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Lansing’s Derby Vixens Skate Into Mid-Michigan’s Hearts

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ALEXIS BYINGTON

LYKENDRA JOHNSON

Has Family’s Help In Title Defense

Battles The Odds And Evens Scores

VO L •3 ISSUE O3 M A R C H

2 O 11 $5.OO US SPORT COMMUNITY PUBLISHING


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FEATURES 10 MAC-TO-MAC-TO-MAC

Johnson, Hoekstra, Droste Earn Hoops Opportunities

BY ANDREA NELSON

14 COMPETING FOR TWO

Alexis Byington Battles For Mom, 3rd State Title

BY ANDREA NELSON

18 SHE SHALL OVERCOME

Lykendra Johnson Handles Challenges, Opponents

BY DAN KILBRIDGE

22 IT’S HOW THEY ROLL

Lansing Derby Vixens Overcome Bumps, Inflict Bruises

BY ANDREA NELSON

29 NO ORDINARY JOE

26

Costello Juggles Jobs, Hockey Addiction

BY STEVE GRINZCEL

Playing A Kids Game

Olson, McFall Still Score For Biggby Bombers BY STEVE GRINCZEL

DEPARTMENTS eb-servation

05 Seasons Keep Changing So Do The Opportunities For Participation In sport BY JACK EBLING

news + notes

30 Redwings Fly High St. Johns Rules Division 2 Wrestling Again BY CHIP MUNDY

sports authority

08 Hoopfest Is Back! Fan-Friendly Event Back For March Magic Weekend BY BRENDAN DWYER

finish line

32 All In The Family

Lansing’s Lynches Share Love Of Sports, Community BY LANCE LYNCH

Volume #3 • Issue #3 MARCH 2011

MARCH 2011

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assists

EDITOR Jack Ebling Jack has covered sports and more as a writer and broadcaster in Mid-Michigan since 1978. A three-time Michigan Sportswriter of the Year, he was a 2006 inductee into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame. He has written four books on Michigan State and one on the Detroit Tigers and is finishing book six, Heart of a Spartan (www.heartofaspartanbook.com). He has contributed more than 125 pieces for national publications and is a founding partner in Sportswriters Direct, a new freelance business. The former English teacher and coach spent nearly a quarter-century as a beat writer and columnist for the Lansing State Journal and won 21 major writing awards. A two-time graduate of MSU, he has lived in Greater Lansing for 37 years. With his wife, Robin, he has helped raise two remarkable young adults, Zach and Ali.

CONTRIBUTORS Andrea Nelson Andrea is a junior at Michigan State University, studying journalism with an emphasis in sports and public relations. She is a member of the Honors College and Tower Guard and has a true passion for sports. Andrea helped Frankfort High win backto-back state titles in girls basketball in 2005-06. Today, she combines her love of basketball and football with caring for her two dogs and helping with her family’s prize-winning alpacas. She is also an assistant editor of sport.

Steve Grinczel Steve was an award-winning sports reporter for Booth Newspapers of Michigan and mlive.com and is a founding partner in Sportswriters Direct. He has covered Michigan State University football and basketball since 1986 and has written or co-authored two books on the Spartans. Steve began his soccer officiating career in 1975 and has more than 1,300 NCAA, high school and USSF games under his belt.

Publisher Sport Community Publishing Editor Jack Ebling Assistant EditorS Andy Flanagan Andrea Nelson WRITING Brendan Dwyer Jack Ebling Steve Grinczel Dan Kilbridge Lance Lynch Chip Mundy Andrea Nelson PhotographY Jacky Bastion Ceil Heller The Lynch family Mike Major Jena McShane Matthew Mitchell MSU Athletic Communications Stan Siefker MAGAZINE Design & LAYOUT Traction www.projecttraction.com Printing Millbrook Printing, Co. Mailer ICS Editorial Office 617 East Michigan Avenue Lansing, Michigan 48912 (517) 455-7810 www.SportLansing.com

Greater Lansing Sport Magazine is published monthly by Sport Community Publishing with offices at 617 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48912. Postage is paid under USPS Permit #407. Subscriptions: One copy of the Greater Lansing Sport Magazine, is mailed complimentary to qualified business addresses in the Greater Lansing metropolitan area. Residential, promotional, out-of-area and additional subscriptions are available for $36 per year (a saving of 40% off the $5 cover price per issue) by mailing a check to Sport Community Publishing or paying online at www. SportLansing.com. When available, back issues can be purchased online for $10 each. Postmaster: Address changes should be sent to: Sport Community Publishing, 617 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48912. 4 MARCH 2011

Copyright Š 2011 Sport Community Publishing All rights reserved.


eb-servation

Seasons Keep Changing So Do The Opportunities For Participation In

sport

BY JACK EBLING

Who needs groundhogs? The calendar tells us all we need to know. February is frigid. March is a tease. And April is supposed to bring sunshine and showers, sure signs of spring. But for many people in Mid-Michigan, the months mean more than weather shifts. They signal the starts and ends of other seasons – sport seasons. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the pages of this magazine, a smorgasbord of stories and photos that show what Greater Lansing is all about. It’s all about diversity – of ethnicity, gender and interests. That’s a big reason our hardest job each month is deciding which stories will have to wait. This month, our 24th issue has a definite female flavor. Four of our five major feature stories deal with the accomplishments of young women. That includes our cover story on roller derby, the 100th different activity we’ve spotlighted since the publication’s first printing in late 2008. Assistant Editor Andrea Nelson has been extremely busy of late. In many ways, she reflects the variety of activity this area seems to value so much. Between a visit to Las Vegas to show a prize alpaca at the prestigious Priority Auction and a trip to Indy for the NFL Combine Sports Career Conference, where she met two of her Chicago Bears heroes, Dick Butkus and Lovie Smith, she actually got a lot of work done. Reliving her days as a two-time Class D state basketball champion at Frankfort High, Nelson profiles three outstanding girls basketball players, all bound for the Mid-American Conference. Holt’s Mandy Johnson, East Lansing’s Deborah Hoekstra and DeWitt’s Dena Droste will play at Western Michigan, Bowling Green and Kent State, respectively. Each senior has a unique story to share and an extremely bright future. They should be fun to follow over the next four years. Nelson kept pounding the keys on her new

MacBook Pro laptop for an outstanding piece on Grand Ledge gymnast Alexis Byington, whose successful pursuit of a third individual state title was truly a family affair. The poignant image of a high school senior with a red ribbon in her hair as a tribute to her late mother, scanning the crowd to find her father before she’d compete, is a lot like the story of USA Olympic hockey hero Jim Craig – with two exceptions. Byington’s pain and persistence is now. And her triumphs are ours. Another story of perseverance is the believe-it-and-achieve-it life of Michigan State basketball standout Lykendra Johnson, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Overcoming setbacks and getting the last laugh is Johnson’s M.O. After shifting from small forward to become the league’s smallest center, the Chicago native carries her brother’s memory with her en route to every offensive rebound. Dan Kilbridge of 247 Sports and Spartan Tailgate peels back the layers of a fascinating life and provides a peek at how Johnson helped MSU capture its first outright women’s hoops crown with incredible passion. Nelson is at it again with a primer and profile, helping us understand the sport of roller derby and the sacrifices of the Lansing Derby Vixens, a team that drew a capacity crowd of 1,200 last month for its first home bout. Every Vixen has a reason for skating. Most have souvenir bruises as a result. But the determination of these women is impressive. May you steer clear of all blockers and jammers. And we haven’t completely forgotten all males. In fact, we honor all ages, starting with the competitors in and spectators of a Mid-Michigan institution, the MHSAA Boys Basketball Championships in Breslin Center, an event we’ll enjoy through at least 2017.

