the measure of the man. So what if he has been inducted into more halls of fame than most fans have visited? The halls that mattered most to him – and still do – are the ones at 220 North Pennsylvania Avenue. “I’m proudest of the people from Eastern who’ve made so much of a difference with their lives,” Johnson said. “Jimmy Sinadinos, Vito Perrone, Larry Fowler, Bill Allen, Daryl Kessler, Patty Terres, Rodney Rapp, Dr. Ted Glenn… I can’t begin to name them all. They’re part of the Quaker family.” While we’re talking about family, Johnson is quick to share the credit and almost as quick to shed a tear at the mention of his late wife, Jean, a life partner for 64 years. Together, they produced three daughters – Susie, Cindy and Linda, all retired teachers – and took pride in eight grandkids.
road, only in the classroom. But everywhere he looked, he saw prospective wrestlers. “You bet your life!” he said. “I looked for Johnson’s story began on a farm in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where wrestlers grow almost them everywhere. And I found ’em. They as fast as corn. When his family moved to said, ‘We don’t know anything about wresEast Detroit, it was step one on the road tling.’ I said, ‘That’s why they hired me.’ I recruited a lot of great kids in gym class to Lansing. “My dad was a machinist and got a job and in the halls.” Today, many coaches don’t even work in offer from Chrysler, when it started retooling near the end of the Depression,” John- the same building. But don’t get Johnson son said. “He called my mother and said, started on that one. He is a firm believer ‘Pack up the kids.’ It reminded me of Tobacco that teaching and coaching go hand-inRoad. We came to Michigan in a truck with hand, starting long before the first bell and continuing long after the last whistle. all our furniture.” With a talent pool from the north end of East Detroit High just happened to be one of about 20 schools in Michigan with wres- Lansing, including a large immigrant poputling teams in the late 1930s. If his family lation that competed with unusual zest, had settled anywhere else, the whole story Eastern become a wrestling power. “It started with a kid named Larry Bates, would be different. “Our coach, Dean Rockwell, took my older who I found climbing a rope in gym class,” brother and me up to Michigan State and Johnson said. “He became a three-time said, ‘Don’t let me see you back in East Detroit state champion. And that tradition continagain!’” Johnson said. “I thought Fendley ued long after I became principal.” The Quakers’ top wrestling alum is forCollins, the wrestling coach, was quite an mer Olympic champion Kevin Jackson, who individual, so I decided to come here.” also served as the USA freestyle coach. When Johnson learned that Jackson still dreams of returning to MidMichigan to lead the Spartans some day, he beamed like he did when any of his athletes stood atop the winners’ stand. - Don Johnson It wasn’t always easy to get there. Several wrestlers had to be “persuaded” to Johnson got a job to help pay tuition, come out and stay out. More often than not, then left after his freshman year to serve in it was a life-changing experience. “I’d gotten in some trouble and needed the South Pacific during World War II with the underwater demolition unit, the Navy help with the administration,” Fowler said. “I went out for wrestling and really thought Seals of that era. “I grew up in a hurry,” Johnson said. “But I was tough. I planned to quit as soon as we were too young to be scared. I left the Don had helped me. But he turned this kid service in ’46 and went back to State. I’d loose on me. Then, he got hold of me and wrestled there as a freshman before the war really mopped the floor. He was 160 pounds. and was captain in ’47. But I only wrestled I was 195. And I spent the next three years one year with the varsity. I was married and trying to kick his ass. Needless to say, I never did. What I did was make a friend for had two little kids to support.” After graduation in 1948, Johnson was a lifetime.” Johnson made friends with countless stuin the right place at the ideal time. The Lansing School District wanted to introduce dents but always demanded respect. If he wrestling and hired Johnson at Eastern and saw something special in a student, as he did in Fowler, they’d fight battles together fellow Spartan Iggy Konrad at Sexton. Johnson taught phys ed and a primitive – as close as high school wrestling has seen form of driver education – never on the to a tag team.
“…if your head is above the clouds and nobody throws any stones at you, you’re not doing your job.”
JANUARY 2009 23
“I called him ‘The Animal,’” Johnson said. “But he was a great person. He came to me as a junior in high school and said, ‘Coach, I think I might want to go to college.’ He hadn’t taken anything. But he was starting to be a very good football player. So we changed his schedule to college-prep classes. In those days if the principal recommended a kid to get into college, that mattered a lot. Our principal said, ‘Boy, you’re naive, Don. He’ll be back in two weeks.’ I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ He went on to be an All-America football player at State, became a lawyer and has been a prominent citizen in this town.” Johnson served as an unofficial counselor so many times that the district saved a salary with his input. If Jay Vincent hadn’t stopped by the principal’s office and said, “Mr. J., I’ve gotta talk to you… Where do you think I should go to school?” who knows if either of the Vincent brothers would have become Spartans? And who knows if another Johnson-Vincent tandem would have led to an NCAA basketball title in 1979? 24 JANUARY 2009
But back to a different leader, one who’ll turn 85 on March 17. He isn’t thrilled with what has happened at Eastern or in the Lansing School District in recent years, including the delayed hiring and recent suspension of football coach Tommie Boyd, who still enjoys Johnson’s support. That’s the battler in him. Johnson has always fought for his beliefs. He hasn’t always won friends with his candor. But at least you know where you stand with him – a refreshing change in an age of hidden agendas and political correctness. Urban legend has Johnson spending more time pinning disruptive students than teaching or dealing with administrative matters. That wasn’t the case. But he wasn’t averse to letting people know who was in charge, whether that meant having the cleanest building in the district or keeping kids out of the halls at an amazing rate. And if that meant ruffling a few feathers, whether they belonged to parents or members of the school board, so be it. Those who knew and loved Johnson always had
his back. “We all thought so much of him,” Sinadinos said. “There was a situation where he needed some help. The school board was only hearing one side and didn’t appreciate what Don had done. So a few of us got involved, packed the room and made them move the meeting. When word got out that Don needed help, people were lined up all down the hallway. I asked the people who supported Don to stand up, and 400 of them did. That was the end of that.” Johnson was in the hospital that night. But when it came time for commencement, the students’ affection was unmistakable – just as it is now each Saturday morning at Dimitri’s, where his group meets for breakfast, or anywhere else “The Don” holds court. After all, the school he serves for so long plays its basketball and volleyball games in the Don Johnson Fieldhouse. Appropriately, it wrestles there, too. Maybe they had it backward in Field of Dreams. When Johnson thinks of the great teams and great times in Lansing, “It’s not Iowa. It’s heaven.”
