Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I huddled up at Walled Lake Western

I feel like the guy in the middle of a fight who is trying to break things up.
I have to be wary of a haymaker catching me while I try to keep the combatants off each other.
I’m a member of the despised media. I’m also a Walled Lake Western grad.
Unless you have been living in a cave in Tora Bora for the last week or so, you have to know the situation at my alma mater. A scandal over alleged hazing resulted in the suspension of five football players and the firing of two assistant coaches.
The timing could not be worse. Western has had an outstanding season, going 8-1 and advancing to the playoffs. Western hosts Milford in a pre-district playoff game today. The kickoff is 7 p.m.
A junior member of the team was allegedly taped to a pole at an assistant coach’s house and struck with pillows and sticks by some teammates.
I’ve never understood hazing. I am not sure what the mentality behind it is. If that’s team building, then it is infantile and abusive. It’s like trying to construct a house using Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys.
I played football at Walled Lake Western. Nobody ever taped me to a pole. I never considered taping anyone to a pole either.
I played basketball in high school. Nobody ever taped my mouth shut.
I played baseball, too, and there was never any hazing that went on.
I was a goalie on the Albion College lacrosse team. No upperclassmen ever did anything but encourage me. Even when I let in three goals on three shots against Notre Dame and took myself out of the game. Even when a attackman from the University of Michigan kept sliding shot after shot high into the net on my stick side.
Believe me, I had my down moments. My teammates kept me up. Both in high school and college.
So I don’t understand the mentality of teammates who allegedly did that to another teammate. I do not understand the mentality of adults who supposedly condoned the situation. This incident is said to have occurred at an assistant coach’s house? What in heaven’s name was that coach thinking?
Believe me, there were no angels on the rosters when I was in either high school or college. Not everyone was a National Honor Society member. Not everyone was involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
On every team that I ever played on, the demographics were a far flung collage.
But we were teammates. If someone came after me, he had to deal with my teammates. If one of my teammates was on the wrong end of a cheap shot, he had to deal with the rest of us.
All these years later, I still distinctly remember my buddy, Rick, taking on a kid who was probably a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier when that kid started to come after me on the football field.
I did not even know what was going on. I had my back turned. But Rick blew out his knee in the scuffle, but never said one word by way of complaint.
That is just the way a team works. Teammates stick up for one another.
Teammates encourage one another. Sure they get aggravated on occasion. Sure they yell at one another in the heat of the moment. But once the play is over, so is the irritation.
The huddle should extend way beyond the field of play.
A team is shared sacrifice by all, not one kid allegedly taped to a pole.
I’ve been a sportswriter for more than 30 years. I’ll always be a Walled Lake Western grad.
Lately, I felt like I have been in the middle of a fight, trying to keep the two sides off each other.
You never know when a haymaker is headed your way. Sometimes the fists are taped.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Just call me "Gramps"

Meet Josie Mae, my first grandchild!

I’m a grandpa.
That designation doesn’t bother me in the least.
I’ve never been hung up about age. You turn 50. You join AARP. You get discounts at restaurants, hotels and rental car agencies.
So what is the problem?
Our son, Kyle, and Dawn have a beautiful daughter. Josie Mae is just about one month old.
She’s as cute as can be, too.
My wife, Kim, and I were over at their house Saturday.
I held Josie Mae for awhile. She was sleeping. I murmured her name. I kissed her more than once.
The bliss lasted 10 or 15 minutes and then she started fussing.
That precipitated the handoff.
I handed Josie Mae off to grandma.
I call it the handoff. Maybe it’s my background in sports.
Not a lateral. Not a swing pass. Definitely not a post pattern that covers half a football field.
But a handoff of an infant is all right.
That, I discovered, is the key difference between being a dad and being a grandpa.
You can’t hand off your own kids.
Mom already has bags the size of Samonsonites under her eyes.
So you tuck and run. Stutter step left to the car. Keep moving in a stroller. Motion is a pretty good way to halt the fussing.
I love Kyle. I love Dawn. I love Josie Mae.
I love the handoff, too. Being a grandpa is easy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Parent Trap III: Revisiting high school sports