Across the street in historic Jenison Field House, fans are invited to heighten the experience by attending the March Magic Hoopfest, a great addition to a great weekend, courtesy of the Greater Lansing Sports Authority. Steve Grinczel, now with Sportwriters Direct after nearly three decades with Booth Newspapers and mlive.com, offers an excellent package on a positive addiction – adult hockey. Bob Olson and Mike McFall of the Biggby Bombers have spent more time together than most spouses. They don’t just complete passes. They finish each other’s sentences. And Joe Costello, a player, coach and constant presence at Suburban Ice, defies the laws of physics by being in several places at once. His bed apparently isn’t one of them, judging by the schedule he keeps. Finally, we pay tribute to one of Lansing’s most successful families, the Lynches of Lansing Eastern. Lance, the patriarch, writes our Finish Line back-page column with as much pride as any parent can muster. When a dad gets inducted into his alma mater’s hall of fame the same night his twin sons, Jim and Jeff, have that honor, it’s as rare a feat as you’ll ever see. The Lynches haven’t just been terrific for the Quakers. They’ve been instrumental in making their community better. It’s just too bad Lance and Karol didn’t have triplets. They’ve been men for all seasons and for all the right reasons. And it’s nice our women’s achievers made room for them all to be represented. H

MARCH 2011

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your shot

Send Us Your Photos! www.SportLansing.com Published photos will receive a poster commemorating Your Shot, courtesy of Capital Imaging.

Brooke’n Record Brooke Hylek, a 10-year-old gymnast at Twistars USA and a fifth-grader at Wacousta Elementary, was the Level 5 All-Around state champion in her age division in the 2009-10 fall and spring competitions. At the 2010-11 fall state meet, Brooke became the Level 6 All-Around state champ in the 10-11 age division. PHOTOGRAPHED BY Stan siefker


greater lansing sports authority

Hoopfest Is Back!

Fan-Friendly Event Back For March Magic Weekend

Just when you think you can’t take another snowy day – it happens. The temperatures start to go up, the melting of winter snow occurs, and we’re looking right in the face of spring – and with it the return of March Magic Hoopfest. Held in conjunction with the Boys and Girls MHSAA Basketball State Finals, March Magic Hoopfest is a hands-on, high-energy basketball playground for all ages. Located across the street from the tournament games being held at the Breslin Center, the event

takes over Jenison Field House from March 24-26 this year. All kinds of basketball activities for all ages will be available, including a rainbow shot, a 3-point shootout, a ball-handling skills challenge and more. The best part is that a

valid 2011 MHSAA tournament ticket gets you in for free. Others pay just $2. Excitement for this event is at a fever pitch. The MHSAA has just signed an extension to keep the high school basketball finals at Breslin through 2017. A six-year contract for this great event means six more years of Hoopfest, too. The Greater Lansing Sports Authority hopes you’re ready for some big time basketball fun, because it’s here to stay. To learn more about the 2011 Boys March Magic Hoopfest, call (517) 377-1411 or visit www.marchmagichoopfest.com. H

Driveway Knockout

8 MARCH 2011

Dean Trailways Three Point Shoot Out

Skills Challenge

Concessions U.S. Army Fit Area Meijer Jersey Toss

Hit The Spot

Kids Zone

ENTRANCE TO MARCH MAGIC HOOPFEST

Red Hacker’s Slam Dunk Rainbow Shot

LOOK FOR MHSAA HALL OF HISTORY STATIONS THROUGHOUT!

2011 March Magic Hoopfest At A Glance

Photography JACKY BASTION

BY BRENDAN DWYER


2011 MARCH MAGIC HOOPFEST

Jenison Field House THURSDAY, MARCH 24 2 TO 7 PM FRIDAY, MARCH 25 2 TO 8:30 PM SATURDAY, MARCH 26 10 AM TO 7 PM Admission is $2 or FREE with valid 2011 MHSAA Basketball Tournament ticket.

www.marchmagichoopfest.com

Hoopfest Fun Returns This March! Whether you watch from the stands or take your best shot, March Magic Hoopfest is all around fun.

Dean Trailways 3-Point Challenge

Just like the NBA! This 3-point challenge tests contestants’ long range shooting skills from behind the arc. See if you can sink 12 shots in 30 seconds. The top point totals will be posted each day.

Rainbow Shot

Can you sink a long-distance, game-winning buzzer-beater? Here’s your chance!

Meijer Jersey Toss

Take a break from shooting hoops to do some laundry? Crazy, we know, but this time it’s fun. Take a turn at tossing some balled-up jerseys into the ‘Meijer Dryer’ and win some great Meijer products.

U.S. Army Fitness Challenge

Are you Army strong? Find out as you test your strength and stamina with some real basic training.

Driveway Knock Out

Some of the best hoop battles don’t take place in major arenas. They’re brother vs. brother and father vs. son right there in the family driveway! Here’s our take on the familiar setting – you bring an opponent and your A-game.

Hit the Spot

This is a playground classic! Just like around the world but set to a timer. Who can get around the fastest? First one back home is the winner.

Skills Challenge

Can you dribble and dish the rock like Magic Johnson? Show your best ball-handling skills and bring the magic back to Jenison!

Red Hacker’s Slam Dunk

Everyone loves to see a great dunk. Here’s your chance to fly. Three dunks per turn.

Kids Zone Games

Here’s a place for our future stars to play. Stay as long as you want! The only requirement is to have fun!

MARCH 2011

9


Mandy JOHNSON

Deborah HOEKSTRA

Dena

HOLT RAMS – T O – WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS

EAST LANSING TROJANS – T O – BOWLING GREEN FALCONS

DEWITT KENT ST

10 MARCH 2011


Johnson, Hoekstra, Droste Earn Hoops Opportunities BY ANDREA NELSON

Mandy Johnson was raised a Chippewa. Her dad played football at Central Michigan University.  She attended its basketball camps.  Mandy grew up proud to wear maroon-and-gold. 

Mandy JOHNSON

DROSTE

T PANTHERS – T O – TATE GOLDEN FLASHES

Last August, the senior from Holt High committed to play basketball at Western Michigan University. Wait.  What? It’s true. Mandy handed her Chippewa sweatpants and T-shirts down to her younger brother and became a Bronco.  But her decision didn’t cause any hard feelings in the Johnson household.  Mandy’s dad, Nick Johnson, said he will never be caught in Western football gear, but will fully support his daughter and the women’s basketball team.  “When she selected Western, of course I was just ecstatic,” Nick said.  “She was going to achieve her dream.  She wanted to play Division 1 basketball, and she wanted to stay in the state of Michigan.” Mandy’s athletic abilities on the court allowed her to do just that.  Her love for the game drove her to become the best player she could be.  Whether she was dragging her parents to the gym on Sunday nights, attending camps or playing with her teammates, Mandy was never without a basketball.  And there’s nothing she’d rather be doing today. “There’s never a day where I’m like, ‘No, I don’t want to go to the gym,’” Mandy said.  “Every day in the summer, I go out and shoot around a little bit whether it’s by myself or with my little brother.  I just love playing basketball.” And that has paid off.  Holt head coach Doug Harkema said Mandy’s ability to stop, change directions and jump is probably the best he has ever coached.  Harkema said Mandy is definitely a Division 1 athlete and

thinks she’ll compete for playing time as a true freshman. “I’m really excited for her because she was pretty heavily recruited,” Harkema said.  “She did her due diligence to figure out what a good fit would be for her.  I think she’s really happy with her decision, academically and basketball-wise.” Mandy said there were many factors in her decision to play at Western.  She liked that it’s a MAC school close to home so her family can watch her play.  Western also offers programs in Mandy’s fields of interest, zoology and biology.  The Broncos had what she wanted.  And they wanted her. “They told me they wanted me really bad,” Mandy said.  “People started to know who I was, so I wanted to keep my options open.  They were like, ‘We want you.  If you tell us right now that you’re going to come here, we’ll get you a full ride.  We want you really, really bad.’” And they got her.  Mandy said the coaches had only known who she was for about four months before she committed.  The fit felt right for her, and she’s more than ready to take the next step in her basketball career. “I can’t wait to play in college,” Mandy said.  “I’m so excited that I’m going to be playing against awesome players, and I’m going to get to play with awesome players and be with people that love the game as much as I do and try 100 percent.  It going to be really fun.” There’s no doubt Mandy has a bright future ahead of her athletically and academically.  But for now, she’s looking to finish her last season at Holt with a win at the Breslin Center.  “We’re always thinking about a state title,” Mandy said.  “Every game we play we know it gets us closer to that and it’s a big deal to my team and me.  Every day in practice we try to bring it up and say how can we beat our next opponent because that’s going to get us one game closer to the state title.”