Photography Al Goldis
Don Johnson reflects on a career that built champions at Lansing Eastern.
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26 JANUARY 2009
Two-year old Dawson Williams, Lansing
Oohs & Ahhs, Not Blahs Greater Lansing Parks Provide Winter Fun BY DOUG WARREN
When January hits and the holiday season comes to a close, it’s normal for many of us to feel the “winter blahs.” That often includes an aversion to cold temperatures, biting winds, gray skies, ice scrapers, snow shovels, snow boots and snowflakes of all shapes and sizes. With 2009 underway and the blahs on the way, SPORT set out to find places where we can embrace the elements rather than hide from them. No other locations in Greater Lansing embody the spirit of winter like our public parks. Whether it is cross-country skiing, sledding and tubing, ice fishing or even observing our winter sky via telescope, Mid-Michigan offers plenty of opportunities for us to get off our couches and enjoy the winter months.
By Day and Candlelight: Few winter activities combine physical fitness and the appreciation of nature more than crosscountry skiing. Greater Lansing offers three geographically friendly locations for anyone looking to strap on the skis and hit the trails. Lake Lansing Park North in Haslett offers trails for daytime skiers seven days a week. While the facility does not offer ski rentals or lit areas for evening activities, it does offer a more-secluded, less-hectic spot for skiers to get back to nature than other area parks. Burchfield Park in Holt offers almost ten miles of ski trails at all different skill levels, from beginner to advanced. Cross-country ski rental equipment is available at Burchfield, with skis, boots and poles there for children and adults. In addition, Burchfield Park offers a “moonlight ski” on Friday nights (weather permitting) from 6 to 9 p.m. The moonlight is provided on two miles of the park’s trails by illuminated “smudge pot” candles. SPORT paid a recent visit to Burchfield Park to check out the action. With many folks still digging out from the first major snow of the season just a few hours earlier, there were few skiers in action that night. However, Burchfield ski-rental attendant, Tricia Brubaker, a native of Holt and a sophomore at Grand Valley State University, was kind enough to strap on the skis and give a demonstration for our cameras. “Ski Skating” is also an option at Burchfield Park. A blend of cross-country skiing and ice skating creates a faster, moreefficient form of skiing. Trails are groomed JANUARY 2009 27
Ohhs & Ahhs… Not Blahs specially for the sport. And the moderate terrain makes it easy to get started. Bring your own equipment and try their newly developed trails. Eaton Country’s Fitzgerald Park in Grand Ledge also welcomes cross-country skiers. The park offers rentals and has its own candlelight ski nights scheduled for the weekends of January 9-10 and February 6-7. Fitzgerald Park also offers beginner ski clinics that teach novices the basics of cross-country skiing
For most adults who spent their youth in a snowy location, few memories can top the old sledding hill. Greater Lansing has plenty of sledding locations. But for the Williams and Page families, no place has more meaning and memories than the hills at Burchfield Park. Heather Page, mother of Danton and Jacob, was on her first sledding trip to the park. She was being initiated into a family tradition that her husband, Chad, and sisterin-law, Dana, began as kids in Mason. “My husband and sister-in-law have been going there since they were children,” Page said. “Their father had been taking them there for years. Today was my first experience with my children. It’s a family tradition that we are
starting to do with our own children.” So how was her first trip to the park? “We had a blast,” Page said. “I’m sure some of the pictures are pretty funny. The kids had a lot of fun. They were hoping that the toboggan run was open. But they had a blast racing each other and going up and down the hill. It’s a really nice place. We will definitely be coming back.” Matt Williams of Lansing began coming to Burchfield as a kid. Now, he and his wife, Dana, are bringing their three children, Ciara, Dawson and Cecilia, to the park to begin a second generation of wintertime memories. “Ciara goes all the time,” Williams said. “Last year was the first time we brought Dawson. And this year was the first time we brought Cecilia. She didn’t know what to think of it.” Probably about the same thing her dad did decades earlier. “We have been going there for as long as I can remember,” Williams said. “I don’t know how long they have been open. But I have been coming here for a long time.” When it’s time to do some warming up, Burchfield’s Winter Sports Building is large and toasty and has a fully stocked and staffed concession stand on weekends. Hot and cold drinks are available, as are hot dogs, soup, chili and freshly made caramel corn. “The coffee house is pretty cool,” Williams said. “They have hot chocolate, coffee and
food there. They also have a bonfire outside that people can sit around. It’s really nice.” On this Friday night, we spoke with Park Manager, Jeff Gehl, who was enjoying a hot bowl of chili. “Yeah, (chili) is a weakness of mine,” Gehl said with a smile. Gehl added that on a good weekend they have hundreds of visitors at the park. Of course, it helps when the weather cooperates. “The weather has to be right.” Gehl said. “If it’s cold where the temperature gets down to around 10 degrees, folks have a tendency to stay inside. But if it gets up into the 20s and it’s a nice sunny day, our parking lots will get pretty full.” Burchfield’s famed toboggan runs were closed on the night in question. Gehl said they worked hard on getting them ready to open, but the weather didn’t cooperate in time. “We slushed ’em up real good today to try to get them frozen for tonight,” Gehl said. “Up toward the top of the hill, the ice is really nice. But we couldn’t get it settled down toward the bottom, so we had to keep them closed. If the weather stays cold, we should have them ready real soon.” Burchfield’s two toboggan runs travel side-by-side for 700 feet with speeds upward of 30 mph on a good day. As you look over the walking bridge that straddles the runs, one can just imagine the screams of joy and laughter as the toboggans race downward.
Photography Ceil Heller
The Burchfield Ski Rental Building houses cross-country skis and equipment for all ages.
28 JANUARY 2009
Meanwhile, the park’s rope tow pulls riders and the toboggans back up the hill for another round. Aside from cross-country skiing and the toboggan runs, Burchfield also offers snow tube rental. The cost is only $1 for two hours of tubing fun.
Hawk Island Park
The Future of Snow Tubing: A developing gem, the 104-acre park and 30-acre lake were once home to a gravel pit. Ingham County Parks Director Willis Bennett talked about the evolution of the park. “We began looking at the park in the 1990s and taking water samples from the lake in 1992,” Bennett said. “We wanted to make sure that the water was safe. Once that was determined, the county bought the park in 1996 with the assistance of a DNR grant.” Since the park’s grand opening in 2002, a splash park and a community-built playground have been added. Winter visitors enjoy a 1.5-mile paved trail that is kept snow-free for walkers and joggers. There is also a sledding hill, a tube rental and a warming lodge that is open during regular park hours. Beginning next winter, Hawk Island will be the home of the area’s first dedicated tubing hill. The current sledding hill will be enlarged this spring with fill dirt left over from Lansing’s Combined Sewer Overflow project. A lift system will help riders up the larger hill. And a snow-making machine will produce the white stuff when Mother Nature doesn’t.
