Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It's not just hockey for the MC Monarchs


Team owner Mark Gilman shares a laugh with MC Monarchs coach Jason McCrimmon (Photo courtesy of John Corzine/Hockey Weekly)

“He’s part hockey coach, part Father Flanagan.”
That short summation by team owner Mark Gilman described Macomb County Monarchs head coach Jason McCrimmon.
Following a recent practice at Fraser Hockeyland, McCrimmon gathered a handful of players in his office and closed the door.
“They have developed big heads,” he explained later, smiling.
Who can blame the upstart Monarchs for their confidence? The team opened the season by winning its first six games. Those wins included sweeping a three-game series against the third-ranked Tier 3 Junior team in the country, the Soo Firehawks, as well as a victory over the previously undefeated Detroit Fighting Irish.
The Monarchs were in Traverse City last weekend to play the hometown Hounds.
“Jason is a very well-respected as a coach,” said Gilman. “He can be tough on the players, but he also knows when to laugh. He is not a yeller.”
The Monarchs are a first-year Junior A (Tier 3) team that plays out of Fraser. They are a member of the Midwest Junior Hockey League. The Macomb County team joined the Alpena Flyers, Berkley Bruins, Decataur Blaze, Michigan Ice Dogs, Soo Firehawks and Traverse City Hounds.
The MJHL is an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) sanctioned Tier III league. Its stated primary goal is to develop its players on and off the ice for higher levels of junior hockey and to be able to play college hockey.
After the MWJHL’s inaugural season, more than 30 players had secured college hockey offers at the NCAA Division III level and at all three levels of ACHA hockey. That number was similar after the 2013-14 season.
Still, the Monarchs seem to be about much more than wins and losses. A look at the unique resume on the back of McCrimmon’s hockey trading card might provide a clue.
McCrimmon was born and raised in Detroit. He’s from the city and even though Detroit is called Hockey Town by some that is hardly the reality.
“My mom was a social worker. She made me try hockey when I was three years old. I hated it. Why did I want to stand around on some ice and freeze to death? None of my friends were playing,” he said, laughing.
But McCrimmon kept playing, more out of obligation to his mom than anything else. When he was 10, he moved on and played with some teams in Grosse Pointe and then later with Belle Tire.
At 16 he quit. Other priorities beckoned, just like they do for plenty of teens. He did not play again until he was 20 years old.
“I didn’t have any passion for the game,” he explained. “I had other priorities.”
An opportunity presented itself at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. After two years there, he moved on to the University of Massachusetts Boston. He later played for Muskegon and Flint of the IHL, as well as other teams.
McCrimmon had just returned from a multi-year stint as the captain of the Hela-Kiekko professional team in Finland when he met with Gilman, who was intrigued by the 6-4, 260-pound McCrimmon’s story.
“I knew he had a lot of fights in his career and wanted to see the toll that was paid on his knuckles. He made me laugh when he said the worst part about hockey fights was not broken bones in the hand, but that you never get used to being hit in the face. He wanted out,” said Gilman.
Scar tissue doesn’t negate compassion.
The Monarchs have formed partnerships with the Hope Center in Fraser as well as with McCrimmon’s Ice Dreams hockey program in Detroit.
The Hope Center is a non-profit, Christian-based, human-services organization whose purpose is to address the hunger crisis and respond to the needs of county residents. Ice Dreams is designed to introduce ice skating and hockey to kids in Detroit.
“We want these players to be productive citizens. Not only do we want them to get better on the ice but off the ice as well. We are not only building players, but young men, too,” said McCrimmon.
The majority of the players are from Macomb County. Several are Oakland County residents. There are also two on the roster from the Cape Cod area and one from the Czech Republic.
The team will play 46 regular-season games. The playoffs follow the regular season.
“I love hockey. Jason and I are really good friends and he deserves this chance. I’ve seen so much bad coaching and situations where the kids aren’t treated right. We wanted to start a team that would do right by the kids. We’ll follow through on our promises,” said Gilman.
Gilman is the owner of Decus Strategic Consulting and Communications, a marketing and public relations firm in Waterford. He resides in Clarkston with his wife, Patti. They have five children in their blended family. Three of them either played or are playing hockey.
“I’m just a hockey geek,” said Gilman.
Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, was a kids geek. The Irish priest believed there were no bad boys. McCrimmon seems to espouse that same belief.
Even those boys who occasionally get big heads.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Thank You note to Mike Ilitch