MARCH 2011

11


mac-to-mac-to-mac

school. Hoekstra admitted the transition to such a structured and prominent program was a struggle at first.  She said most of the girls had been playing at East Lansing for years and knew what was expected of them.  But Hoekstra was able to pick up the team’s style quickly and A few miles down the road, another local girls became a better player because of it. basketball player has been turning heads.  “I’ve learned already so much just playing When she graduates in June, Deborah Hoekstra within the system and playing with a good will become the 8th East Lansing graduate to team that has high standards,” Hoekstra said.  be actively playing Division 1 or 2 basketball.  “You’re expected to win.  I just think the whole Hoekstra is a first-year Trojan who transferred experience of being part of a really strong from Lansing Eastern for her senior year of high program is going to get me ready for college.” Hoekstra signed with Bowling Green last August.  Her decision was based on the type of game the Falcons play and the relationships she made with the coaches and players.  Though she’ll be a few hours from home, she looks forward to being part of another community that is behind their women’s basketball program. East Lansing head coach Rob Smith said Hoekstra works hard in all aspects of her life.  He described her personality on and off the court as the difference between night and day.  On the floor, Smith said Hoekstra is a tiger.  Away from it, she’s mild-mannered and easy-going. In addition to averaging 19 points, 10 rebounds, 3 1/2 assists, 3 steals and just over a block a game, Hoekstra has a 4.0 GPA at East Lansing.  But Smith hopes her stat line and impressive 3-point shot will earn her early playing time at Bowling Green. “They’ve won the league the last few years,” Smith said. “They’ve done very, very well.  Obviously it’s going to be a process, but I could see her stepping in and competing for some major minutes next year if she applies herself in the off-season.” Hoekstra is willing to put in all the time it takes.  She said she wants to become the player the coaches want her to be and is willing to fill any role.  Academically, Hoekstra is interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy.  She said she has always wanted to be a good student to show people that she’s more than just an athlete.  The effort she has put in as a student and athlete caught Bowling Green’s eye, and she’s more than ready to take on her next challenge.   “I’m really excited because basically my whole life thus far has been building to getting that scholarship,” Hoekstra said.  “I always knew that basketball was what I wanted to do.  Getting your school paid for and being a part of a program that’s as good as Bowling Green and with people Aiming High East Lansing High star Deborah Hoekstra excels on the court and in the classroom. who are as good as the ones at Bowling Green, I’m really excited for the next step.”

Join Us For T H E

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Have Fun For The Children!

Photography MIKE MAJOR

Deborah HOEKSTRA


A third Division 1 girls basketball player from the Lansing area will be joining the other two in the MAC Conference. Senior Dena Droste of DeWitt verbally committed to play for Kent State February 8th.   After visiting Kent State in early February, Droste said she fell in love right away.  The campus was beautiful.  The coaches were personal.  The players had the same goals as she did.  For Droste, it was a perfect fit. Even though she’s joining an out-of-state school, Droste is excited to start a new chapter in her life.  She understands her family won’t make it to every game. But one of the most difficult things she has to prepare for is not playing with girls she’s known for years.   Droste isn’t leaving everyone behind.  She’ll get an opportunity to play against her high school competitors, Hoekstra and Johnson.

“She pushes herself,” DeWitt head coach Bill McCullen said. “She’s never satisfied with her performance.  She always wants to get better and that’s really been something that’s driven her.” Basketball isn’t the only sport in which Droste has excelled.  She also enjoys golfing.  Even though she doesn’t have a lot of time to get on the green, she’s shot a 34 for 9-holes and a 72 on an 18-hole course.  McCullen said Droste is a natural in everything she does.   After coaching her for four years, McCullen said he’ll have a hard time finding someone to settle into the leadership role she held.  But he’s very excited for the opportunity she has at Kent State and feels very fortunate he had the chance to coach such an extraordinary athlete. “She’s not just a great player, she’s a great kid,” McCullen said.  “As a varsity coach, whenever you have someone play for you for four years, you get to know this kid pretty well.  With all the games and all the summer scrimmages and team camps and shooting workouts, it’s just been a pleasure to work with her.” McCullen said Droste’s ability to shoot off the

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Being able to play against Western and Bowling Green, it will be super fun to see them and see a familiar face... I love competing against them (Mandy Johnson/Debra Hoekstra) in the area because they’re both phenomenal players.

“Being able to play against Western and Bowling Green, it will be super fun to see them and see a familiar face,” Droste said. “I love competing against them in the area because they’re both phenomenal players.  It’s such a challenge when we play against each other, so I’m really excited.”  Droste’s goal at Kent State is to make the starting lineup and contribute in any way possible.  The shift from high school to college athletics can be difficult as it is, but a recent injury might provide an even bigger challenge.  The senior recently tore her ACL against Williamston and found herself sidelined for six months.  But her natural competitiveness won’t keep her off the court for long.

dribble separates her from other athletes. Droste worked on this aspect of her game so much, a jump shot became as easy as a layup.  And when she takes the court again in six months, she hopes to show off her talent at an out-ofstate school.  But Droste will never forget where she came from and the players who helped her become the incredible athlete she is today. “I’m going to miss it a lot,” Droste said.  “These girls I’m playing with are my best friends.  We’ve been through so much together through all the years.  At the end of the day we’re all like a big family. We’re all sisters.  It really is heartbreaking that we’re all going to have to go our separate ways, but I know we’ll stay in touch.” H

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Alexis Byington Battles For Mom, 3rd State Title BY ANDREA NELSON

Seeing Red Grand Ledge High gymnastics hero Alexis Byington wore a red ribbon to honor her mother en route to her third individual state title.

14 MARCH 2011

Two state championships would be an amazing accomplishment for any athlete. But for Alexis, the third would be the most meaningful.  She would be competing for more than just a medal.  Alexis would compete for her biggest fan and best friend, a woman who loved nothing more than supporting her daughter in gymnastics.   Alexis’ mother, Anita Byington, died on Jan. 17 due to injuries from a car accident.  The community lost a friend, role model, fan, coach, mother and wife.  Anita was the Booster Club President for Grand Ledge gymnastics, a coach at Twistars Gymnastics Club and the epitome of a gymnastics mom.   Watching her daughter compete was Anita’s proudest moment, and she made it to every meet.  From Grand Ledge to El Salvador, Alexis never competed without Anita by her side.  Her mother’s contagious smile and sharp whistle were all Alexis needed to begin any competition. “She was my best friend,” Alexis said.  “She was my biggest supporter.  She never missed a meet…she was always there.  I knew I could always go to her and talk to her about anything.  She’s been my No. 1 fan, and I’m dedicating the season to her.”  So are her teammates.  The Grand Ledge girls wear red ribbons in their hair and pins on their coats to carry a memory of Anita with them

wherever they go. Red was her favorite color.  But Alexis’ teammates aren’t the only people supporting the Byington family.  Gymnastics teams from Canton to Grand Rapids have sent cards and held moments of silence for Anita at their meets.  The Grand Ledge community reached out to Alexis and her father, Randy Byington, in a way he described as unbelievable. Nothing means more to Alexis than the support she receives from her family.  That was her mother’s job whether she was wrapping her daughter’s hair in a bun or planning gymnastics road trips.  With Anita’s whistle gone, she now looks to her father for that sense of comfort.   Alexis adopted a new routine before she competes.  She has to make sure she can see her dad in the crowd and won’t compete otherwise.  Once she made the judge wait for her to begin because she couldn’t find him.  When their eyes meet, she’s ready to go.   “I keep telling her, ‘You don’t need me. You don’t have to see me. You know I’m there,’” Randy said.  “But no, she needs dad.  She does the thumbs up thing with me at the end.  It was the whistle with Anita.” Alexis and Randy lost the most important woman in their lives, but know they still have each other.  Alexis said they’ve always been there for each other. When one isn’t having a good day, it’s up to the other to show support. 

Photography CEIL HELLER

Alexis Byington has been a gymnast since she was 4 1/2 years old. About 14 years later, she overcame her greatest loss and won her third straight state title for the Grand Ledge Comets.