Winter Star Gazing
In Potterville: If skiing and sledding aren’t your thing, maybe a study of the world beyond ours will warm your winter-weary heart. When the night sky permits, the Fox Park Observatory in Potterville will open its doors for astronomy buffs the second and fourth weekends of January, February and March this year. Fox Park is an open-air observatory, so bundle up the kids and bring them out to explore the universe. Local astronomer Jason Blaschka will be on hand to answer questions about the night sky. Observation will not take place on nights with more than 30-percent cloud cover. The program is free and open to stargazers of all ages. Interested participants will need to park in the main parking lot and wear sturdy boots or shoes for the 200-yard trek up to the observatory. For more information on dates and times, call the Fox Park office at (517) 627-7351.
Winter Fun GUIDE Ingham County Burchfield Park 881 Grovenburg Road Holt, MI Hawk Island Park 1601 E. Cavanaugh St. Lansing, MI Lake Lansing Park North 6260 East Lake Drive Haslett, MI All Ingham County Parks are open to pedestrians. At most parks the gates open at 8:00 a.m. and close 1/2 hour after sunset with a couple of exceptions:
Fitzgerald Park also offers clinics to teach the basics of cross-country skiing. All clinics are held at the park: j 9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Saturday, January 10, and February 7
j 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, January 21 Thursday, February 5
Cost for the two-hour ski clinic is $15, including equipment rental, or $10 for those with their own equipment.
Advance registration is required. For more information on cross-country ski classes, ski rentals and times, call the Fitzgerald Park office during regular business hours at (517) 627-7351.
Fox Memorial Park Observatory 3981 E. Gresham Hwy. Potterville, MI
Park closes at 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday during when winter sports are open. Hawk Island Park closes at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and at 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday when winter sports are open.
The Burchfield Winter Sports Building is available for non-profit groups free of charge. There is a charge for other groups. Call to reserve a time for meetings. For current winter sports activities in Ingham County, as well as ski, tube and building rental information, call (517) 676-2233 or visit: www.ingham.org/pk/ home.htm
Eaton County Fitzgerald Park 133 Fitzgerald Park Dr. Grand Ledge, MI Cross-country ski rentals are offered at the Fitzgerald Park office this winter season. Also, Candlelit Cross-Country Skiing and Sledding (weather permitting) will take place during night ski fests. All ski fests run from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on: j Friday, January 9
Saturday, January 10
j Friday, February 6
Saturday, February 7
For more information on observatory dates and times, call the park office at (517) 627-7351. For information on all the Eaton County Parks, visit the “County Parks” section of the Parks Department page at www.eatoncounty.org
Clinton County St. Johns City Park 805 W. Park St. St. Johns, MI The park offers ice skating and sledding. Park hours are 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Weather permitting, the rink is open for ice skating and hockey. There is a warming house at the rink. j Hockey Hours:
Monday-Friday 5:00-6:00 p.m. & 8:00-10:00 p.m. Saturday & Sunday 8:00 a.m.-noon
j Skating Hours:
Monday-Friday 6:00-8:00 p.m
Saturday & Sunday 1:00-6:00 p.m.
Open skating and hockey are allowed at the City Park ice rink at any time except those times that are posted exclusively for skating or hockey. JANUArY 2009 29
MSU Women’s Hockey Exists (And Is In First Place) BY TED KLUCK
30 JANUARY 2009
Our knowledge of the MSU Women’s Ice Hockey Club could be printed on one hand. We know that the Spartans are first in the W1 Division of the American Collegiate Hockey Association at 13-2-3. We know from the roster that their players come from the same hockey Meccas as big-time male players – places like Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, and Lewiston, Maine. We know, thanks to the ACHA website, that the team’s leader in points (48) – Hoium, Charlotte – also leads in penalty minutes (30), which suggests that she is dangerous in more ways than one. And we know that they play a lot of games – almost as many as the men – and are “club” in name only. The word “club” carries with it certain connotations, including images of students showing up whenever they feel like it, eating pizza and drinking pop, laughing and generally coming and going as they please. After fifteen minutes of watching practice, it’s clear that the MSU Women’s Hockey Team is in no way a “club,” if we’re using the above criteria. They have dealt with, in no particular order, a torn ACL, a dislocated kneecap, a broken leg, a separated shoulder and a fractured skull this season. They skate hard, and their practices have the same quiet efficiency that you might see in an NHL practice. The main difference is that it looks like fun. There is genuine enjoyment and lots of unbridled joy, including smiles behind facemasks, snow angels on the ices and that sort of thing.
“We play just as hard as the men do. We’re a good-caliber team.” - Maureen O’Brien, Spartan Right Wing
The program has existed for 15 years. It won a national championship in 2003. It consistently finishes in the top five nationally and considers a fourth- or fifthplace finish disappointing. Yet, fourth-year Head Coach Jeff Wilson, who played Junior B “a hundred years and a hundred pounds ago” and coached the men’s team at Cal-Berkeley, seems supremely stress-free. “I had no idea what to expect, coaching girls,” he said with a chuckle. “I tend to be a little critical as a coach. I like people to be focused. A good example is JANUARY 2009 31
Girl Meets Goal
Head coach Jeff Wilson has led the Lady Spartans since 2004.
something that happened in one of my first games as a coach here. I was on the bench before the face-off, and there was a song playing over the PA. I looked over to see two of my players dancing and knew this was going to be a little different. I had a hard time accepting that.” Nonetheless, Wilson was impressed with the caliber of player he inherited four years ago and works hard to recruit now. Wilson and assistant coach Jim Olsen travel, often at their own expense, to comb the Michigan hockey landscape in search of talent – often competing with major Division I varsity programs on the East coast for high-profile players. “We feel that if we can get a girl to come to campus to skate with our players, she’ll commit to MSU,” Wilson said. He then described what may be the real 32 JANUARY 2009
beauty of the program: Community. In a sea of 40,000 students, Wilson’s girls have a built-in family and support system before they ever set foot on campus. Their practice is oddly devoid of pecking-order issues that often pervade men’s workouts. “They just like each other,” Wilson said. “A story I like to tell recruits is that one year we had freshman players from Chicago, New York, Connecticut, Detroit and two from Canada. They all tried out and made the team, rented a house together and played hockey the entire time. They’re best friends to this day and will be back to play in our alumni game.”
