Friday, September 19, 2014
A coach knows the importance of high school sports
cynical folks have it wrong.
dismiss sports and game results, saying they are not life and death.
school football coach Alfredo Calderon would beg to differ.
doctors have told me that I shouldn’t be out here. They told me I should stay
home and let my body heal. Well, if I didn’t have this, I don’t know what I
would do,” said Calderon.
was on the sidelines with the Michigan Collegiate football team as the Cougars
rolled over host Plymouth Educational Center Prep, 45-0, one recent Friday evening.
locale isn’t surprising. Calderon has been the head coach of the Cougars for
he was in a sit-down walker. While he could get up and stand, those moments
were brief. Calderon had on the obligatory headsets.
knows he is not just fortunate to be with the Michigan Collegiate Cougars in
the fall of 2014. Calderon is also fortunate to be alive.
was Thursday, Oct. 31, when he began to feel ill. He told his wife that he
thought they should go to the hospital.
was a boil. I’m diabetic and I’ve had them before, so I wasn’t too concerned.
But one doctor came in and then another and another. That got me a little
worried. I told them I had a game the next day.”
Collegiate was scheduled to play host Livonia Clarenceville at 7 p.m., Friday,
Nov. 1, in a Division 5 pre-district tournament game.
3 a.m., Friday, the coach was taken into surgery. He did not wake up until
December 17. He’d been in a coma. He had sepsis. His kidneys had shut down.
you know what it is like to have a month and a half missing from your life? I
had missed Thanksgiving. It was a week before Christmas and I had no idea. But
the first thing I asked was `Did we win?’”
Collegiate had fallen to Clarenceville, 51-21.
Calderon regained consciousness, he soon became conscious of the fact that he
couldn’t talk. He could not feel his legs. He would have to re-learn some of
the fundamentals of life like walking, standing and even going to the bathroom.
month or so later, Calderon was rushed back to the hospital for an obstruction
in the intestinal tract. Complications from that surgery ensued.
told, Calderon spent over six months in the hospital. He still goes to the
wound clinic regularly and has rehabilitation three times per week.
has come a long way. In football parlance, he knows there are many yards left to
travel. He wears braces on his feet to combat foot drop.
been with the team since the summer,” he said. “I was with them during passing
camps. I was in wheelchair at Wayne State. It was just important for me to be
on that recent Friday evening, meant Kilgore Field on East Forest in
Detroit. Calderon was on the headphones helping Johnny Guth, who has taken over
as the head coach at Collegiate.
is doing a great job. He was with me the whole time at Collegiate and he is
smiled and gave a thumbs up. You just knew there was nowhere he would have
rather been than along the sidelines.
gets me going. This keeps me going,” he said. “There’s no way I would stay away
if I could possibly be here.”
He missed the Cougars’ playoff game last year. They are 3-0 heading into
a Week Four game against Detroit University Prep at Bishop Foley. Already, they
are halfway to another berth in the playoffs.
way Calderon will miss this one. Not with everything he’s been through. Not
with everything he has done to get back.
Monday, August 11, 2014
The Beach Boys span the generations
I’m watching the Beach Boys at Freedom Hill.
It is Sunday night and I’m on the lawn with my wife, Kim.
We are looking at a complete mix of people; from infants in
Pampers to their grandparents in Depends. Sitting close by are teens. Also on blankets near us are folks whose high school graduations were so long ago that Abraham Lincoln gave
the commencement address.
Some are eating soft pretzels. Some are drinking
beverages that are definitely not soft drinks.
Spanning the generations isn’t an easy thing to do in the
Filling up a place like Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights
It is a testament to the music of the Beach Boys.
Good Vibrations isn’t just a song. It is also a feeling
and the Beach Boys make people feel good.
Truthfully, growing up, I was never that big on the Beach
Boys. They were a little too straight-laced and I was into music that had more of an edge.
Groups like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and the Stooges.
As I get older, my appreciation for longevity increases.
I find it remarkable that songs first performed in the 1960s and 1970s can
remain so popular today. Think of everything that’s gone on in society since
Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, and Alan Jardine got
together in California in 1961. The war in Vietnam. Richard Nixon and Watergate. Mark Zuckerburg
and Facebook. Bill Gates and Microsoft. The riots in Detroit. Detroit and bankruptcy.