But Randy thinks his daughter has helped him more than vice versa. “She’s very, very strong,” Randy said. “She has a strong character.  She has grown up.  She’s my strength.  I think she’s stronger than I am to be honest with you.  Without her, I probably wouldn’t be the way I am right now.  She has grown up very quick.” Alexis is so strong, she chose to compete a few days after her mother’s death.  She wasn’t scheduled to compete in the meet against Jackson Lumen Christi, but found an inner strength her dad could only describe as having come from her mother.  She scored an almostperfect 9.8 in her one and only event.   “I wasn’t even supposed to compete at all that night,” Alexis said. “But knowing that I had a lot of support there and a lot of my family came out to watch, I just got the adrenaline to go out there and do it for her and all my family.  It was a really great feeling.” Alexis received a standing ovation for her performance.  Her next two meets, however, worried her dad. He said she fell off the bar once in each of the meets, the first having been a competition she had won the past few years.  But Alexis kept competing for her love of the sport and its ability to distract her. “It’s helped me a lot,” said Alexis, who plans to attend Western Michigan. “I have to keep doing that because I know that’s what she would want me to do, and that’s what I want to do.” Randy’s advice for his daughter isn’t any different than the advice she gives herself. “Any time you think about doing something, ‘Would mom do that?’” Randy said.  “Anita was MARCH 2011

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competing for two

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a great mom and a great person. Not only was she just a giving person, but she always thought things out and hardly ever was she wrong.”   One thing Randy and Anita weren’t wrong about was how to raise their only child.  Alexis is a modest competitor who Randy nicknamed

and make her proud,” Alexis said. I know we can try to bring that state championship home for her.  It’d mean so much to me, especially knowing that I’m doing it all for my mom.” Randy said words can’t describe how proud he is of his daughter’s accomplishments and

One time she went up on the stage, and one girl

didn’t have a medal…she gave her the medal.

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the “Silent Giant Killer.” He said she’s very competitive, but her honesty and giving personality make her a favorite among the other girls, even after she beats them.  Yet, that’s not what he’s most proud of.   “One time she went up on the stage, and one girl didn’t have a medal,” Randy said.  “She gave her the medal.  She always gives them hugs up on the podium.  She’s done that since she has been 5 years old.  Whether she’s winning or losing, you can’t tell if she has won or lost when she’s up there.” Alexis doesn’t think twice about her acts of kindness.  She said if someone deserves a medal, she’ll give it to them if the judges don’t.  She has a giving personality that no doubt came from her mother.  Randy said his daughter has grown up a lot since the accident.  He lost both his mother and wife within a few months and said Alexis’ strength has been a blessing.  Without her, Randy doesn’t know where he would be. “She made comments like: ‘I think there’s a reason why mom’s there, and that’s to help grandma,’” Randy said.  “I just thought she showed a lot of maturity saying something like that.  It kind of blew me away.  She showed me so much strength, and it’s coming from her mom.”  It’s that strength that kept her competing.  It’s that strength that kept her so focused on a third state title. It’s that strength that will help her through hard times and never let her forget her mom’s beautiful smile.  It’s that strength that kept her working for one last championship that she dedicated to the most important woman in her life.  “I just know that I want to do it for her

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strength. But he knows where it came from.  And it’s heart-wrenching for him to know his daughter is feeding off her mother’s kindness and strength. The Lansing community lost an extraordinary woman who influenced every life she touched.  But the Grand Ledge girls will make sure she’ll never be forgotten by continuing to compete for her and their teammate whose strength is unparalleled.  Even though Anita is gone, she will always be watching her gymnastics girls and family.   And she’ll be smiling. H


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18 MARCH 2011


COME Lykendra Johnson Handles Challenges, Opponents BY DAN KILBRIDGE

Photography MATTHEW MITCHELL/MSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

On an unseasonably warm winter night at Breslin Center, Michigan State junior Lykendra Johnson stands across from Northwestern’s Amy Jaeschke at center court. Jaeschke, a 6-foot-4, All-Big Ten center, looks down at the 6-1 Johnson while the two teams prepare for their only meeting of the season. As the ball is tossed upward, Johnson leaps and swats the ball away from Jaeschke into the waiting hands of MSU guard Brittany Thomas, who pushes the ball up court and lays it in for a 2-0 lead. Another small challenge overcome for an undersized Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Johnson’s life is all about challenges. As a freshman, she was ruled academically ineligible and had to watch her team from afar. Growing up, she watched as her older brother and best friend died on the basketball court. After all she’s been through, a transition from small forward to center seems quite minor. Johnson is in a cheery mood following the Spartans’ 74-60 win over the Wildcats, bringing them one step closer to a Big Ten championship they would earn three days later with a 69-56 win at Illinois. She’s smiling, always smiling, seated in the Breslin concourse wearing gray MSU sweats and a green winter knit cap providing thoughtful answers to reporters’ questions. She’s asked to compare Jaeschke to other top centers she has faced this year, such as Ohio State’s 6-4 Jantel Lavender. This would have seemed strange in

October, considering Johnson earned thirdteam all-Big Ten honors as a small forward her sophomore season. Top-ranked recruit Madison Williams was slated to replace All-America center Allyssa DeHaan for the Spartans this season, a plan which changed when Williams suffered a torn ACL moments into MSU’s Green and White preseason scrimmage. Once the Spartans learned it was a season-ending injury, Johnson knew what she had to do. “When Madison went down, she just said, ‘You don’t even have to talk to me, Coach. I already know, and I’m ready,’” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. “I thought that was a big sign for the way the future of our program was gonna go at that point.” While Johnson lacked size and time to prepare for her new role as the Spartans’ starting center, she took the challenge head-on. Johnson admitted struggling at times during the nonconference season, but has since become a top force in the paint. Three Big Ten

Reaching New Heights MSU junior Lykendra Johnson fights for position and leads the Big Ten in steals and offensive rebounds as an undersized post player.

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she shall overcome

Player of the Week selections are evidence of that, along with a dominating performance in a win at Michigan, where she recorded 17 points, 17 rebounds and four steals. “If you know you have a bigger role to take on, it’s how you answer the challenge,” Johnson said of the position switch. “I think I answered the challenge.” Johnson checks out of the Northwestern game for the first time with 10:55 remaining in the first half, as the Spartans hold an early 16-12 lead. She picked up her first foul a minute prior, an area where Johnson has found herself in trouble at times this season. Johnson fouled out in three of the Spartans’ first seven games this season, but hasn’t done so since a Dec. 1 win over Florida State. While being an undersized center goes hand-inhand with foul trouble, Johnson has learned how to stay in the game when it matters most. “You gotta deal,” Johnson said. “There’s gonna be adversity everywhere and just me being in foul trouble, it’s costing the team somewhat. But my teammates stay behind me, and they work even harder when I’m not out on the floor.” Perhaps that’s because Johnson is on the floor even when she’s not. While sitting out eight total

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coach Johnson at Trinity High School, where she emerged as a four-star hoops recruit and standout volleyball player. “He taught (me) a lot, being a father-figure in my life,” Johnson said. “It was just a blessing that he was my coach, also because he taught me a lot of what he learned at Purdue. I think it helped me a lot. Especially now, I use some of the stuff he taught me. He’s a great person, and I wouldn’t know where I would be without him.” Johnson’s toughness on the court can be traced back to the first competition she faced. Her grandmother Anne served as director for New Miracle Temple church, which ran a nearby gym where Johnson and her two older brothers would play after school. “We had a church gym, and after we did our homework that’s basically where we went,” Johnson said. “We went to the gym, and it was all boys, so that’s how I started off playing.” Though close with all her siblings, Johnson shared a particularly strong bond with her older brother, Homer, whom she credits for initially sparking her passion for the game. A fun-loving teenager, Homer guided Johnson both on and off the court.

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minutes against Northwestern, rarely a moment went by when she wasn’t heard. Johnson is constantly barking instructions or shouting words of encouragement while on the bench. Quiet by nature off the court, Johnson understands the role she accepted when voted as a team captain. “You always know when she’s around because she’s very vocal, and she’s always kind of in your ear about stuff,” junior forward Taylor Alton said. “Never negative, she’s always really helping you try to learn. And yeah, she’s definitely on the floor, even when she’s on the bench.” Given that basketball teams often resemble families, especially the current MSU women’s group, it should come as no surprise that Johnson is the ideal teammate. Johnson grew up in a three-story family housing building in Chicago as the youngest of four children. She was raised by a single mother, Karlyn Cross, as well as her grandmother, Anne Cross, who lived with the family. Johnson never lacked for strong male influence with several uncles always around, including former Purdue all-Big Ten center Russell Cross. Selected by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 1983 NBA Draft, Cross also helped

“He was right there when it all started,” Johnson said. “Conditioning-wise, we used to lift weights a little bit in the house and do some core stuff. He was telling me how hard it was gonna be if I do make it. So he was pushing me to my limit there, and I think it helped me in the long run.” Tragically, Homer never got to see Johnson make it as a Division 1 basketball player. On Jan. 8, 2001, Homer collapsed while playing basketball on the same court where he taught his younger sister the game. Lykendra, who was 11 at the time, watched as paramedics failed to revive her older brother. Homer died at age 15 due to heart complications, the same day he tried out for his first AAU basketball team. Despite the unimaginable grief which followed, Homer still pushes Johnson to be the best she can be, just as he did while the two were growing up. “It still takes a toll on me,” Johnson said. “I look at every game as a dedication to him, especially because the day he died was the first day he tried out for a basketball team. He was confident going in, and he was working on everything. I just look at it as he’s my inspiration and that’s what it took.”