Living in Michigan leaves the distinct impression that there are more good hockey players
than opportunities to play significant hockey. The MSU Women’s Ice Hockey Club provides those opportunities to play meaningful, competitive hockey. The stories of how they found themselves in green-and-white are as diverse as the girls themselves. “I wasn’t even looking at hockey,” left wing Terra Payne said. “I was playing college softball at Alma College but had played hockey my whole life. It pays off being on the team. We’re like a big family.” Left wing Mika Corrigan is the daughter of Detroit Red Wings draftee Mike Corrigan, who chose the NHL draft over a chance to play at MSU in 1980. Right wing Maureen O’Brien from Arlington Heights, Ill., was recruited by UMass Boston, a varsity program, but chose to continue her career in East Lansing. “We spend about 20 hours a week together,” said O’Brien, who is fifth on the team with 17 points. “These are relationships you’ll have for a long time.” To say that their hours spent together are different from those spent at the varsity level would be a vast understatement. The women’s club does its own fundraising – partnering with local restaurants for events, and parking cars at football games – and has to grab ice time whenever it can, usually late at night or early in the morning. When asked what they wish the community knew about their team, they all replied, “That we exist.” “Come watch us play,” O’Brien said. “We play just as hard as the men do. We’re a good-caliber team.”
Wilson’s women have played on the same hellacious youth travel circuits as their male counterparts who will take the ice later with full scholarships. They have seen some of the same ridiculous hockey parents. They have missed proms, school events and other social activities to skate after a puck in cold rinks all over the Midwest and beyond. To date, exactly zero women’s hockey players have made as much as a single dollar in the National Hockey League. Not that that’s a bad thing. The players are refreshingly normal and seem to genuinely enjoy talking – to each other, to a journalist, to a coach or to anyone who will listen. The
bench area is a constant source of chatter (example: “My feet are sooo cold!”). Team Captain Michelle Crechiolo, one of the first players to be intentionally recruited by Wilson and his staff, drove several of her teammates to practice from various southeast Michigan suburbs and took them all to a Detroit Red Wings game that the evening. “Thanks so much for coming to watch us skate!” Crechiolo said, showing uncommon gratitude to the media, a breath of fresh air. “I’m proud of them,” Wilson said. “They have to operate under the same studentathlete standards imposed by the NCAA on scholarship athletes. We check in on them frequently and tell them to do great in the classroom, have fun, then win. In that order.” All of which is done, it should be added, minus the army of tutors and gleaming academic facilities in place for varsity athletes. “Every year during the national championship tournament I get a sense for how
emotional it can be, especially for the seniors,” Wilson says. “It becomes real to them that every tournament game could be their last and that they’ll never wear the green-and-white again.” There’s a finality to this that usually isn’t there in men’s hockey, where many of the players will move on to minor-league or NHL careers. “My proudest moment came in talking to a one of the workers at Munn Arena,” Wilson said. “He told me that the women’s team seemed more dedicated to the sport than the men’s team because they’re literally paying to play hockey, and doing so at odd hours.”
under an entirely different set of pressures. We give them their space.” There is one moment, though, as he watches freshman right winger Amy Coleman shooting, in which he becomes animated, hollering, “Coleman, come over here!” After the player sheepishly glides over, Wilson explains: “I found the problem with your shot… You’ve got blue tape on your stick. Blue doesn’t work in Munn Arena.” Coleman’s wide smile is visible through the metal bars of her facemask as she skates away, just happy to be there.
Check out, www.msuwomensicehockey.org for more information on Michigan State University Women’s Ice Hockey. For a self-described pessimist, Wilson is almost serenely laid-back during the skate. He says of the men’s coaches, with whom he has no interaction or overlap, “They exist
Photography Al Goldis
The MSU women’s hockey team, which grabbed a national championship in 2003, is in it’s 15th season.
JANUARY 2009 33
Welcome Back, Cotter Cancer Can’t Stop Amazing Shooting Streak BY ANDY FLANAGAN
“Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable. It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it. The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game – and life – will take care of itself.” - Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach 34 JANUARY 2009
Mark Cotter’s life has been one big unpredictable mess for the better part of a year, thanks to basketball– and a little thing called cancer. When Cotter picked up a basketball on January 1, 2004, at his Haslett home and started shooting baskets every day, he never expected that it would lead him to speak to the University of Iowa woman’s team or participate in a free-throw contest against Michigan State men’s coach Tom Izzo. He never expected to be diagnosed with cancer, either. Let’s set the record straight, this isn’t a story about how basketball helped Cotter overcome cancer. Sure, his streak of shooting baskets (1,827 days-and-counting on New Year’s Eve) included several days when he was taking chemotherapy and radiation treatments – days where he didn’t even want to get up and go to the bathroom, much less make himself go outside to shoot at the basket in his driveway. No, this is a story about how the love and compassion of family, friends and neighbors made Cotter’s recovery from cancer possible. Basketball just happens to be a vehicle for much of what Cotter has experienced, not the answer. “Basketball is only one element of getting through cancer,” said Cotter, the director of marketing at Auto-Owners Insurance Company. “It was a big one, but certainly the care given by my wife and the support of the staff at work – and a lot of cards and lot of prayers–you mix all that together, along with the positive attitude I was responsible for providing, it’s turned out okay.”
The Streak Begins A new challenge. That’s what Cotter was looking for when he picked up a basketball on New Year’s Day five years ago and shot baskets at his driveway hoop. The hoop, which came with the house he and his wife, Patty, moved into in 2000, brought back memories of his youth in Indiana, where basketball is king. “On January 1, 2004, I had completed a personal goal and I was looking for something to replace it with, quite frankly,” Cotter said. “I remember the moment clearly. I was outside at dark and it was snowing a
little bit. I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I can do this for a year?’ So I went in and spoke to my wife Patty, because she would have to be on board. “She was okay with it. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it. Let’s see what happens.’ So I got to the end of 2004 and made it. And I go, ‘I wonder if I can keep going?’ It’s no more complicated than that.” Cotter’s rules were simple. He made himself take at least three shots for the streak to count. “That’s what kept me going,” he said. It quickly evolved to where he shoots a minimum of ten minutes each day. It wasn’t about the streak at first as much as it was about playing basketball, the sport he loved growing up. “The streak has been an outgrowth of playing basketball,” Cotter said. “It’s two things I’ve got going on: I play basketball, and then I have the streak. And why they go hand-in-hand, they’re almost like two friends in a way.”
