Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Read this and weep

It was just a summer job for me; a minimum wage existence to partially fill both the time and the savings account during the summer while I was home from college.
It was at a shop that made parts for the auto industry. Truthfully, it was so long ago, I do not even recollect what kind of parts we made.
But one day I was heading to the garbage bin when I ran into an older guy who wasn’t part of the summer crew. He was a full-time employee and he was a welder.
“Hey pal, can you tell me what this says?” he asked, pointing to some writing on a nearby acetylene tank. The letters spelled `Empty.’
When I told him what was written, he nodded in affirmation. “That’s what I thought.”
I did not say anything, but I left quietly shaking my head. I was probably only 19 or 20 years old and all these years later, I still remember it vividly.
I felt bad for the guy. He obviously could not read and possibly not write. Did you know that in this country 63 million adults – 29 percent of the adult population – over age 16 don’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at an eighth grade level?
I guess this really isn’t a sports story, not until you figure plenty of folks cannot even pick up a newspaper or click on a computer and competently read the words presented.
Can you imagine that? We take Twitter for granted. We take headlines for granted. We figure everyone can grasp everything on,,, and That is obviously not the case.
Same goes with reading the ingredients on the back of a box of Wheaties or on a pack of Ball Park Franks. What about the instructions for putting together a new train set late Christmas Eve or trying to adequately fill out a job application?
My mom was a teacher and later, a principal. She was a reading specialist and I remember her tutoring kids at our dining room table. When I was hardly more than an infant, I remember sitting on the edge of her bed every morning while she got ready to go to school and just spitting out strings of letters. Say an A, a B, a D and a Q.
“Is that a word?” I would ask.
No, she would patiently reply.
I would keep it up. Pouring out cup after cup of verbal alphabet soup. I’m sure it drove her crazy. But every once in a long while, I’d spit out a combination of letters in the proper order and mom would say “yes.”
I would be ecstatic.
While the written word was unchartered territory then, it was one I would conquer, just like most kids.
But not all kids. Apparently, not even all adults.
So I get into the newspaper business. I got into sports writing. I love chronicling the accomplishments of student-athletes. The kid who knocks down the three-point bucket at the buzzer. The runner who gets to the line in little more than a fleeting thought. Believe me; what you read in the newspaper is not Leo Tolstoy or even J.K. Rowling. It is all who, what, when, where, why and how come there are more than three syllables in the words that you write sometimes?
We keep it simple, but not simple enough. That is so, so sad.
What can we do to combat illiteracy?
The Oakland Literacy Council provides basic literacy and English language instruction to adults in order to facilitate lifelong learning, employment skills and personal well-being. Literate students are able to achieve both personal and educational goals. They can do things like vote, increase their workplace productivity, and pass on the gift of reading to their children. The most important benefit is the improvement in the overall quality of life. For more information, visit
Macomb Literacy Partners is a group of dedicated individuals responding to the needs of adults reading below a level of functional literacy. Such individuals have difficulty reading a newspaper, understanding simple directions on a prescription, taking a written test for their driver’s license, or are English as Second Language learners. Since 1984, Macomb Literacy Partners has helped thousands become better readers, writers, and speakers. For more information, visit
Being illiterate has to be a horribly empty feeling. Just like it said on the side of that acetylene tank all those years ago.