All-Big Ten And Big Time Johnson high-fives Co-Big Ten Player of the Year Kalisha Keane, another first-team all-conference pick.

With 5:16 remaining and the game tied at 56, Johnson receives the ball amidst a swarm of bodies under the basket and misses her layup. Undeterred, she grabs her own rebound and converts this time, giving the Spartans a lead they would hold for the rest of the night. Johnson finishes with 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals, while her persistence in the paint reflects a mindset she has held throughout her career at MSU. A highly sought recruit, Johnson chose the Spartans over a host of scholarship offers including Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan and Purdue. Her journey took an unexpected turn, however, when Johnson learned she was academically ineligible for the 2007-08 season due to her ACT score. “It was just frustrating. Everybody thought I was academically dumb, pretty much,” Johnson said. “When I got up here, I just felt isolated because I was supposed to be helping the team. I was supposed to be doing this and that, but I couldn’t really do anything but just sit up in the stands and watch.” Johnson turned to family for support and made several trips back home to Chicago. However frustrating, Johnson credits that year for much of her personal growth before emerging as one of the Big Ten’s top players the following season. A unanimous all-Big Ten freshman selection, Johnson finished second on the team in rebounds and blocked shots, while also earning MSU Defensive Player of the Year honors. She later started all 33 games as a sophomore and averaged 8.8 points with 7.6 rebounds,

fourth-most in the Big Ten. Johnson also caught the attention of some of the MSU men’s players, such as junior forward Draymond Green. Like Johnson, Green has played multiple positions and developed a dependable long-range shot. “Last year she was a bona fide three, and this year she’s a bona fide five, but she can still step up and knock the shot down,” Green said. “She’s undersized down there but rebounds with the best of them. It’s a matter of heart. You look at Lykendra, that’s one thing she’s got.” This season, Johnson was led the conference in steals, an almost impossible feat for a center, as well as offensive boards with sheer effort. She’s top 10 in five statistical categories and is one of the biggest reasons MSU was able to secure just its third Big Ten title. Shortly after the final buzzer of the Spartans’ win over Northwestern, Johnson deflects several questions about the title, which was still an uncertainty at the time. She spoke about the need to persevere, whether the team’s record is 10-0 or 0-10 entering a game. Johnson lives her life the same way. She figures to be a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate as a senior and will graduate with a degree in sociology. Given all she has been through, Johnson is content to not look too far ahead. “Right now I’m just taking it one day at a time, living life,” Johnson said. “I’m not looking at everything as an overwhelming process, I’m looking at it as a goal of mine. There’s gonna be trials and tribulations in everyone’s life, and it’s just how you go about it as a person.” H

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Lansing Derby Vixens Overcome Bumps, Inflict Bruises BY AND REA NELS ON

r derby. It’s fun. It’s fast.  It’s full contact.  It’s rolle And it all started in a coffee shop. ee shop with his wife.  Last February, Ryan Knott was sitting in a coff a flat-track roller derby They had talked for years about forming the sport again.  On a team in Lansing and started researching page to see how much whim, Knott decided to create a Facebook interest it would draw.  

22 MARCH 2011

A few days later, the page had 600 fans. A few weeks later, it had over 1,000.  The Lansing Derby Vixens were born.  And it was more successful than Knott could have imagined. “It was just really cool to see that so many people were thinking the same thing,” said Knott, now the team’s head coach.  “It really just took that one catalyst to get it all rolling.  I had heard rumblings that other people had the idea and that things might be starting, but nothing concrete ever really happened.  So I just thought, ‘Well, why not?’” Back to the basics.  Many people compare roller derby to what they saw in the movie Whip It.  Two teams of five players skate around an oval track, playing offense and defense at the same time.  One player from each team is designated a “jammer” and scores points by passing the opposing team’s players, called “blockers.”  The best part?  No experience is required.


Besides elementary school field trips, many Derby Vixens had no prior roller skating experience. The league provides a Derby 101 course for anyone interested in playing or strapping on skates again.   “It’s easy to learn if you’re committed,” Knott said.  “It’s certainly not something people do casually.  There is a time commitment involved and everybody progresses at their own pace.  We have a pretty good system in place for taking anyone from never having skated in their lives to be ready to bout in just a few months.” Roller derby may be easy to learn, but it takes a lot of dedication.  The Vixens practice three days a week for two hours.  They’re required to attend two out of three practices to be eligible for competition.  Many are also involved with the league’s board and help with Derby 101 sessions.   And this doesn’t count their full-time jobs. 

Jen Slabaugh is a graduate student at Michigan State studying exercise physiology and is a personal trainer at the MAC. Kat Teske is a barista and data entry operator for a veterinary hospital. Jana Lemenu is an Assistant Manager for an Enterprise branch in Battle Creek.  Chelsea Fristoe finished her Master’s in Communications at MSU while competing and now works at the MSU Federal Credit Union.  Some have families. It’s not hard to see that these are busy women.  Many consider the Derby Vixens their second full-time job.  Luckily for them, if they have a bad day at job one, they can come lay a hit on a teammate in the second.  Roller derby gives them a chance to relax, let off steam and have fun with extraordinary people. “I make the Vixens a priority in my life,” Lemenu said.  “It’s definitely a juggling act, and it’s relying on friends to help keep me sane.  But it’s the derby that keeps me sane for the

rest of my life. That’s where I go to kind of escape from things.” And what better way to escape reality   than with the teammates these women have. year, a her toget been only e Although they’v the Derby Vixens have developed a unique friendship between them.  They’ve become a family, for better or worse. “We have been through a lot together,” Fristoe said.  “At this point we’re literally just like a family.  There are people I adore.  There are people that drive me nuts every once in a while.  But I would still do anything for them.” The team atmosphere wasn’t the only reason these women were drawn to roller derby.  For a lot of them, it was the contact.  Many of them grew up craving a full-contact sport such as football or hockey.  But those sports were restricted to men.  Roller derby gives them the chance to push and shove that they never had before.  

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It’s not quite as violent as it sounds. Yes, there are injuries.  Teske was taken to emergency care for a back injury.  Lemenu broke her ankle.  The sport has a certain stigma attached to it, and not all is positive.  But roller derby is much more than that.  Lemenu said it’s very much a women’s game where they can be accepted for the people they are.

service. My smile is on. I grin and bear it. But at night, I look at that girl next to me, and I’m going to knock her out.  I get to wear fishnets, booty shorts and knock people around on roller skates.  How cool is that?” Judging by the crowd of 1,200 at their bout in Lansing, a lot of people agree.  The bout was sold out three days ahead of time.  Lemenu was

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“I think it’s a really fantastic sport for empowering women,” Lemenu said. “We don’t get a lot of choices with assertiveness that a lot of men get to have.  It’s really a fantastic empowering sport where women get to work 517.694.2144 • www.holtnr.org hard, work together and really kind of make 5091 Willoughby Rd. • Holt, MI 48842 it their own.” Roller derby has many unique characteristics that make it stand out from all other sports.  First comes the uniforms.  The Derby Vixens wear matching neon green and pink tops. The rest is up for grabs.  They wear anything from fishnet tights to spandex to tutus on their bottoms.    Lemenu said their outfits are a balance between being feminine and playing dress-up like a kid.  Anywhere else in the world, these girls would look crazy.  But in derby, they can wear whatever they want and fit right in.   “I think one of the things that brought me to it at first is that it’s great to see strong women who are allowed to be women in terms ® ® of they can be themselves,” Knott said.  “They can be athletic. They can be sexy. They can ® be fun.  They don’t have to assume any sort of false pretense about what a woman should or shouldn’t be.  They can just be strong, athletic, tough women.”   Their derby names are a different story.  Each girl chooses her own name.  Like their costumes, it can be just about anything.  Most of them choose to make a pun out of something that has happened to them in the past.  Team member Nast E Dogbyte was bit by a dog.  Gluteus Maxine is a personal trainer who preaches the importance of her client’s gluteus maximus.  The names give them alter-egos and a chance to be anyone they want. “I believe that Emma Nockuout is kind of 248 W. Grand River • East Lansing, who MI I get to be at night,” Lemenu said.  “During 248 W. Grand River • East MI Lansing, the day, I’m literally in a suit.  I’m in customer