Diagnosis: Cancer Everything was going fine for Cotter and the streak until July 18, 2007, when he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma – cancer of the neck and throat. The two leading causes of this cancer are tobacco use and heaving drinking, neither of which Cotter, a runner for 33 years, has ever done. “My wife’s first husband died of leukemia in 1985. I really hated the fact that she had to experience cancer again,” Cotter said. “My next thought was, ‘Oh boy, there goes the streak.’ “I couldn’t imagine having surgery or radiation or chemo(therapy) and still be able to shoot a basketball. It was a sad moment, but the attitude I have is, whenever I can play again I’ll start another streak. There wasn’t any doubt I would play again in my mind if I survived cancer.” Cotter and Patty got a break when they met with the doctor to plan a course of action. He told them that one option was not to have surgery. Instead, Cotter underwent seven weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment that began October 1, 2007, at the University of Michigan Health System. “I asked the doctor about playing basketball,” Cotter said. “He told me it’s good to stay a little active and not just vegetate, because you will be very fatigued (from the cancer treatments). That was great to hear.” The next thing Cotter heard was his wife’s
Cotter has had his challenges in keeping his streak going. His first brush with the streak ending came in 2006 when he went on a trip to Hawaii. Cotter had to allow for the five-hour time difference. So when he arrived in Maui, he went to a Sports Authority store and bought a Wilson Ultra basketball – his personal favorite. “By ten o’clock that night, I was playing in a public park in Kihei. They had lights out there,” he said. “The other time it got really close (to ending) was when I was visiting the (Auto-Owners) Missouri branch. We were working late and I said, ‘It’s getting late Michigan time. Can I stop?’” Underwriting Supervisor Justin Ramsey took Cotter to the local community recreation center – 14 minutes before it closed. “It’s always a goal, but I don’t feel pressure,” Cotter said. “I Mark Cotter holds the sign marking another milejust feel like I can get it in. As stone: 1,500 straight days of shooting baskets. long as I don’t get injured, I should be able to do that.” JANUARY 2009 35
Welcome Back, Cotter voice, giving him the first dose of what they called her role as the “tough-love coach.” “The doctor left the exam room and immediately Patty looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Mark, I’m going to make sure you never miss one day of playing basketball. I’m going to make sure your streak continues,’” Cotter recalled. “Everything changed after that… She’d come home from work and ask, ‘Did you play today? How many did you shoot?’” The treatments were rough. Cotter underwent three hours of chemotherapy each Monday morning during the seven weeks. He had radiation of the neck for a half-hour every afternoon, Monday through Friday – 35 in all. The radiation caused the skin around his neck to peel. And at times it was difficult to stop the bleeding from the open wounds.
Near-Miss Number Three The treatments ended on Nov. 19, 2007, but the next day was one of the toughest for Cotter. He had to go to the hospital because his temperature was 101.5. The doctors feared that he had an infection, but the tests were negative. Cotter was in the hospital for 26 hours but had hardly slept. The chemo drugs and morphine were coursing through his body. When he and Patty arrived home at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 21, Cotter had not shot baskets yet. Patty left to fill his morphine prescription, and her instructions to Cotter were to shoot his baskets first, then sit down and rest. “Of course, what do I do? I sat down and I fell asleep so fast that I didn’t even put the recliner back,” Cotter said. “The next thing I know, she’s hollering, ‘Mark, Mark, have you shot hoops yet? I’m groggy, and I said, ‘I don’t know, I think I fell asleep right away.’ “It was raining, so she checked the basketball to see if it was wet, and it was dry. ‘You’ve got to get out there, and oh, by the way, it’s a quarter after 11,’” Patty said. “I was torn between the streak, which is so
Tom Izzo watches as Cotter takes his shots during their free-throw contest. Cotter beat Izzo by making 47 of 50 free throws to Izzo’s 46 of 50. 36 JANUARY 2009
important, and I’m close to my lowest as far as how I feel physically. I go, “Okay, I’ve got to get out there.’ “Once I get out there I actually started feeling better. Now it’s 11:30 and I’ve played for a few minutes. I had a hard time, obviously, making shots, but I wasn’t going to quit until I made a few baskets. “I looked up and coming across our lawn is our neighbor. It’s got to be Bonnie or Ted. I go, ‘Ooh, I’m in trouble,’ because obviously I’ve woke them up and they’re going to give me what-for – and rightly so. But maybe if I just apologize and explain…” The neighbor was Bonnie. But instead of giving Cotter what-for, she gave him the kind of neighborly support that makes steaks possible. “She comes up to me and, before I say anything, she gives me a hug and says, ‘Mark, I haven’t heard you play basketball yet today and I was afraid that your streak had ended,’” Cotter recalled. “I couldn’t have a better neighbor than that. I went from a very low point to a very high point, just by shooting hoops in the rain and having the support of others.” The postscript? On February 4, the surgeon declared that Cotter’s neck and throat were normal. No more cancer. He’s still cancer-free, but the collateral damage of fighting cancer has given Cotter challenges with swallowing and digestion.
Photography Andy Flanagan
The MSU Experience Cotter has kept his streak alive by shooting baskets on many courts. One place he never expected to get his daily shooting in, however, was the Breslin Center. With help from Auto-Owners chairman Roger Looyenga, Cotter not only was able to extend his streak on the Breslin floor, he got to compete against Izzo in a free-throw shooting contest. “It was surreal,” Cotter said. “It is a moment that won’t be repeated. But when you’re in it, it’s total enjoyment. It’s been my attitude since cancer: I want to enjoy everything that I’m doing.” Cotter had known about Looyenga’s efforts to get him to shoot after an MSU practice, so he had been working even harder for a month prior to the event. “Out of respect for Auto-Owners and
Roger and the senior officers that allowed me to join them, it was my responsibility to be ready for that moment,” he said. The result? With many of the Auto-Owners’ senior officers and some of the MSU basketball players looking on, Cotter made 47 out of 50 free throws, while Izzo made 46. That included Izzo’s good-natured attempts to distract Cotter on his last 10 shots. “Fortunately the shots were dropping, and to have some of the men’s team players take notice was beyond belief, because I’m 59 years old,” Cotter said. “Even if you dream big, I’m not sure you would dream such a scenario. “It was great to have Coach Izzo tease me a little bit about being a ringer. That particular day I made one more basket than he did. But earlier that afternoon Coach Izzo made 143 of 147 free throws. I would declare him the overall winner.” Cotter is a winner in the eyes of those who know him best. “Life is not always easy,” Looyenga said. “Having a positive attitude during difficult times is even harder. To me Mark should be the poster child of a positive attitude. I have the utmost admiration and respect for the attitude Mark has shown during those difficult times.”