The Beach Boys sing about surfing and somehow it works even
though most of us have only surfed the web. They sing about a little deuce coupe
when most of us are tooling around in minvans, SUVs or trucks. Somehow that
They unabashedly wear Hawaiian shirts in a Rust Belt state
and somehow that works, too.
The Beach Boys sing about a life that most of us want to
live. They sing about a lifestyle that most of us want to embrace.
Thanks for stopping by, guys. See you again in 2015.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Drunk teacher didn't follow the dress code
I have been
known to turn on Jerry Springer when nobody else is in the house.
Dating Brothers Who Cheat With Their Mother or something like that.
But even I
was shocked by this story out of Houston:
CBS, a newly-hired teacher was found intoxicated
and not wearing any pants inside an Oklahoma high school classroom on her first
day of work, said police.
was reporting for her first day on the job as all teachers were also returning
for their first day back in school from summer break.
I have worked with more than one person who couldn’t face the day without a
drink or two. And I have known a teacher or two who probably felt like drinking
every morning before facing their own class.
I have never known anyone to show up to work not wearing pants. Even President
Clinton wore his into the Oval Office, at least.
I said, I’m no prude. I even watch Naked and Afraid on the Discovery Channel
when nobody is around.
But no pants? That has to be against the school dress code.
South Haven is Shangri-La
Spent a week in South Haven.
We’d never been before to the small town in southwestern
Rented a house, drove three hours westbound, and there it
Not just the house, but the town. Not just the town, but
All of the above was very, very pleasant.
There is something about Lake Michigan that is inspiring.
Not that I was inspired to go kayaking. Not that it
inspired me enough to charter a fishing boat and wrestle a salmon out of the
water. Not inspirational enough to swim a mile every morning.
Truthfully, we mostly watched. We watched the water. We
watched our grown kids watching their own kids as they played on the beach.
After the kids left, it was just my wife, Kim, and I.
We drank coffee on the deck. We ate lunch on the beach. We
read and we read some more. We relaxed and if we felt like it, we took a nap.
If that sounds boring, well here’s a big hug and a big hooray for boring.
We had a great time.
South Haven is just the right size. There is enough to do
without being overwhelmed. There was some traffic, but nothing like it is here. No
road rage. No carjackings. No gripping
the steering wheel so tight you develop both blisters and high blood pressure.
We ate fish. We ate burgers. We ate ice cream.
Did I mention we ate ice cream? Probably five out of
The vacation is over. It is great to be back. I think.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Checking in at Michigan and Trumbull
It's a ball diamond now.
Well-kept, thanks to the efforts of the all-volunteer
Navin Field Grounds Crew, but still just a ball diamond.
Tiger Stadium used to sit the intersection of
Michigan and Trumbull. It always seemed so massive, didn’t it?
Especially when you were a kid. Stadium walls rising
from the sidewalk higher than a swatted fungo. Light towers perched above the
upper deck. You swear you could see them shining during a night game from
Bellville and Belle Isle.
Tiger Stadium was almost intimidating from the
But once inside, nothing was more enthralling. Walking
through the concourse and making your way to the seats. Almost magically, urban
became rural; the typical city palette of hard scrabble grays turned incredibly
Green is the way the field remains, even though
the stadium is no longer there.
It was Father’s Day when my wife and I and our
youngest daughter, Breanna, made our way to Corktown. We were going to grab
something to eat at the Mercury Burger Bar that’s just a handful of blocks west
of Trumbull on Michigan.
As we drove by the site where Tiger Stadium
formerly resided, a vintage baseball game was being played. People in garb more
befitting the 1860s than 21st century were batting the ball and
running the bases.
We immediately stopped, yanked some folding
chairs from the trunk, and made our way to the game. We joined the hundred or
so other people who were watching the game.
Hot dogs were offered by the Navin Field Grounds
Crew. So, too, was Faygo soda pop.
A man came by selling peanuts and I couldn’t
resist. Old habits are hard to break, and I used to grab a brown bag full of
salted peanuts from a vendor on Trumbull before every Tiger game I attended.
None of the vintage players wore gloves. None
had an agent, either. There were a few bleachers. Not a single suite to be
Some kids were playing catch behind the
backstop. A mom was feeding her infant along the first base line. Some very pleasant
people from the Navin Field Grounds Crew were spooning baked beans and potato
salad onto plates to accompany the Ballpark Franks. Donations were appreciated
but not required.