Monday, January 5, 2015

For a doggone good cause

There’s nothing more unconditional than a dog’s love.
The biggest louse in the world can walk through the door and he is greeted like a king by his waiting mutt. The tail wags and the fanny follows suit. If the owner allows, the dog then unleashes more French kisses than are seen on a weekend of Cinemax.
Dogs ask for little more in return other than food, water, shelter and hopefully, some affection.
Mike Jacopelli of Hawkeye & Friends Dog Rescue & Sanctuary in Imlay City provides all of the above, thank you very much.
“This is the biggest dog house in the world,” said Jacopelli, chuckling.
His dogs live in a 3,000 square-foot pole barn that comes with heat, electricity, rugs to rest on, furniture to recline on and everything a dog could want.
They also have a fenced-in, five-acre site that is great for a dog’s Three Rs; Romping, Rollicking and Roughhousing.
Their constant companion is Jacopelli, a 1980 Troy High grad who went on to attend both Oakland University and Michigan State University.
Don’t get the wrong idea; Jacopelli’s no-kill facility is not for the upper crust of dogdom, either. These are not primped and pampered purebreds getting ready for the pinky up Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Mostly they are older dogs. Mostly they are bigger dogs. Mostly they are dogs that were going to be euthanized at other shelters because nobody wanted to adopt them.
Homer, or “Homie,” typifies the more than 100 dogs at the sanctuary.
Homer the pit bull was dropped off on a road adjacent to Hawkeye & Friends nearly three years ago, said Jacopelli.
Dropped off is a genteel way to describe what really happened.
“Homer was pushed out of a pickup truck. They just threw him out. He was right in the middle of the street, and the mail lady pulled her jeep sideways so nobody would hit him. Homer took one look at me and I could tell he was just heartbroken. He didn’t know what was going on,” said Jacopelli.
Homer is part of the family now.
“I call him Homie the Snuggler,” said Jacopelli.
Not too long ago, a passerby stopped and talked to Jacopelli for quite a while. Before he left, he called the sanctuary “doggie heaven.”
The name of the sanctuary has significance.
Hawkeye was a dog that Jacopelli befriended when he was a student in East Lansing. Hawkeye lived in the house where Jacopelli and some pals resided. Every one of them ran, and Hawkeye would accompany each of them on their daily runs.
One Sunday morning, Jacopelli went out onto the porch to grab the newspaper and a man came jogging up to the porch. Next to him was Hawkeye. The man explained that he’d run by the house about 30 minutes earlier, and Hawkeye just joined him for some exercise.
“Hawkeye loved people,” said Jacopelli. “Young, old, big or small. Hawkeye was your friend.”
That is a might apt description of most dogs. Especially the ones at the sanctuary named after Hawkeye.
“I’ve always loved dogs. When we were kids, we always had dogs,” he said.
After he got out of college, he lived in Ferndale for a while. He had three dogs, and while playing with them in a nearby school yard, a fourth just showed up.
“I didn’t know where he came from. I took that dog up and down the street and nobody knew whose dog it was. I took it to the police station, and then to the city’s animal shelter.”

The next thing he knew, Jacopelli was volunteering at the shelter. Before you can say kibbles and bits, he soon had 13 dogs. The animal control officer, who lived nearby, would stop on occasion and ask how many dogs he had. Jacopelli’s typical response was to ask how many he was allowed to have in Ferndale. When told four, that is the number that Jacopelli claimed to own.
“I’d better not get any complaints,” said the animal control officer, rolling his eyes.
It was time to move. A stop or two later, Jacopelli finds himself in what could be the perfect location.
“It’s a 24-hour a day, seven days a week job,” he said. “There’s no going to the movies or out to dinner; not with all of these dogs.”
He needs some help, though. There is not much money in the dog sanctuary business.
A dog does not ask for much. Just the aforementioned food, water, shelter and affection. All but affection come with a price tag.
For more information on how to help out, visit

Monday, December 15, 2014

No news is good news

I’m in the news business, and sometimes I can hardly stand it. Too much death. Too much destruction. Too much chaos. Beheadings in the Middle East. Chokeholds in New York City. Murder in Grosse Pointe.
I have to put down the newspaper. I shut down the computer and turn off the television. Or at least turn it to Family Guy or the Cartoon Network.
That is why I am glad I am in the sports department.
I was at a high school wrestling match at Rochester High School earlier in the week. Three other teams joined the Falcons; Anchor Bay, Eisenhower and Hartland.
Hartland came into the double dual meet ranked fourth in the state. The Tars from Anchor Bay were seventh ranked. Those teams met in the second round of the night.
Prior, Anchor Bay had defeated Eisenhower and Hartland beat Rochester.
It was an incredibly dramatic match for this early in the season. It came down to a pin by Anchor Bay’s Joey Dombrowski at 135 pounds to clinch the victory over Hartland for the Tars.
“I went in a back room before I wrestled and visualized what I had to do,” said Dombrowski, a senior.
That is why I like sports. It’s all aimed at visualizing the positive. There is way, way too much of the negative at our disposal everywhere else.
Check out these recent headlines:
“Armada teacher pleads no contest to sexual contact with student.”
“Rochester schools issuing mid-year layoffs after $1.2 million budget shortfall.”
“Addison woman charged with murder in deaths of son, granddaughter.”
“Case delayed for teen accused of trying to kill family.”
I was at Cousino High School last week to see Sterling Heights and the host Patriots play a girls basketball game. Cousino is coming off a fine season, and so are the Stallions. The last time these teams met, coach Rick Repicky’s Sterling Heights squad knocked Cousino out of the state playoffs.
“These kids have had eight months to think about that loss,” said Mike Lee, the Cousino coach.
His Patriots dismantled Sterling Heights by 20 to at least partially exorcise those demons from last March.
So there you go. Accentuating the positive results, at least for one team.
Writing about sports, especially high school sports, helps keep your perspective. It keeps things optimistic in a world too often beset by pessimism. Good kids on the basketball court or the softball diamond. Hard working kids playing football or running cross country. Nice kids serving as team managers. Nice kids in the bleachers watching the games.
It is not crime. It is not mayhem. It is not an ongoing war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or the Ukraine.
It is your kids. It is their achievements. It is win and losses, but mostly it is about giving an honest effort.
I love sports and what they stand for at the high school level. Sometimes that is all the news I can handle.