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one of the main people involved in planning it and said they expected maybe 600 people. To see it sell out gave everyone the chills. “It was amazing,” Fristoe said.  “I almost cried.  Just seeing the line and seeing how everything came together…there was so much work put into all this from so many different people that it was just amazing to see it come together.” But the Derby Vixens weren’t always doing so well.  As Fristoe looked at the crowd before the Lansing bout, all she could think about was the day when the only place they had to practice was on a high school theater stage. “Last spring there was a time where we couldn’t find anywhere to skate,” Fristoe said.  “We were having issues not being able to afford places to skate.  A lot of people don’t want us to skate with them because they think we’re going to not be family friendly.” A non-friendly atmosphere is completely opposite of the crowd drawn to the roller derby.  People from all ages and backgrounds can be found cheering the on women from the sidelines.  A few young girls even asked Slabaugh for her autograph. “Oh, my gosh, they made me so happy!” Slabaugh said.  “These girls are 8 years old, and their dream now is to become a roller derby girl.  It puts you kind of in a position where you do want to set a good example, show them that we’re not just a rough contact sport, but we’re actually class athletes as well.” The Derby Vixens are a class act on the track and off.  While technically a for-profit organization, their proceeds either get reinvested into the league or are given back to the Lansing community.  The women pay dues every month and get nothing back in return.  Nothing tangible, that is.  Personally, they’ve gained more than a second job. “I feel like I’ve changed a whole lot more

Photography JENA MCSHANE

and really kind of make it their own.”


since I’ve joined,” Teske said. “I’m so much more confident.  The friends that I’ve met out there, they’re just indescribable . . . some of the best people I’ve ever met.” And none have plans to quit any time soon.  Teske said she’ll play until her body breaks down.  Knott will do his best to keep his girls on the track but has big plans for their future.  He wants to increase their schedule to 12 games per season and get certified by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.  This would allow them to increase their level of competition by playing teams nationwide.  After a sold-out bout and a 3-1 record during their first year of existence, receiving national recognition shouldn’t take too much time. “It’s up to us to make sure we maintain that momentum and continue to provide the community with something they’re interested

in,” Knott said. “It would be really easy to sit back now and say, ‘Well, we’ve arrived now, haven’t we?’  But we really can’t do that.” The Vixens said they would encourage anyone to give roller derby a try.  Knott described the team as a group of misfits in one way or another.  Roller derby helps them be who they really are.  Everyone finds their place on the team, and no one leaves disappointed. “I think it’s such an important thing to just come out and try,” Lemenu said.  “If you have the fear, if you’ve got the excitement, if you think it looks cool, it’s worth it just to strap on a pair of skates and feel like you’re 8 years old again.” Slabaugh couldn’t agree more.   “Come and try,” she said.  “Come and skate.  I promise not to knock you down on the first practice…maybe the second.  So be ready.” H

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Playing A Kids’ Game Olson, McFall Still Score For Biggby Bombers BY STEVE GRINCZEL

Bob Olson stops behind the goal line and hovers over the puck. Skates shoulder-width apart, head up, he’s searching purposefully for a teammate ready to receive his pass for a point-blank shot on the Infinity goaltender. If this moment in time were caught on camera, pixilated and Photoshopped – to swap the orange and black “Biggby Bombers” insignia on his sweater for that of the Philadelphia Flyers – Olson could be mistaken for a highly skilled and well-paid pro. Meanwhile, Mike McFall has moved to a spot just inside the right faceoff circle. He is ready. Olson’s ice-hugging diagonal pass slices through 26 MARCH 2011

the slot as if delivered by an NHL forward, and the slow-to-react goalie has little hope of stopping McFall’s anticipatory one-timer, which has the promise of a nifty tic-tac-toe scoring play. But, the moment carries on a split-second too long. The toe of McFall’s trailing skate crashes into the heel of his forward skate, and he’s a blur of arms and legs flailing defiantly against the forces of gravity and a scarcity of friction.

McFall avoids a face-to-face meeting with the ice, but while he tumbles the Infinity convert his turnover into scoring chance on the other end. Olson’s postgame analysis of that particular play in the aftermath of the Bombers’ 7-2 loss sounds well beyond the pay grade of a recreational-level player whose team just got slammed in The Summit’s 30-and-over, Sunday night league at the Capital Centre in Dimondale. “I put it on the wrong foot,” Olson tells McFall between swigs from a can of Labatt Blue in the locker room. “I didn’t realize until it was too late that he’s a lefty and I passed it to a righty. I missed him.” Seriously? Olson is kicking himself for failing


they even play the part, as do their teammates, opponents and the guys playing on the ice sheet located next door. This scene repeats itself largely unseen but on a regular basis all winter at The Summit and rinks at Suburban Ice in East Lansing and Michigan State University’s Munn Arena. They are havens for past-their-prime-timers who occasionally make onlookers scratch their heads and say, “Hey, that guy’s pretty good.” There are no delusions. This isn’t the NHL or even a close relation to the Federal League of Hanson Brothers fame in the movie “Slap Shot.” No stogie-chomping pro scouts are going to come through looking for that next diamond in the rough. The Zamboni makes an appearance between games – not periods. The players aren’t paid to play; they, or a team sponsor, pays for the privilege of lacing up skates, despite advancing age and waning ability, in an organized and competitive setting. “We’re getting fatter, older and slower,” said McFall, the 39-year-old president of Biggby Coffee. Even so, except for the fact checking is prohibited, it’s real hockey with refs, a timekeeper, penalty box and scoreboard. Hockey is the largest common denominator between Olson and McFall, who likely would never have forged a friendship—which now accommodates golf trips to destination courses around the country—without it. “His wife gets jealous because he talks to me more than he does to her,” said McFall, who joined Lansing Country Club with Olson in a links version of the buddy system. Olson, 44, didn’t start playing hockey until he was 21 and working as a computer programmer in Taylor. “A bunch of computer dorks thought we should get together and play,” Olson said. “We couldn’t skate to save our lives.” Olson was still a weak skater in his 30s when he moved to the Lansing area and his chances of successfully trying out for any of the teams playing at Munn, or the outside rink at Washington Park , were remote. So 14 years ago he formed his own club in a league at Munn to recognize the dexterity of his shooter 30 feet away, and in retrospect should have accounted for the two- or three-foot difference in his aim? Weekend warriors like Olson are allowed to have such expectations? As the crowd of 11 – including the timekeeper and the worker emptying the trash cans – will attest, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” “Had I known it was going to be 80 miles an hour at my skate, I could have adjusted,” McFall says. “It would have been a great story had we hooked up,” Olson responds. Olson and McFall not only look the part in their classy uniforms, every now and again

Rise And McFall Biggby Coffee President Mike McFall clears the boards after a shift.

and sponsored it with his own money. Though on a much smaller scale, it wasn’t unlike a rich owner who never played sports at a high level buying his way into the pros’ inner circle. “It’s funny because when I first started playing here, opportunities were limited,” Olson said. “The reason I had to buy my way onto a team is they didn’t have a Summit or Suburban.” Nevertheless, Olson was reluctant to take the ice and try out for one of the 25 spots on his own team until McFall nudged him. “Hey, I think it’s your time to go on the ice,” said McFall, who began skating at the age of 4, grew up playing on travel teams, played for the Milford High School varsity and has never been cut from a team. “We’ve been friends ever since,” Olson said. Playing hockey couldn’t be a half-hearted proposition when ice time was scarce. “We would literally get on the ice at quarter-to-1 or 1:10 in the morning,” Olson said. “This was on Sunday night and it was a checking league, which was horrible because you’d wake up bruised and sore. Thank God I didn’t work for a living, and still don’t.” After a long stint as a hard-rock disc jockey on Q-106 came to an end in 2006, Olson started a voiceover business bearing his name. He narrates commercials, videos and industrial presentations. The recreational sports slice of life comes in various sizes and flavors on ball diamonds,

Caged Aggression Familiar broadcast voice Bob Olson is all business as he awaits his shift.