While I am sure that food is not always served,
there seems to be a lot of baseball on the menu at Michigan and Trumbull these
days. Youth games are played on a regular basis. Vintage baseball seems to have
found a home for obvious reasons.
While it is no longer the site of Tiger Stadium,
it remains a baseball diamond and somehow that seems exactly right.
Isn’t it the essence of the game? Strip away all
the garnishments and baseball is all about grass and dirt and if you're lucky,
some actual bases and a fence for a backstop.
That's the way we all got started playing.
Running to the playground. Sprinting to the park. Jumping over the fence into
your neighbor’s yard. Grabbing a baseball and a bat and depending upon your
age, that bat was either fashioned from wood or metal.
I’m an old guy. Our bats were always wood. They'd
crack and we'd tape them up. The crack would get worse and we'd drive a nail or
two to keep them intact.
Tiger Stadium is gone, but the baseball field
remains. Say thanks to the Navin Field Grounds Crew. Not just for the hot dog.
Not just for the Faygo.
But for preserving the baseball field. For
keeping the memories of Tiger Stadium alive. For providing for future memories,
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Referees wear the Scarlet R
Most high school sports game officials know exactly how
Hester Prynne felt.
For those who didn’t take – or pass – American
Literature, Hester Prynne was the protagonist in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet
An adulteress in Puritanical New England, Prynne was
forced to wear an ‘A’ on her forehead and was hence scorned.
Scorned is something that high school referees know
plenty about. It’s their shared plight in life.
Somebody with 20/100 vision perched on the top row of the
bleachers during a basketball game somehow has a better vantage point than the ref
who is three feet away from the play. The dad screams in outrage at the ref’s
A football coach patrols the sidelines adjacent to his
team’s bench. One of his players is called for an illegal block 35 yards away
on the poorly lit field. The coach’s stomping sets off a choreography of outrage.
The fans and players get in on the act. It is mob mentality in school colors.
A soccer mom spots an alleged infraction from the
passenger seat of her Dodge Caravan. She howls in anguish. A hockey dad
drinking coffee, eating popcorn and texting screams that the puck went over the
And so it goes. Refs get abused. It is a nightly
occurrence. Even when they get it completely right, they are absolutely wrong
in the eyes of many.
So why not step to the plate – or behind it -- yourself? How
about wearing the Scarlet R? Without game officials, games could not be played.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) is accepting
registrations by mail and online for game officials for the 2014-15 school year.
Online registration can be
accessed by clicking “Officials” at www.mhsaa.com. Forms also are available
online that can be printed and submitted by traditional mail or hand delivery
to the MHSAA office. More information about officials’ registration may be
obtained by contacting the MHSAA at 1661 Ramblewood Drive, East Lansing, MI,
48823, by phone at 517-332-5046 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is an test for
first-time officials and officials who were not registered during the past
school year. The test consists of 45 questions derived from the MHSAA Officials
Guidebook, which also is available on the Officials page of the MHSAA website.
Additional 50-question exams must be taken by those registering for football or
basketball for the first time or those who were not registered for those sports
during the previous school year. Manuals for both sports also are available on
the Officials page.
I have seen countless high school games over the years. I
have heard a lot of whistles in my time. Sure I have witnessed some calls that
I didn’t think were correct. But do you know what; I have seen a lot more blown
plays than blown calls.
I have seen kids toss up jumpers that hit so much metal you’d
swear they were members of the ironworkers union. I
have seen so many kids fumble footballs and miss passes you’d swear part
of the pre-game ritual included smearing Crisco on their mitts. I’ve seen
baseball and softball players swing at pitches that weren’t even in the same time
zone, let along the strike zone.
And sorry coaches, but I have also seen game
strategies that resemble something written up by General George Armstrong
Custer. What was the score of that game at the Little Big Horn anyway?
So maybe a questionable call does decide a game
or two every decade or so. But do you know what; those games were usually
decided a long time beforehand. By a kid who couldn’t hit a free throw even if
the Spalding was attached to a drone. By a kid who ran the anchor leg of the
4-by-200 relay wearing more jewelry than Mr. T in his heyday.
You’ve probably done your share of yelling at
the refs. Why not wear that Scarlet R yourself?