This is a Thank You note.
Not to my aunt for a pair of argyle socks or my nephew for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt.
Nope, it is to Mike Ilitch.
And no, Mr. Ilitch didn't give me a Hickory Farms basket for Christmas.
I want to thank him for the Red Wings. I want to thank him for the Tigers.
I was watching the Red Wings beat the Bruins in their home opener Thursday night and it got me to thinking; the Wings have made it into the playoffs the last 23 seasons and I’m not sure we all appreciate that fact.
I remember when Mike Ilitch bought a Red Wings’ team that was so woeful he had to give a car away pretty much every game just to get people to stop by the arena.
They had been called the Dead Wings by Channel 4 broadcaster Al Ackerman. Or was it the Dead Things? Either way, neither was very complimentary.
It's 11 o'clock, do you know where Ned Harkness is?
Those Red Wings were a joke and that is something that should be remembered when people grouse about these Red Wings not getting to the conference finals or the Stanley Cup Finals or even winning the Stanley Cup.
I just wanted to send a Thank You note to the team owner.
Not for argyle socks. Not for a T-shirt. Not for a Hickory Farms assortment basket. But for turning the Red Wings back into a winning organization and keeping them there.
While I'm at it I ought to get back to the Hallmark store and pick up another card.
Dear Mr. Ilitch, thanks for the Tigers.
I know they have to be frustrating the heck out of you lately. You spent all of that money and not all of it has brought a good return. A team that was supposed to make a serious run at the World Series championship stumbled in the opening round of the playoffs.
But the team has won the Central Division the last four seasons. They have played some outstanding baseball and the lineup is sprinkled with some of the best and brightest in the game. Comerica Park is a great place to watch baseball and there has been lots of good baseball to see in recent seasons.
I know you are a baseball guy. I know you grew up a fan of the Tigers and even had a shot in the minor leagues.
You are one of us. Someone from here who has a passion for the game. You want the Tigers to win as much as we do if not more and you're willing to pay the price.
That passion alone is something to say thanks for.
You have proven that you can field competitive teams -- and even championship teams -- in a town about as far away from the bright lights as you can get. We don't have South Beach. We have Metro Beach. We don't have Broadway. We have Henry the Hatter on Broadway Avenue in downtown Detroit. We don't have Malibu. We drive Malibus.
But we have Cabrera. We have Zetterberg. We have Datsuyk. We have Verlander. So I guess that means we have Upton, too (Kate, not B.J. or Justin)
We have our share of stars. We have more than our share of wins and even a few titles.
We have a pretty darned good owner.
That Thank You note is in the mail.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fanning the flames

Sports talk radio.
Hi, I’m Wes from West Bloomfield. Joe Nathan is a jerk.
Hey, I am Frank from Fraser. Brad Ausmus is abysmal.
Hello, this is Rick from Royal Oak. What is wrong with Matthew Stafford?
Yeah, this is Oliver from Oak Park. Oops, all right, I have turned my radio down. How come the Pistons have been so pathetic recently?
So there you have it. The voice of the fans.
Everybody has an opinion, especially the irate. Everybody can be heard loud and clear, especially if they yell loudly enough. Not just on the radio, but also on television, through blogs, on Twitter, Facebook and a variety of other social media tools.
And, at the stadium.
Freedom of speech. It is guaranteed in our constitution. I’ll bet our forefathers never envisioned Tweets.
Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Wes from West Bloomfield. Frank from Fraser. Rick from Royal Oak. Oliver from Oak Park.
Even yours truly.
Criticism is part of the game. Especially when Nathan blows a one-run lead in the ninth. Or Ausmus makes questionable decisions from the dugout. Or Stafford throws two interceptions. Or Jimmy Howard lets in four goals. Or the Pistons lose yet again.
That brings up this old truism. The worst jobs in town are the closer for the Tigers, the starting quarterback for the Lions, and the top goalie for the Red Wings.
Those folks are frequently the most unpopular people around. The best jobs in town: the backups for all of the above. Hurray for Joakim Soria; yahoo for Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore; and how come Jonas Gustavsson doesn’t play more?
We adore our athletes. We despise them occasionally, too. We love our teams. We just don’t like them sometimes. Win and we’ll put chocolates on their pillows. Lose and there is a flaming bag on the front porch.
It is the epitome of a love-hate relationship, and when fans hate we speak very, very loudly. Justified or not, the volume increases when we start thinking about how much our professional athletes who are screwing up make. They are all largely millionaires.
Conversely, most of us are not. We pay to get into the stadium. We pay 20 bucks or so to park our cars. If we go out to eat, the food is more often than not served via a drive thru window. We regularly have to make decisions like whether to pay the mortgage on time, or instead pick up a prescription at the drug store; should we put a new muffler on the car or deal with Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy?
I am not sure our professional athletes agonize over the same things. Do they want a Porsche or Mercedes; an Escalade or Land Rover? What do they feel like eating tonight, filet or lobster tails? Where will they vacation; the French Riviera or Tahiti?
Sure we get mad at times, but don’t take it personally, guys. We love you. We love our teams. At least most of the time.
When we don’t it’s time for Wes from West Bloomfield, Frank from Fraser, Rick from Royal Oak and Oliver from Oak Park to speak up.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Every kid should have an inalienable right to play

Every kid should have the inalienable right to go down a slide.
Or sit on a swing, climb on some monkey bars or just go out and enjoy themselves in a playground.
That should be written into our constitution, shouldn’t it?
For most youngsters, it is. But there are thousands of kids in this area alone who cannot enjoy a regular playground.
Carla Fanson’s son, Mason, is five years old. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He also has an autism spectrum disorder.
“I would say that during Mason’s five years, we have been to a regular park playground only four or five times. He is just very limited. I have to lift him into a swing. Climbing the stairs to play structures is dangerous because he cannot lift his legs fully at times. Even the woodchips they use underneath most regular play structures are a hazard because if Mason falls, he is at risk for seizures.