The Streak as Therapy One thing that Cotter discovered early on during his streak of shooting baskets daily is that it’s proven to be relaxing. “Even before I got cancer, coming home after work and just getting out there and shooting the ball and thinking about only that, it was very therapeutic for me,” he said. “The thing about basketball is that it teaches you that you get more chances. With basketball, if you miss a shot, you get to shoot again. You get to keep shooting until you get better. For me that became a metaphor for life. Maybe something didn’t go right that day, but you know what? I get another chance.“ “There are days I go out there that the ball won’t go in. Quite frankly, after five years, I shouldn’t miss. Some days I go out there and I’ll start off and I don’t think it’s ever going to go in. But I keep playing and I don’t stop until I get my rhythm back, until I find my shot again.”
“I’ve applied that to the rest of my life. If maybe something for the moment isn’t going quite right, I’m not giving up. I’m staying with it until it becomes right.”
Why Cotter Keeps Shooting The streak began because Cotter wanted a challenge. It continues because of the support and encouragement he received while undergoing his cancer treatments. “Everybody plays a role in the streak, even though I’m shooting the ball,” he said. “It’s the staff at work, it’s my boss, it’s friends at work, everyone that’s supported me through the cancer. They have given me that synergy to keep going. If you stopped just to quit, you’d be letting them down. “The one thing about wanting to be cancer-free is that all these people are supporting me. if I didn’t have a good result, I felt like I wouldn’t be properly responding to their support. Even though I didn’t have any control (beating cancer), I said I’ve got to get well, because they’re supporting me. “And I want to be able to go back to them and say, hey, it worked. What you did for me worked. Now, I’m able to do that.” Even though he’s excited about his clean bill of health, Cotter remains realistic. He knows the cancer could return. That’s why he’s enjoying everything he’s doing now – especially the streak. “What basketball continues to do for me is provide relaxation, fun. It’s taken me places I wouldn’t have gone otherwise,” Cotter said. “It’s motivation to try to keep the streak going. It’s an element that’s turned into something bigger than I ever could have imagined when you combine basketball and the streak. And that doesn’t wane. If it ever goes away, I’ll quit playing.” And if the streak were to end? “I thought about this, especially during the cancer period,” he said. “I told my wife a couple days ago, ‘Some day it will end. And when it does, we’ll have a party. We’ll celebrate what we’ve had so far, and then if the reason it ended gets taken care of and I can play again, I’ll start it again.’ “That may be distorted optimism for someone my age, but I don’t think so. The reason I played basketball wasn’t the streak. It just turned out to be a streak. It’s been a blessing, that’s for sure.” JANUARY 2009 37
Always A Willing Participant Lansing Soccer Ref Gets Call And Rare Opportunity BY DAVE HOGG
Amy Willing wants to officiate at the World Cup. If not for a bike accident, she might not have made it as far as Ford Field.
38 JANUARY 2009
Photography Carlos Osorio
The Lansing resident served as an assistant referee at December’s international soccer match between the women’s teams of China and the United States – the first match that the U.S. had played in her home state in 15 years. “It was truly an honor to be recommended for the match, then be chosen to do it,” Willing said. “Being in Michigan made it even better.” Willing, the highest-ranked female referee in the state, has done international matches before. This was her first time doing a match involving the American team. “It’s exciting to do a U.S. match,” she said. “Not just because I’m an American, but because they are one of the top teams in the world. They just won the Olympic gold medal and have had so much success over the years.” Willing enjoyed the match, sprinting up and down the touchline during the United States’ fast-paced 1-0 victory. Yet, she couldn’t help but think about the day she fell off a bicycle in 2004. She sustained a broken collarbone in the crash, an injury that would have proven inconvenient for her attempt to gain certification as a national referee. As it turned out, a clavicle turned out to be the least of her worries. Because she hadn’t been wearing a helmet, doctors performed a precautionary CT scan of her head. They didn’t find any injuries from the accident but did find something else. “I had a brain tumor,” she said. “The doctor told me that if I had been wearing a helmet, they would have never done the test and wouldn’t have found it.” Luckily for Willing, the tumor turned out to be benign. But she still had to come back from something much harder than a broken collarbone. “The recovery was four months,” she said. “Then, I was able to start working again. If they hadn’t found it when they did, it could have caused me much greater problems later on.” While the experience turned out to be beneficial in the long run, it was a serious setback for her career. Not only did she have to start the certification process over, she had to pass on the biggest assignment of her life.
“I was offered the chance to do the USAIreland game in Chicago,” she said. “I had to turn it down, because of my medical issues.” In 2005, though, she started the process again, and this time was able to gain her coveted national certification. That led to her first international assignment – a tournament in Alabama featuring the United States, Mexico, Canada and Argentina. While she didn’t work any games involving the Americans, the experience showed her that she had reached a new level in her career. “That was awesome,” she said. “I learned a lot when I did those games. I realized that if I could make it to that level, I might be able to go farther.” The next major step on that journey came in November, when she logged into the United States Soccer Federation’s website and noticed something new. “I saw that I had been offered an assignment that I hadn’t seen before, so I looked at it,” she said. “When I saw what it was, I just said, ‘Wow’.” It seemed like the perfect opportunity – a chance to officiate a match between two of the world’s top teams an hour away
“I grew up in Midland, and I played soccer in high school and in college,” she said. “But those were still the early days of soccer here. It wasn’t as intense as it is now – I was just playing recreationally.” That didn’t mean she didn’t take it seriously. Her interest in improving as a player led her to make the decision that started a new career. “I was playing, and I decided that I wanted to get a better understanding of the rules, so I thought about taking an officiating class,” she said. “I didn’t do it the first year. The next year, I decided to go ahead. I didn’t really intend to become a referee – I just wanted to find out how I could play the game in a sportsmanlike manner while still knowing the limits of what I could do legally.” In 1989, though, Willing found herself making her officiating debut. She has never looked back. “The first games I worked were at a Mother’s Day tournament in Midland,” she said. “I didn’t do many games that first year. I started out with the younger age groups, then moved up and did some high school games. I did my first college games in 1990.”
“It was truly an honor to be recommended for the (Team USA) match… Being in Michigan made it even better.”
- Amy Willing, Lansing Soccer Referee
from home. But she stopped herself from instant action. “I definitely wanted to accept, but I wanted to take the night to think about it,” she said. The extra time didn’t change her mind. A month later, she found herself working in front of nearly 12,000 fans - the biggest crowd of her career. “The atmosphere was awesome,” she said. “We were out for our pre-match inspection, and I was watching the fans come in. It was so exciting that Detroit was able to get a match at that level of competition.” It was a day that Willing could have never imagined two decades earlier when her focus was still on her playing career.