Friday, December 12, 2014

An old buddy rides off into the sunset

A buddy of mine is retiring.
Rick Freeman, Walled Lake Western Class of 1972, is leaving Gage Products in Ferndale after 39 years on the job.
That is a long time in the workplace. After a while, calluses are just part of the dress code.
I haven’t talked to Rick for a while, so I don’t know what his plans are.
I know he has a Harley, and loves to ride, so I can hear that Bob Seger song in the background …
"Took a look down a westbound road right away I made my choice
Headed out to my big two wheeler I was tired of my own voice
Took a bead on the northern plains and just rolled that power on."
So maybe Rick plans on taking a long motorcycle ride.
He deserves it. I know that 39 years does not account for all of his pay stubs.
When he was in high school, he worked with owner Don Bridges at a pizza place on Maple Road near Pontiac Trail in Walled Lake.
Rick and Don doled out real pizzas. There was no corporate crust, or mozzarella and sauce that came delivered via 18-wheelers.
They made the dough. They made the sauce. Their ingredients were fresh as a 15-year-old on his first date. Getting a pizza was a big deal back then. They didn’t sell slices at gas stations, convenience stores and concession stands.
Rick even had his own place for a while on Grand River in Farmington Hills. He was doing well enough but opted to get out when a customer with a gun came by to pick up not just an extra large with pepperoni, bacon and mushrooms, but the contents of the cash register.
There’s no holding up Rick and his retirement.
We’ve known each other since grade school.
Rick played the drums, and I played the trumpet, and if we didn’t make some god-awful racket in the Decker Elementary School band, then Mick Jagger never shimmied across the stage and Led Zeppelin did all Mel Torme songs.
We went to junior high and high school together and played sports all the way through. Rick was a very tough offensive lineman/linebacker with bum knees, and I was more of the delicate sort at running back and defensive back.
I remember one game where I undercut a kid who was going up for a pass and he did a nice somersault before thudding to the ground. Apparently, that kid didn’t take kindly to the hit, and he started coming after me.
Since my back was turned, I didn’t realize I was about to get mugged. All I remember is hearing Rick’s cries of agony and when I turned, he had already crumpled to the turf and was holding his knee. Apparently, Rick was playing the part of my protector, and when the guy shoved him, Rick fell awkwardly on his already bum knee.
Still, the huddle was hardly the only place we saw one another. We dated sisters while we were in high school.
Rick had a Camaro back in the day, and he had it custom painted. It wasn’t quite lime green but it was awfully close. Every time we drove around in it, it was like a Sprite commercial.
I am looking forward to toasting Rick’s retirement even though I’m not great with friendships.
Friendships take work, just like any relationship, and I have not punched in much in that regard over the years.
Rick is retiring. He’ll also be marrying long-time friend Laurie Whisnant in the coming months.
I told Rick I’d buy him lunch at Woody’s diner on Pontiac Trail in Walled Lake. Either that, or we would convene at the nearby Copper Mug.
Maybe I’ll get my chopped ’74 Honda CB 750 on the road again. Maybe we’ll roll away together for a while.
There’s a lot to catch up on. Good friends don’t care if their smiles come complete with bugs in their teeth.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A coach's kid

A coach's kid.
Grows up learning X's and O's before the ABCs.
Forget Bambi, Snow White and Frozen. Disney and Pixar take a back seat to game films.
Daycare looks suspiciously like practice. Babysitters, the rare time they are called for, look just like the high school quarterback or the point guard on the basketball team or the star pitcher.
Tim Conley knows the drill.
He's the head football coach at Southfield High School. His father, Tom, has been a coach for 45 years and is a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame. He's also on the Blue Jays' staff.
A teacher's kid.