Carla Fanson and her son, Mason, look at plans for a barrier-free park.

 
 
“A barrier-free park would open so many doors for him. It would allow Mason to do things independently. He would be able to socialize with other kids,” continued Carla Fanson.
A barrier-free park and playground is exactly what Vania Apps and the Fraser First Booster Club have been working hard to create.
“We created a non-profit. We worked with the parks and recreation department in Fraser. Initially, we just wanted to see better parks. The more we learned, the more we realized that a large group of kids were not able to play at a conventional park and playground. Because of that, many special needs kids don’t even bother going. There’s usually nothing they can do. If there is, their options are very limited.”
Work is underway on the McKinley Barrier-Free Playground and Park located at Grove and 13 Mile in Fraser. Stakes were put in the ground this summer and construction is underway on the parking lot, walking path and comfort station.
While that is a start, it is hardly the completion of a dream. The park and playground’s design will allow everyone to easily access the play equipment, structures, approaches and pathways.
Among its many special features will be ramped wheelchair access to the highest platform of the play structure; swings with back support; elevated sand tables and activity panels where children of all abilities can play together; and sensory-rich activities that can let imaginations soar – for the hearing and visually impaired as well as for every child.
 A legacy dinner in memory of Sandy Caloia to benefit the barrier-free park was held recently at Fern Hill Country Club in Clinton Township. Tickets were $100 and entertainment was provided by The Island Doctor. It was a Caribbean themed buffet and a silent auction was held. Caloia was a very important member of the Fraser First Booster Club.
Despite the group’s fund-raising efforts over the years that has brought in over $400,000, nearly $250,000 is needed to help complete the project.
Apps wrote a blog that is published on the group’s website. It is titled “The Power of Play.”
In it, she writes, “I could speak all day of the power of play; the creativity it evokes, the opportunity for problem solving that it presents, the connection to the now that it demands, the focus and ultimate confidence gained. Yes, I could speak all day on the power of play.
“But barrier-free play is the most powerful play of all because it is inclusive. Although kindness will be fostered in barrier-free play, its greatest power is to educate. Let me share this story about my niece’s daughter, Lila.
“Lila, who was four years old at the time, was shopping with her mother. She saw a person who was mentally and physically challenged and gripped her mother’s hand in such a way that my niece looked down at her and said `What’s the matter, Lila?’
“Lila in all the innocence of a young child answered, `I’m afraid of the handicaps. They scare me.’
Isn’t it time that Lila and Mason got together and played? She’ll see there is nothing to be afraid of.
For more information on the Fraser First Booster Club, visit www.fraserfirst.com

 

Friday, September 19, 2014

A coach knows the importance of high school sports

Some cynical folks have it wrong.
They dismiss sports and game results, saying they are not life and death.
High school football coach Alfredo Calderon would beg to differ.
“The 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.
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.
The locale isn’t surprising. Calderon has been the head coach of the Cougars for years.
Only he was in a sit-down walker. While he could get up and stand, those moments were brief. Calderon had on the obligatory headsets.
He 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.
It was Thursday, Oct. 31, when he began to feel ill. He told his wife that he thought they should go to the hospital.
“It 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.”
Michigan Collegiate was scheduled to play host Livonia Clarenceville at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1, in a Division 5 pre-district tournament game.
At 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.
“Do 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?’”
Michigan Collegiate had fallen to Clarenceville, 51-21.
While 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.
A month or so later, Calderon was rushed back to the hospital for an obstruction in the intestinal tract. Complications from that surgery ensued.
All told, Calderon spent over six months in the hospital. He still goes to the wound clinic regularly and has rehabilitation three times per week.
Calderon 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.
“I’ve 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 here.”
Here, 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.
“Johnny is doing a great job. He was with me the whole time at Collegiate and he is like family.”
Calderon smiled and gave a thumbs up. You just knew there was nowhere he would have rather been than along the sidelines.
“This 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.

No 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 music business.
Filling up a place like Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights isn’t either.
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 works, too.
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’m no prude.
I have been known to turn on Jerry Springer when nobody else is in the house.
Sisters Dating Brothers Who Cheat With Their Mother or something like that.
But even I was shocked by this story out of Houston:
According to 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.
Police arrested Lorie Hill after two Wagoner High School teachers found her intoxicated and without pants in an empty classroom she was claiming to be her own, KOKI-TV reported.
Hill 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.
Wagoner police say she admitted to drinking and authorities found an empty cup in her vehicle that contained an odor of vodka.
Hey, 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.
But I have never known anyone to show up to work not wearing pants. Even President Clinton wore his into the Oval Office, at least.
Like 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.