I’m not much on confrontation.
Trouble at home, I revel in watching the return address disappearing in the rearview mirror.
Same with work. Any rumor of discord, and I just do the Three Monkeys routine.
See no evil. Hear no evil. Write no evil.
Only it does not always work.
I try not to get involved in the hiring and firing of high school coaches.
It can get awfully discouraging.
Honestly, most coaches do a very good job. The vast majority try to do what is best for the kids and the program.
Very occasionally, there is a bad apple in the coaching bushel. But that is about it.
Most parents are good people, too. They love and protect their kids.
But there are always a few whose parenting skills are lacking.
They mistake obsession for paying attention.
That obsession can extend to athletics.
At one of our local high schools, an outstanding soccer coach is being pushed out by parents.
The coach is a good guy, too. He has done a very good job with the program and making sure his players got their share of publicity.
He would call on the phone after games. He’d send emails with recaps, too.
It was always about the players. Was is past tense and so is he.
Another area soccer coach was being harassed by a parent who thought he should be the coach instead. He had experience in youth soccer. Forget the fact the coach’s resume was much more extensive. The dad thought he could do a better job.
I get so weary of this same tired song and dance, season after season, year after year. Parents marching into the principal’s office, the athletic director’s cubicle, or to a school board meeting bitching.
They don’t like the coach. The coach is not qualified. Basically, what they mean is, the coach is not playing his or her son or daughter enough. Or the coach is playing his or her daughter in the wrong spot.
The coach is ruining the player’s chance for a college scholarship.
Forget the fact that the kid couldn’t dribble a soccer ball unless it came equipped with a string from a yo yo.
Or that he’s a 5-10 offensive tackle who weighs all of 175 pounds and has the muscle mass of a gecko. Or she is a softball player who needs a change in time zones to get from the batter’s box to first base. Or he is a basketball player who is slow, short and can’t hit a jumper more than 10 feet away from the hoop. Or that she is a volleyball player with the vertical leap of a Clydesdale.
College scholarships are mostly a myth, but try convincing parents of that.
I’m not sure when a price tag was stuck on the flank of high school sports. I’m not sure when fun left town on a Greyhound bus and was replaced by the anxiety of earning a college scholarship.
College scholarships are mostly a hoax. Full rides, especially. In all of my 30-plus years of covering high school sports, there might have been a dozen full scholarships to NCAA Division I athletes. While the count increases when it comes to Division 2 and Division 3 athletes, it is still tough to play into college.
But try to convince parents of that. It is the coach’s fault they have to shell out tuition payments.
The coach did not play Sam enough. The coach did not let Suzy shoot enough.
I have had enough of it. Good coaches lose their jobs. Bad parents bring tar and feathers to school board meetings or into the principal’s office.
Sadly, happiness sometimes is seeing the return address of a local high school disappearing in the rearview mirror.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shakedown in Motown

Detroit Lions' coach Jim Schwartz (right) and Jim Harbaugh of San Francisco hardly exchanged pleasantries following Sunday's game. (AP Photo)

What’s so difficult about a simple handshake?
As a father, you teach your kids to look a person in the eye, firmly grab his or her right hand, and give it a shake.
It takes all of five seconds.
You don’t slap palms. You don’t slap them on the back.
And you don’t run after them screaming if things do not go exactly the way the handshake is blueprinted.
Be it at work, at church, or in the middle of a football field.
What happened between Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz was embarrassing. Both as a football fan and as a father.
My own coaching resume is pretty thin. I’ve coached our kids when they played youth sports, but that is about it.
I was one of those coaches who played everybody. I never cared if a player had his own Topps card or picked dandelions in rightfield while the game was going on.
I did not care if we were ahead by 11 runs or down by one in the final inning. When it was time to change personnel, it was time for a change.
That infuriated some of the parents. Others embraced the concept.
Another thing I did was make sure the players shook hands. With the opposing players; with the opposing coaches and with the umpires.
Look ‘em in the eye. Give them a nice, firm shake. Say good game or thank you.
It takes all of five seconds. Is that too much to ask?
Are you listening, Coach Schwartz? How about you, Coach Harbaugh?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An a'maizing story

