Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

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


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.



South Haven is Shangri-La

Spent a week in South Haven.
We’d never been before to the small town in southwestern Michigan before.
Rented a house, drove three hours westbound, and there it was.
Not just the house, but the town. Not just the town, but the lake.
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 seven nights.
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 outside.
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.
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 found.
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, too.

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 Letter.”
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 call.
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 goal line.
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 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
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?