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Saying goodbye to Bob Welch
Bob Welch most folks recollect threw fastballs in the high 90s.
would rear back and the ball would come out of his hand already spitting
sparks. Halfway to the plate you’d testify in court that it had a comet’s tail.
ask Reggie Jackson.
was an iconic moment in game two of the 1978 World Series. It was Jackson’s
Yankees taking on the Dodgers. Welch was a 21-year-old rookie out of Eastern
Michigan University called into the game to protect a one-run lead with one out
in the ninth inning. He got Thurman Munson to fly out before facing Jackson,
one of the game’s most feared power hitters.
at-bat lasted more than five minutes. Welch threw nine pitches and all of them were
pure, unapologetic heat. There was no indecision in his approach. On a 3-2
count, Welch scorched the inside corner. Reggie swung and missed and the
who won 211 games in 17 major league seasons from 1978 to 1990, died Monday in
Seal Beach, California, of a heart attack. He was just 57.
who grew up in Ferndale and attended Hazel Park High School, was named to
All-Star teams in both the American and National leagues, and won the American
League Cy Young Award in 1990.
strictly the national recollection.
folks who knew Bob Welch from back home in Oakland County, have other memories.
Sheldon was a longtime teacher and coach in Hazel Park. Sheldon, who is playing
in a softball tournament down in Tennessee this week, posted this on Facebook:
What I remember about Bob was that he was always happy to come home to
Tiger Stadium. He was always so good to the fans in Detroit and had time to
sign a few autographs. But what I most remember was the day (near Christmas) he
walked into my volleyball practice at HP and ask if he could do some throwing
at the other end of the gym. Of course I said yes! After he was finished he
walked up to a couple my Varsity VB players and asked them if they would teach
him how to serve! He told the girls that he had moved to California and he
thought he better learn how to play VB. Needless to say my girls were very
excited to teach him. I know he took the time to talk to students at HP about
his life. You will be missed Bob, especially in HP.
It was in June of
1974 when Bob Welch graduated from Hazel Park High. Greg Esler is a ’73 Hazel
Park High grad.
“Bob and I were
friends. We played little league baseball and high school basketball together,”
said Esler. “He was, without question, the most gifted athlete I’ve ever seen.
I have never seen anyone who could throw a baseball like him. As a freshman, he
threw a football 65 yards at Webb Junior High.”
Esler has known
plenty of quality athletes. He’s a Hall of Fame high school basketball coach
who has been at De La Salle in Warren since the late 1990s. Prior to that, he
won a state championship in 1994 coaching at St. Clair Shores Lake Shore.
Esler has won
numerous league, district and regional championships as well. He has more than
a handful of NCAA Division 1 athletes.
“Bob was genuinely
one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He was so grounded. I mean we came from a
community where our houses were what, 1,000 square feet with one bathroom? Bob
went from that background to making millions and meeting people like Frank
Sinatra and Fleetwood Mac, but when he came he was always just one of the guys
from Hazel Park High.”
Bob Welch never
turned his back on his childhood. Not when he came back to play at Tiger
Stadium years ago. Not just four years ago when he returned to play in a golf
outing for Greg and Rhonda Esler’s deceased son, Doug, who died in an ATV
accident when he was just 15.
“Bob just showed up.
It was very, very nice of him,” said Greg Esler. “I lived right across the
street from Green Acres Park. Bob lived nearby. Bobby’s parents were just like
mine. Our dads worked very hard and our moms stayed home to watch the kids. We
didn’t have much, but we didn’t realize it. We played sports all of the time
and when it rained, we read Hardy Boy books. That is how we grew up.”
Bob Welch had his
best season in 1990 when he went 27-6 for Oakland. That was his Cy Young
season. It was the most wins for a pitcher since
the Phillies’ Steve Carlton won 27 in 1972. The last time anyone won more was
when Denny McLain won 31 in 1968 for the Tigers. Welch ended his career with a
record of 211-146 and an ERA of 3.47. He struck out 1,969 batters and walked
1,034 in 3,092 innings. He had 28 shutouts and 61 career complete games.
Not all of his successes came on the mound. In his
book, “Five O’Clock Comes Early,” written with New York Times sportswriter
George Vecsey, Bob Welch described his struggles with alcohol. It was one of
the first times a pro athlete openly discussed a drinking problem.
Bob Welch had the courage to face his problem, just like he
faced Reggie Jackson and countless other hitters during his career. He won that
battle, just like the one in the second game of the World Series in 1978.
RIP Bob Welch. Your home town is proud of you.