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Photography MATTHEW MITCHELL/MSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

playing a kids game

basketball and volleyball courts, soccer pitches, touch-football fields, bowling alleys and ice rinks, with the intent of satisfying appetites for competition and camaraderie. The one thing that sets hockey apart from the other sports, however, is the locker room. “There’ve been times when I’ve gotten so (ticked) off because we lose so many times so badly,” Olson said. “And then you sit down in the locker room and realize why you keep coming out.” Like rec league athletes everywhere, Olson, McFall and their teammates will gather after the game at a nearby watering hole – on this night, it’s The Dispatch – but not before some good-natured horseplay in the locker room.  They fling tiny snowballs, made from the ice shavings accumulated on their skate blades, with their non-natural throwing hand at each other from across the room. They also try to lob empty beer cans into a small hole on top of a trash can – again, with their off hands. The good-natured ribbing and trash talk isn’t similarly handicapped, however, and everybody gives as well as they get. “I played pretty much every day in college and worked at a hockey shop in Kalamazoo,” McFall said. “After I left Kalamazoo College I moved to Houston and played there. Every place I’ve lived, the guys I played hockey with became my best friends.” “It’s true,” chimed in Olson. “Once when I talked about moving, (McFall) said, ‘Don’t you (dare) move.’ It’s a big thing.” Hockey players are a different breed, with wide-ranging pedigrees and high pain thresholds. One of the Biggby players is a golf professional who lives in Flint. Ricky Slaght played for the famed Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, where former MSU stars Rod Brind’Amour and Mitch Messier prepped, as did NHL stalwarts such as Brad Richards, Dave Andreychuk and Vincent Lecavalier. Another

Bomber, Rob Husulack, used to play Major Junior A in the Ontario Hockey League. A few years ago, one teammate who didn’t wear a face cage had a tooth knocked out after taking a puck in the mouth. Another Bomber broke a collarbone a couple years ago. McFall remembered the time an opposing player hit him under the chin with his stick. “My whole shirt was covered with blood, it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I have to open my store in a few hours, so I didn’t go to hospital,” McFall said. “I put three or four butterflies (bandages) across it. Next thing I know, it’s 7 o’clock when this regular customer comes in and says, ‘You’re probably going to want to take care of that.’ I had blood running down my neck and into my shirt, which probably isn’t a good thing in a food-service industry. “We’re not a very good hockey team, but we still play with a lot of intensity. Mediocre softball teams probably don’t have the same kind of intensity we have. The good softball teams do, but the lousy ones, like we are, don’t.” Regardless of sport, rec teams have probably always been melting pots where executives like McFall, local former celebrities like Olson and unemployed twentysomethings – given exemptions to fill 30-and-over roster spots – become teammates and drink from the same postgame pitchers. But they serve other purposes, some on a highly personal level beyond creating a customer base for equipment manufacturers and ice rinks.  “By playing on this team I’m still connected to the game pretty much the same way I was when I was just a kid,” McFall said. “Without it, I’d be terribly bored,” said Olson. H

Linemates Bond Mike McFall (left) and Bob Olson share a story and share success.


Costello Juggles Jobs, Hockey Addiction BY STEVE GRINZCEL

Photography Mike major

Joe Costello has no time to waste on trendy time-management techniques. There’s hockey to play, hockey to coach, hockey to watch and hockey to organize, along with tax returns to prepare. “I don’t know that I have any,” the certified public accountant said when asked for his best day-planning tips – a pop-guru favorite that elicits 116 million returns on google.com. Costello is, however, a strict adherent to the part of Newton ’s 1st Law of Motion that states a body in motion will keep moving in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force. An indefatigable nature and all-butunmatchable schedule sets Costello apart from the area’s contingent of devoted adult hockey players. Calling this his “busy time” would be an understatement of decimal-pointshifting proportions. He doesn’t need time management; he personifies it. “I’m just extremely energetic,” Costello said. “I get to bed at 1 and get up at 6:30. I get no satisfaction out of sleeping.” He satisfies his competitive urges by playing four games a week: roller hockey at the Westside Community YMCA on Monday nights, pickup ice hockey games at Michigan State University’s Munn Arena on Saturday mornings, and back-to-back games for two different teams in 30- and 40-and-over leagues at The Summit in Dimondale on Sunday nights. Costello coaches youngest son Adam’s Little Caesars midget under-16 travel team in the Greater Lansing Area Hockey Association (GLAHA) at Suburban Ice in East Lansing four times a week – practice on Tuesdays and Thursday and games on Saturday and Sunday. He did the same for his three other children. Oldest son Bryan has gone on to play for Division II Robert Morris College in Peoria, Ill.; daughter Erin retired from competitive

travel hockey at the age of 17 to attend Baylor University, and 17-year-old Ian plays for the North American Hockey League Tier III Junior A Metro Jets in Waterford. Along the way, Costello, 50, of DeWitt, received level-5 masters coaching certification from USA Hockey and has been an on-ice mentor in one way or another for each of the last 15 years. while counting himself among the forefathers of girls hockey in Lansing. “We had six hockey girls and six who were just rollerbladers,” Costello said. “Within a couple of years, we ended up winning Silver Sticks in Canada, which is a huge deal. I just love pulling the best out of the kids, and I think I do a pretty good job at it.” Costello allocates some of his precious free time each year to coaching a three-day adult training camp arranged by a Suburban Icebased group called the Rink Rats. The proceeds support community causes. “This year’s camp is going to be in March at Chelsea Arena,” Costello said. “It fills up every year with 30 guys who picked up hockey over the last five years or whatever, never played amateur and want to learn. It’s all technical training. That’s really cool.” After the traditional hockey season ends in the spring, Costello will continue to play two or three times a week at The Summit and the YMCA, just as he has previous summers. “I’ve never not played year-round,” he said. “Sometimes I can play with my sons on the same team, and that’s kinda fun.” He’ll also start working on his plan for next season. That may involve coaching Ian’s team

for another season, joining a high school program as an assistant coach or assisting the MSU women’s club hockey team. “It’s never-ending,” said Costello, who traces his passion for hockey to his days as a Canadian tot. “I generally played minor hockey. And in Canada, you either went to juniors or to school. At that time you couldn’t do both. I was good but not good enough to where it was worth giving up going to university.” Costello moved to Michigan 26 years ago and to Lansing in 1990. “I’m a resident-alien and (recently) renewed my green card for 10 more years,” he said. “I’m eligible now for citizenship, and that’s going to be my next goal: I’m going to go get my citizenship so I can vote.” Costello and wife Eunice’s all-too-predictable social life generally revolves around “watching the kids play,” he said. “When you have kids playing at that level, they’re going all over. We’d split up. She’d drive one place, and I’d drive another.” Woven into Costello’s hockey commitment is his professional life, which includes his CPA operation in the Waverly area and two other business interests that have him traveling occasionally to places like Elkhart, Ind., and Kalamazoo. Then, there are the twice-weekly gym workouts he deems necessary to maintain his health for the all-important games, which remain his catharsis. “When I play forward, I’m a grinder. And when I’m playing defense, I’m an anchorplaymaker. I am pretty fast, especially for my age,” Costello said. “When I’m on the ice, it’s the time I don’t think about anything else – I’m 12 years old on a pond.” In a time and place where time didn’t need to be managed. H MARCH 2011

29


news + notes

Redwings Fly High St. Johns Rules Division 2 Wrestling Again

EAST LANSING

BY CHIP MUNDY

St. Johns High did more than successfully defend its Division 2 state wrestling championship last month. The Redwings were the only high school wrestling team in Michigan to complete the season undefeated. St. Johns, 32-0, won the championship 54-18 over Greenville at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. Starting at 112 pounds, the Redwings had four straight first-period pins and took 10 of the 14 matches. That concluded an impressive weekend as St. Johns beat Dearborn Heights Crestwood 75-5 in the quarterfinals and Lowell 48-10 in the semis. Last year, the Redwings were involved in several tight matches and won the state championship match over Allegan, 31-30. “It was a lot more relaxed this year, but it’s still a great feeling,” St. Johns coach Zane Ballard said. “It wasn’t nearly as stressful.” Eight St. Johns wrestlers swept their three matches during the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals: Zac Hall (103), Jacob Schmitt (112),