As time went on, her officiating career gradually took over for the time she had been spending as a player. “When I first started, I was playing in a women’s league and officiating men’s games, so I was spending a lot of time at the soccer complex in Midland,” she said. “After a while, I got leery of injury, so I decided not to play anymore.” Still, it was several years before Willing began to consider officiating as anything other than a hobby. “I was just enjoying doing the games – I wasn’t on any kind of fast track,” she said. “As time went on, I just kept accumulating games and getting higher-level assignments. I finally decided that if people thought I was
JANUARY 2009 39
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40 JANUARY 2009
Always A Willing Participant Amy Willing, sprinting up and down the touchline during the United States’ 1-0 victory.
qualified to do those games, I should take the time to upgrade my status.” In 1995, Willing moved from Grade 8 to Grade 7. Over the next seven years, she moved up two more levels. “I still wasn’t being really aggressive about it – I was just going with the flow,” she said. That changed in 2002 and 2003, after she reached the top state level. “When I got to Grade 5, I thought that I could get the national certificate,” she said. “I set my mind to it and decided to give it a try. That meant making a point of going after higher-level games and doing more traveling to find that level of competition in leagues around Detroit.” She also spent a good deal of time working games in the Premier Development League, the fourth level of men’s pro soccer in the United States. “I did a ton of games in Saginaw with the Mid-Michigan Bucks, who are now the Michigan Bucks,” she said. “There weren’t a lot of officials who wanted to go up there to work, so it was a great way for me to get experience at a higher level of competition.” Suddenly, the bike accident and the brain tumor stopped everything. “After my surgery, I wasn’t sure I could still do what I needed to do, but I decided I wanted to try,” she said. A year later, armed with the positive assessments she needed, she attended the United States Soccer Federation’s national camp to complete the upgrade process. “There were written tests and a physicalfitness test, and I passed those and was able to get my national certification,” she said. “I felt very good about that.” Three years later, she was in the tunnel at Ford Field, with friends and colleagues in the stands. “There’s a lot of formal ceremony, and I was making sure everything was correct and that the teams were lined up correctly,” she said. “But I kept thinking about everything I’ve gone through, and everything I’ve overcome. “I’m very proud.” JANUARY 2009 41
SPORT QUICK HIT
Edgar Wilson Where Is He Now?
He came to Michigan State University because he wanted to play baseball, was a four-year starter on the basketball team and wound up signing a pro football contract. Edgar Wilson’s athletic career foreshadowed his life – an often-disjointed journey to find his true calling. As an all-stater in football, basketball and baseball at Dowagiac Union High School, Wilson considered signing with the Kansas City Royals out of high school. With a 90-mph fastball, “a wicked slider and a wicked curveball,” he wanted to make the move. “I loved baseball more than any other sport,” Wilson said. “My mom told me I was going to get an education and go to college. That was the end of that conversation.” He planned to attend Drake University on a basketball scholarship and play semipro baseball in Des Moines. The firing of Coach Howard Stacey led Wilson to East Lansing, where Gus Ganakas had saved a scholarship for him. Three years later, Ganakas was out, and Jud Heathcote arrived from Montana. Heathcote sat down with his team’s leaders, including Wilson and high-scoring guard Bob Chapman, and promised he’d build his team around them. Plus, there was the kid from Everett High who kept showing up for off-season practices with the Spartans. “The first time [Earvin Johnson] came over, he didn’t get in until the end of the session,” Wilson recalled. “Once he got in, he didn’t have much trouble getting chosen after that.” Wilson’s basketball career ended the spring before Magic’s enrollment (with Johnson inheriting #33). If their careers had coincided, Heathcote might have had one more NBA player. “Earv would always have an expectation higher than yours,” Wilson said. “He would bring that out in you. I still tell that to the young people I work with to this day. He impacted me more than any athlete I ever played with. And I thought that if I had more experience playing with him, playing at that level, maybe more opportunities would have opened.” 42 JANUARY 2009
Instead, Wilson dropped one class spring term, delaying graduation, so he could compete the next fall on the football team where he teamed with Kirk Gibson at wide receiver. It was telling that Wilson’s fall class schedule didn’t stop with the three credits he needed for eligibility and a degree. He took a full academic load, starting on a master’s degree he would earn 15 years later. Next came a free-agent contract with the Chicago Bears. Given the choice of being traded to Dallas or waived from the roster, Wilson ended his playing career, satisfied that he had given it his best shot but disenchanted with the cutthroat world of pro sports. The next two decades brought a whirlwind of jobs, as he tried to find his real calling. He joined the staff of the Michigan House of Representatives as a writer, returned to MSU as a Heathcote aide, left athletics to start three businesses, worked in the state’s economic development program, then served as
an assistant at Central Michigan and a head coach at Ferris State. Wilson finished work on his M.A. in 2002, just as his coaching career was ending. He returned to Dowagiac as a high school counselor. He had finally found his calling. A promotion to assistant principal helped him beat 107 applicants for an assistant principal’s job at Forest Hills Eastern High, just outside Grand Rapids, his home for the last three years. It’s a job that allows him to spend time with his twin daughters (now 23) and a 12-year-old son, a world away from the 24/7 life of college coaching. “I have a comfort factor here that I don’t want to give up,” Wilson said. “I love my job. I love my life.” He never stopped learning and never settled for just getting by. His mentors include the very best: Heathcote, Magic, Gibson and Izzo in sports; former Michigan House Speaker Bobby Crim and public relations guru Curt Hanes in government and especially the late Rev. Charles “Pops” Wilson and his wife, Clara, in parenting. At age 53, Edgar Wilson is sharing their wisdom as students prepare for the game of life.
Edgar Wilson earned four letters in basketball from 1973-77, then started at split end for the Spartans as a senior.