Homework is never an option.
The dog never eats the aforementioned homework.
Bad grades are his or her doing, and not blamed on someone else.
Tim Conley knows the drill.
His dad taught social studies and was a school counselor for 35 years. His mom was an English teacher for 20.
"As you know, my mom and dad are the main influences that have guided me into teaching," said Tim Conley, who is also the head of the social studies department at Southfield.
A coach's wife.
Years ago, dinners used to be wrapped up in aluminum foil to be reheated.
These days, since microwaves and metal don't mix, they are left in Tupperware to be reheated.
It's the same drill. Family dinners are a misnomer. Practice and games and watching film often leave eating a solitary endeavor.
"When we started football practice this year, day two of practice was my mom and dad's 45th wedding anniversary and my dad was at practice. I asked him how many anniversaries he missed because of football practice and he responded `All 45,'" recalled Tom Conley's son, Tim.
The Conley boys, Tim and Joe, both played football at Troy High. Joe was the MVP of Colts' state championship game in 1994.
"Coach Griff (Gary Griffith) was a constant fixture in my life for many years. My dad and he were watching reel to reel football game film at my house since the mid 1970's. Being coached by him and coaching alongside of him at Troy High are real highlights for me.
"TC (Tom Conley) and Griff embody everything great coaches have; exceptional organizational and technical skills. They know how and when to bring out the emotions in their players and when execution is paramount; they also build strong bonds with their players. When I played and coached with them at Troy I saw how they inspired their teams, and we had winning teams with great confidence because the players knew that TC and Griff had their backs," said Tim Conley. “There has always been a quality of toughness in their personalities and in the way they coach.”
A coach's kid now has kids of his own. Tim Conley is married to Chantal and they have a son, Miguel.
Coach Tom Conley has grandkids.
That is the way it often works.
Tim Conley and Tom Conley were at Novi High School as the Blue Jays fell to De La Salle 31-7 in a Division 2 state semifinal game Saturday.
More game film to watch. More bonding between a father and a son.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The circle of life with turkey and stuffing

First you have kids.
Then the pages of the calendar start to whirl and eventually your kids have kids.
You are grandparents. Those are your grandkids.
The circle of life. It’s not just a song from Disney’s “Lion King.”
I was raking a lot of leaves in the fall of 2009.
There was a nagging ache in my chest, but I knew it wasn’t a heart problem.
I ignored it for as long as I could before my wife, Kim, convinced me to go to the hospital.
A whole bunch of tests later, the doctors discovered a tumor.
It was kidney cancer but apparently of the restless variety. It had spread to my bones. Shortly thereafter, they found it in my brain and a lung.
I figured I was a goner. Goodbye George Thorogood, hello Taps. So long, Kid Rock. Hello, How Great Thou Art.
Tears were shed and I thought about stuff that I would be missing.
Five years and three grandkids later, I haven’t missed a thing.
I feel great, thanks to a lot of kneeling on Sunday mornings; a saint of a wife; and some absolute heaven-sent docs from the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University.
This past Monday morning, our third grandchild was added to the family roster. Emerson Rye Holloway busted onto the Christmas list sometime around 8.
Emerson is the second child of our oldest daughter, Brittany, and her husband, Chris. She was beaten to the dinner table by their son, Julian, who is nearly 2 ½ years old.
Kyle, our oldest son, has a daughter, Josie. She is about a year older than Julian.
The circle of life. Hello to Simba, Timon, Pumbaa and the grandkids. I did not think I would be around to see the birth of one grandchild, much less three.
We all will be gathering at my moms’s house once again for Thanksgiving. Mom has eight grandkids and eight great grandkids. She is coming off a busted hip sustained in a fall back in April and if you had taken bets early on during her recovery if she’d be toting 20-pound turkeys around ever again, the odds would have been Jimmy the Greek woeful.
Mom might be in her mid 80s, but she is determined. She has more guts than the rest of the family combined. Me, if I had fractured a hip, I would have been happy spending Thanksgiving eating a Banquet turkey pot pie in a reclining chair watching the Lions on television.
Please pass those tater tots.
Not mom. She’s doing the turkey. She is doing the mashed potatoes. She is doing her sweet potatoes.
We will say grace before we eat. We will miss the lost some family members. We will welcome those we have gained, too.
The circle of life, you know.
Emerson is still too young for most of the food. Maybe she can gum the Jello with mandarin oranges.
Pass the gravy please. The turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, too. I’ll put the pumpkin pie on hold. For a maxiumum of 45 minutes or so.
My oncologist said that is fine. The cardiologist would probably have a different opinion.

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.