Brant Schafer (119), Josh Fennell (130), Travis Curley (145), Jordan Wohlfert (152), Taylor Massa (160) and Taylor Pemberton (215, 285). St. Johns had 12 wrestlers qualify for the individual state meet, and three won state championships: Wohlfert, Massa and Hall. Schafer made it to the title match and lost, but it still capped a comeback season for him after he was involved in an automobile accident during Christmas break. Ballard said Schafer had some shoulder and neck injuries and may have suffered a concussion. “We had some challenges during the season, that’s for sure,” Ballard said. “We only have one senior starter, so we should be even better next year. But we’re definitely going to have that target on our backs.” H

LANSING The Great Lakes Track and Field club, coached by Robert Hollingsworth, who was featured on the cover of the Greater Lansing sport Magazine last month, won seven national championships and broke two national records in the AAU indoor national meet in February at Bloomington, Ill. In the Midget Division for girls born in 1999, Taylor Manson won the 55-meter dash in 7.86 seconds, the 200 in 27.61 and the 400 in 1:02.29, giving her 17 national championships in her AAU career. Re’anna Blair set national records in the 200 (26.05) and 400 (59.22) in the Sub-Youth Division for girls born in 1998. Jaida Hampton won the high jump (3 feet, 10 inches) in the Sub-Midget Division for girls

born in 2000, and Kentre Patterson won the 55-meter hurdles (9.35 seconds) in the Midget Division for boys born in 1999. Hollingsworth and the Great Lakes club mourned the death of team member Anthony Harris, who died after an automobile accident at the end of January. “He was a great student and my top sprinter,” Hollingsworth said. “He would have gotten major looks from colleges.” Ron Farlin of Lansing made a big splash in the fifth week of the United States Bowling Congress state tournament in Saginaw. Farlin rolled a nine-game total of 1,957 – an average of 217.4 – to move into second place in allevents actual. Farlin had 706 in singles, which

Do you have News + Notes? Please send them to news@SportLansing.com 30 MARCH 2011

has him sixth, and 713 in doubles, where he and partner Michael Vallender are fifth with 1,314 actual. Farlin had 538 in the team event. The tournament runs through May 8.

The high school boys and girls state basketball championships will remain in East Lansing at least through 2017. The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced a sixyear extension with Michigan State to hold its annual championships at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. The boys semifinals and finals have been held at Breslin since 1994. The semifinals and finals for girls returned to Breslin last year. Trevor Nill, an alternate captain for the Michigan State hockey team, is one of seven finalists for the prestigious BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, which is presented annually to a college hockey player who gives back to his or her community. Nill is president of the Student-AthleteAdvisory Committee at Michigan State and is a vice president of the MSU chapter of Athletes in Action. He has a 3.4 cumulative grade-point average as a mechanical engineering major. Paul Harker, a former Michigan State offensive lineman, has been named the director of strength and conditioning at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He will be directly responsible for the conditioning of the football team. Harker was a three-time letter-winner for the Spartans and won the Iron Man Award for his work in the weight room. He also received the Biggie Munn Award as the team’s most inspirational player. The Michigan State women’s basketball team won the Big Ten Conference outright championship for the first time in school history and was rewarded by having the Big Ten Player of the Year (Kalisha Keane), the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (Lykendra Johnson) and the Big Ten Coach of the Year (Suzy Merchant). The Spartans finished Big Ten play 13-3, were 25-4 overall and received the No. 1 seed for the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in program history. After holding Northwestern to a record-low 25 points in their quarterfinal, they lost to Ohio State, the eventual tourney champ, in a semifinal.


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finish line

All In The Family Lansing’s Lynches Share Love Of Sports, Community

It was as big a thrill as an Eastern Quaker father can have – and I’ve had a lot of them. To be inducted into your high school’s Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor. To have that happen the same night your two boys are inducted is beyond a dad’s wildest dreams. Lakers. It started where most learning takes place. It happened at home. We always wanted Jim and Jeff to remember that their last name was Lynch. They were both good students and, more importantly, good people. But as with most young people, they needed to learn a lesson or two. One of those teachable moments, one that the boys still mention today, came in a basketball game at Bingham Street School. They were both a little out of control. And I thought their coach should’ve pulled them out of the game. When he didn’t, I did. I marched out onto the court, grabbed them both by the shirttail and took them home. But home wasn’t a place to fear. It was a loving, learning environment. We made sure to sit down and eat dinner together, regardless of how busy we were. And we always discussed the events of the day. There was always communication. That was also true after games. Our family always sat down and talked about what had happened. We wanted to hear what the boys had to say. Of course, I also gave my Eastern’s Lynchpins From left, twins Jim and Jeff Lynch and opinion about their performances. patriarch Lance Lynch are a Hall of Fame family. We continued to do that when they played at Grand Valley. On home-game weekends, I’d often stay in their As parents, Karol and I did everything we apartment on Saturday night. We’d just hang out could to instill discipline and respect. The boys and discuss what needed discussing. were taught to work hard and always be honest We still get together whenever we can. – not just with others, but with themselves. Whether Jeff has been coaching at Williamston I’m proud to say they’ve developed into or Jim has been helping with the program at very fine citizens. They’re outstanding Eastern, we’re still a very close family. representatives of Eastern High, of Grand I’m happy to say I’ve been part of the chain Valley State University, where they both played gang at Michigan State for more than 20 years. football, and of the Mid-Michigan community. And I’ve had several opportunities for the boys That didn’t start with the Quakers or the But that’s what happened in February at Don Johnson Fieldhouse, the facility where Jim and Jeff finished their prep basketball careers for Paul Cook’s 1981 Class A state champions. I’m incredibly proud of the twins, as I am of their older sister, Lee Ann, and our nine grandchildren. My wife, Karol, and I have been incredibly blessed. We’re lucky to have a terrific family and tons of great friends. And we’re fortunate to have had those relationships in Lansing, a place we’re proud to call home.

32 MARCH 2011

to be on the sidelines and enjoy the game there. I was able to get Jim and Jeff sideline passes at Spartan Stadium for Brian Kelly’s first visit as Notre Dame’s head coach. They’ve been friends with Brian from their Grand Valley days and know he’ll do well with the Fighting Irish. The same is true with Brady Hoke, who just took over at Michigan. The twins will look forward to watching his team next season in East Lansing. But as important as sports have been in our lives, our family knows that there’s much, much more. The boys understand the value of being part of a wonderful community. They see the importance of giving back. I grew up on the old east side of Lansing. My father, mother and two sisters and Karol’s parents and all five of the Converse kids graduated from Eastern. So it’s important we contribute something to the school. My father was a Lansing firefighter and retired as the chief dispatcher for the department. My mother was a ward manager at Sparrow Hospital until her death from cancer at age 47. If the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, maybe that explains some of the things I’ve tried to do in the community – my community. I’m proud to say I’ve been associated with Estes-Leadley Funeral Homes for 50 years as an employee, an owner and now a consultant. I’ve come in contact with a lot of great people and been able to help make a difference. I’ve been the board chairman emeritus for Sparrow Health System and the recipient of the Founders Award, Sparrow’s highest honor. But it’s important to reach out in lots of different ways. I’ve had the privilege of working with Ele’s Place, the Salvation Army, the Lansing Area Safety Council, the Old Newsboys Association, the Hundred Club of Lansing and various other organizations. As Jim and Jeff would be among the first to well you, we’ll all part of a team. Sports teach that. So do parents. At least, that’s what we tried to do. Apparently, we did a pretty good job. When three members of a family enter a Hall of Fame together, it’s a great moment. It was a night Team Lynch will never forget. H

Photography THE lynch family

BY LANCE LYNCH


PLAYING SPORTS CAN MAKE YOUR KID FEEL LIKE A SUPER HERO - BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU? When big youth sports events are held in Greater Lansing it’s a classic winwin. The local economy gets a boost and youth sports heroes are made.

Do you or someone in your family play a tournament sport that could be a good fit for the area? Need a hand growing your local sports event? The Greater Lansing Sports Authority offers free support to develop athletic tournaments and events in the Capital region. Help us develop a strong sports community and we can keep those event dollars local. Your kid will feel like a hero on the field and you can feel like a hero for your home town. Contact us today to learn more.

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sport: March 2011  

Greater Lansing Sport Magazine March 2011 Issue. Featuring Mandy Johnson, Deborah Hoekstra and Dena Droste earning hoops opportunities, Alex...

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