Photography MSU Sports Information
By WALT SORG
SPORT greater lansing sports AUTHORITY
The Bowlers Are Coming! The Capital City Plays Host To Annual USBC State Tournament
Photography Brendan Dwyer
By BrEndAn Dwyer
Bowling is always big in Greater Lansing once the snow flies. This year the sport and the city take on special significance as the area plays host to the 2009 United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Men’s State Tournament. Back to the area for the first time in over a decade, the event should have a measurable impact on the community. Slated to draw over 14,000 bowlers, as well as their friends and family, to Lansing every weekend from January through the first part of May the tournament guests will surely make their presence felt in the community. With tournament participants coming in from as far away as the Upper Peninsula, area hotel occupancy will also feel a much-needed boost. Early estimates support the need for over 8,000 hotel rooms for the group over the five-month tournament period. “In terms of sports tournament participants, this one really packs some big numbers,” said Mike Price, Manager of Sports Development for the Greater Lansing Sports Authority (GLSA.) “In fact, because of the high number of registered bowlers in Michigan, this event is one of the largest of its kind in the nation. We really feel Lansing residents, league bowlers or not, will feel the impact.” That is certainly the hope throughout the community as businesses struggle to attract new customers in a tight economy. Restaurants, shopping malls and, of course, bowling facilities, are all hoping to see added traffic with the influx of visitors. As host facilities, Royal Scot and Pro Bowl will naturally be buzzing with activity, but other bowling alleys in the area are also hoping to get a shot in the arm. As tournament participants look to get in practice rounds, or Lansing residents who find that their usual lanes are busy will explore other area bowling centers. “We’re not directly involved with the 44 JANUARY 2009
The thunder clap of crashing pins can be heard at Royal Scot, where the State’s best bowlers battle for top honors.
Men’s State Tournament but we’re still very happy to see it come to Lansing,” said Joe Townsend, Manager of Holiday Lanes in Lansing. “We hope to see all kinds of overflow business from this huge event. Our numbers for families and recreational bowlers should be way up on weekends, and that will be a nice boost. Now add to that MSU students getting back to school after the first of the year and all the bowling business they bring in to us, and we’ll be starting 2009 really strong.” Recruiting these types of sports events and stimulating the local economy with dollars from visiting tournament participants and their families is the main goal of the GLSA. “Part of the process leading up to breakthrough wins like the USBC Men’s State Bowling Tournament is creating winning
partnerships like the GLSA is currently developing with the Lansing USBC, various local sports facilities, Michigan State University sports community,” said John Young, Manager of Events and Sponsorships with the GLSA. “Fostering a partnership between the GLSA and the Lansing USBC Association brought just the right chemistry and drive to bid on this event. Now that Greater Lansing has been selected and the tournament is underway, it’s really satisfying to see all the different benefits to the community.”
For those seeking more information about the USBC Men’s State Bowling Tournament or the GLSA, please call 377-1411 or visit www.lansingsports.org.
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SPORT LAST SHOT
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Mason High Football Team MASON VS. ADRIAN • MASON, MI 10/31/2008 PHOTOGRAPHED BY BYSTANDER, ALAN HOLBEN
JANUARY 2009 47
SPORT FINISH LINE
So Many People To Thank MSU Soccer’s Comeback, Titles A Team Effort
It was more than the last chapter of a championship story. It was the end of a 34-year effort to put Michigan State back on the NCAA soccer map. With thanks to everyone who helped make that happen, from the Big Ten’s best players to my successor as head coach, Damon Rensing, to some supportive members of the administration, I’m happy to switch roles and become an assistant, knowing where the program is headed. From the fall of 1965 through 1968, I was fortunate to be a member of the Spartan men’s soccer team. MSU made the NCAA semifinals all four years and was co-national champion the last two years, tying St. Louis and Maryland, respectively. Sadly, the program saw a steady loss of scholarships. Budgets were cut. Coaching the Spartans became a part-time position. And MSU fell from the ultra-elite to an afterthought. While coaching at a couple of other universities, I was deeply troubled by what the Spartans had become. Finally, in 1975, my wife and I moved back to East Lansing with the dream of rebuilding a once-proud program. MSU had reassigned assistant football coach Ed Rutherford to the head soccer coaching position. I became a volunteer assistant. But after three years, Ed moved to a full-time administrative role. Director of Athletics Joe Kearney promoted me to be head coach. Things looked brighter for men’s soccer until Joe left to become the A.D. at Arizona State. Suddenly, the program stalled again. There were no budget or scholarship increases. And the program remained mediocre. That began to change in 1990 when new A.D. George Perles decided it was time to seek greater success. He restored scholarships to former levels, increased the budget and gave his full support to the program.
Big wins began to reappear. Sadly, George was forced out as A.D., and progress waned. Finally, under A.D. Clarence Underwood, support resurfaced. Budgets increased. Travel allowances grew. And the Spartans breathed new life again. A.D.s Ron Mason and Mark Hollis kept the fires burning. In 2001, the MSU men received their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1969. The Spartans were back! In 2004, the program won the Big Ten Tournament and earned another NCAA invitation. Three years later, MSU was NCAAbound again. But that was no indication of what was just ahead. It’s hard to see 2008 as anything but a dream season. It began with the opening of the new DeMartin Soccer Stadium. For the first 50 years of the program, there was only a field with a few portable bleachers for fans. Now, there was a modern stadium, thanks to the contributions of Doug DeMartin of Mason, the uncle of our All-America forward with the same name. All the pieces were now in place – budget, scholarships, staff and facility. That showed in a season we’ll always remember. The 2008 Spartans jumped on the wagon and were off to the races. MSU won the regular-season Big Ten title, then repeated in the Big Ten Tournament. After a rough start, the team posted nine consecutive shutouts. It went 8-0-1 in that stretch with new goalkeeper Avery Steinlage and was rewarded with a No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the season ended in the second round when the Spartans tied Illinois-Chicago 0-0 but lost 3-2 in a penalty shootout. The credit for an incredible season dates back to Joe Kearney. It goes from George Perles to Clarence Underwood to Ron Mason to
Joe Baum capped his head coaching career with two Big Ten Titles. 48 JANUARY 2009
Associate A.D. Shelley Appelbaum to current diector and strong soccer supporter Mark Hollis. As I step aside, I know Associate Head Coach Damon Rensing is ready to take over and recruit top talent. The former MSU star from 1993-96 and 11-year assistant will take over this month. And the program should continue to win. All in all, it was a great run for the Spartans, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. Now, with proper support in place, the future of MSU men’s soccer looks very bright. It should be a great time for the Green and White, with a string of seasons we all can enjoy. I know that I will.
Photography MSU Sports Information
By JOE BAUM
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Sports are deeply engrained in this community, touching all of our lives in one way or another. Whether you are the parent of an athlete, a coach, a weekend warrior or just a fan, you know the power sports can bring to our everyday lives. The Greater Lansing Sports Authority is harnessing that power and injecting it into the economy through local sports event development. Become an organizer, sponsor, volunteer or participant in the sports community and find yourself feeling absolutely super. Learn more at www.lansingsports.org.
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Greater Lansing Sport Magazine January 2009 Issue. Featuring winter fun in Greater Lansing parks. A sixth-grader's stregnth to overcome the...