Now I am hardly the smartest guy in the world.
Remember the Rubik’s Cube? To some, it was a fun puzzle that entailed turning the columns just so and putting the colors together. To me, it was an impossible task. Sort of like splitting the atom with a hammer and chisel.
I took the ACT exam. I barely made double digits. I did that test for artists you see in magazines. I was supposed to draw a dog and send it in.  My drawing was a mongrel. They rejected me.
So I am hardly at the top of the seating chart when it comes to smarts.
But getting lost in a corn maze? It’s time for a new movie: Dumb, Dumber and You've Got To Be Kidding Me!
But that is exactly what happened to a family in Massachusetts. Obviously they were not descendents of either Lewis or Clark.
Here’s the story from
A man used his cellphone to call from Connors Farm in Danvers at about 7 p.m. Tuesday after he, his wife and two children became lost in the maize maze, police said.
Police alerted farm management of the man's predicament, and a rescue, including a K-9, was organized.
K-9 officer Justin Ellenton said when he got to the entrance of the maze, he yelled and could hear people. The family was about 25 feet inside the maze.
The family was not hurt.
The maze, a tourist attraction that winds people down paths between towering cornstalks, generally takes about an hour to complete. The farm has created a maze in its cornfield for the last five years.
The owner of the farm said no one has ever gotten lost in the maze before, and offered the family free tickets.
Now I’m not sure if free tickets is the proper response. Tickets for what, the corn maze? Talk about anxiety wrapped up in consternation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Saying goodbye to a good friend

Mark Fresch (left) and Mike Greening relax prior to coaching a soccer match against Royal Oak Dondero. (Submitted photo)

The sighing time was growing near. Angels had filed their flight patterns. The family had gathered at Mark and Chris Fresch’s house in Royal Oak.
Only with a small herd of young grandchildren, gathered adheres to a very loose definition. Sometimes a lasso is necessary parenting equipment.
A couple of the kids will be in the pool. A couple more will be playing with toys. Somebody is always racing someone, and every mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, knows how that goes.
One of the grand kids who had been swimming, came running inside the house. Wet as a sloppy kiss, he hugged grandpa and said I love you.
With that, he ran back out and dove into the pool.
Mark Fresch died the next day.
So how do you say goodbye to a grandpa, a husband, a father and a friend anyway?
That is what Mike Greening struggled with.
“I’d seen Mark a couple of times during the year. I knew he had pancreatic cancer. Demir gave me a call. He told me I had to go over to see Mark,” said Greening. “I’m a coward. I didn’t want to go, knowing the situation, but I had to go because Mark was my friend.”
Both Fresch and Demir Muftari coached soccer with Fresch at Royal Oak Kimball High School.
“Mark started coaching at Kimball in the early 90s,” said Greening. “Both of his daughters were at Kimball and both played soccer. He was a real student of the game. He was Mr. Inspiration. He could really reach kids.
“While Demir and I probably knew the intricacies of the game better because we had played, Mark could really get through to the kids.
“He had the same halftime speech. He delivered it in varying decibels, but it always got the kids worked up. About once a season he would not give the speech, and the players would come up to me afterwards and ask what was wrong with Coach,” said Greening, smiling.
Following games, the coaching staff would convene at the Mt. Chalet Inn on Woodward “for a few pops.”
“People called Mark `Mario’ because he bore a distinct resemblance to the video game character, but I knew him as Pops. He was from the Pittsburgh area and was a huge fan of both the Steelers and Pirates. Remember Willie Stargell? He was called Pops and that is where Mark’s nickname came from,” said Greening.
“He had a passion for life. We’d meet at the Chalet after most games and there were about 10 to 12 of us. All of us were soccer coaches and everybody loved Mark. He might not have known as much about the game as most of the other guys, but he knew about people,” said Greening.
Here’s some of what the death notice said: Mark C. Fresch died peacefully at his home in Royal Oak, August 9, 2011. He was 61 years old. Mark was born February 4, 1950, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Mary Jane (nee Macerrelli) and Harry Fresch.
Mark is survived by his beloved wife, Christine, and children, Carrie (Greg) Irwin, Jami Fresch, and Nicholas (Amy) Fresch. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Marcus, Cecilia, Lucy, William, and Blake, and siblings, Jeff, Charlie, Debbie, and P.J.
Memorials appreciated to Beaumont Hospice, P.O. Box 5802, Troy, Michigan 48007-9620 or The V Foundation for Cancer Research, 106 Towerview Court, Cary, North Carolina 27513.
He is buried at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.
“Did you know that Mark was a Vietnam vet?” asked Greening. “I always told him that with his personality and the way people were drawn to him that he would make a great teacher. I taught history and I always wanted Mark to come in and talk to my class about the war in Vietnam, but he never would.”
Interestingly enough, after Fresch had gotten sick, he did go talk to the class of one of his grandkids. He told the kids about how he worked with dogs in Vietnam. It was their job to locate tunnels in the vicinity of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
The Ho Chi Minh trail was a network of roads built from North Vietnam to South Vietnam used by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army during the war. It was a series of truck routes and paths for foot and bicycle traffic. There were also tunnels.
Whenever Fresch and his dog located a tunnel, he’d call in an air strike. He had, said Greening, exactly one hour to clear the premises.
“He had some very close calls,” said Greening.
Greening was a new teacher and coach back then. He is the principal at Royal Oak High School now.
He lost a friend. He lost a mentor. He lost an inspiration and he just wanted to talk about it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Introducing The Hand in the Ocean

I’m not exactly an objective reviewer.
But this band that calls itself “The Hand in the Ocean” is pretty darned good.
They are categorized as a folk trio, but my reference to folk music dates back to Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and they don’t sound anything like them.
Rather, it is sort of like Joe Cocker meets Country Joe and the Fish.
The Hand in the Ocean has its own unique sound and that is not easily accomplished in this homogenized world of ours.
Vocalist Nate Tapling is joined by Jeremy Dulac and Jordan Evans.
Did you catch the last name of the third band member? That is the reason I hardly qualify as remotely objective on the matter. Jordan is our youngest son. He is the last of four kids.
Then again, kid is probably not the proper term. I’m not sure when you shed that particularly youthful  skin, but it is probably before you reach the age of 20.
Jordan is 20 and he left college in the rearview mirror to pursue his musical dreams.

My wife vehemently objected. She rightfully understands the value of an education. I do, too, but I’m a little more lenient. I am not just dad. I am also the same guy who left Albion College after my freshman year to hitchhike across the country to California. That blueprint, quickly scrawled in number two lead pencil, also included a trip to Hawaii where I was going to work in a Dole pineapple plant.
All right, so not everything worked out exactly as planned. My buddy, Art, and I had all of our stuff stolen in California. We never got to Hawaii and never punched in with Dole.
But I know something about dreams and sided with Jordan. At least temporarily. He can pursue music full-time for one year. After that, while he can still do the music thing, he also has to do the educational thing. I don’t care if he goes for a degree in physics or a vocation in welding; he has to have a fallback plan.
Making it in music is like making it in the major leagues or the NBA. The odds are fairly astronomical.
Jordan’s got his year. Dad has his hitchhiking stories and his college degree. Everybody has their dreams. It’s better to give them a shot when you’re young.