Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

For whom the Belle tolls

I’m just sad.
I am not enraged. I am not hateful. I am just very disappointed.
Just hours after the Detroit City Council voted 6-3 to table a vote on a plan that would lease Belle Isle to the state Tuesday, Governor Rick Synder announced the offer had been withdrawn.
Under the proposed agreement, management would have been handed over to the Department of Natural Resources, which would have committed to spending state park funding to restore the island.
Pedestrians and bicyclists would have been free to enter, but motorists would have been required to have a $10 recreation passport which would have allowed vehicles into all Michigan state parks.
That is $10 per year, not $10 per visit. The cost was hardly prohibitive.
"I am extremely disappointed with today’s decision by City Council to table the vote on the Belle Isle lease deal with the State," said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. "I believe the majority of Detroiters supported this lease agreement. City Council’s actions today will force us to look at making additional cutbacks that may negatively impact the City’s other parks."

I’m just sad. Belle Isle has so much potential. It truly is a gem, but everyone would admit it needs some polishing. Let the state spend its money to spit shine Belle Isle. Is there any harm in that?
Believe me, this is not a political statement. I am no fan of Governor Snyder. He is so far right of my own political leanings
that I’d need a chiropractor if I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of him.
Even if we were sitting in the same row at Comerica Park, Ford Field or watching a Lugnuts game in downtown Lansing.
But the state’s plans for Belle Isle were solid.
Has anyone had the opportunity to visit the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor that stretches between Atwater Street and the Detroit River near the Rivertown warehouse district?
My wife, Kim, and I stop there frequently during the warmer months. Usually we’ll have breakfast at the Farmers Restaurant in the Eastern Market and then go to the state park to walk it off.
It is a glorious 3.1 acre spot, complete with a 52-slip marina, a lighthouse, a river walk, and even wetlands.
We walk, but you can even rent a bicycle or bring your own. There’s an ice cream shop and you can grab a cone and just sit on one of the many benches to watch the freighters go past if you prefer. You can throw a line in the water and fish, too.
It’s a beautiful area. I can only imagine how gorgeous Belle Isle would’ve been with that kind of financial impetus from the state.
Imagination will have to suffice. The Belle Isle deal seemingly is off. I’m just sad, that is all.

A heart-to-heart conversation with Mike Sermo

That’s no tattoo embroidered on Mike Sermo’s chest.
Nothing from one of those television shows like Ink Master, LA Ink or Tattoo Highway.
Sermo’s intimidating mark does not come compliments of somebody named Ami James or Kat Von D.
Nope, it is from a surgeon’s scalpel. Open heart surgery does not result in a blooming rose or a tribal design. It is a nasty scar and it is a constant reminder.
“They pull your heart out of your chest while they fix things,” said Sermo. “A machine keeps you alive and then they put it back in.”
Amazingly, the longtime assistant boys’ varsity basketball coach at Berkley never missed a day on the court this season. It was just a month after undergoing extensive surgery to repair his heart that he was back on the court with head coach David McGlown.
“It was my goal to get back in time for practice,” said Sermo, who is in his 34th season coaching basketball. “I needed something to shoot for. I love basketball and I enjoy this. These are good kids.”

Sermo spent 20 years coaching basketball at Our Lady of La Salette in Berkley. He’s been with the high school program for 14 years now.
“We’ve had some injuries,” said Sermo, looking out on the West Gym court during a recent practice. “We really do not have much size, either.”
The Bears started the season with two straight victories. Heading into Friday night’s game at Birmingham Seaholm, they were 3-7 overall, 0-2 in the OAA Blue Division.
“We have some very good sophomores who we are building the program around. The junior varsity team also has some good players who will help us in years to come,” he said.
Joe Sermo, his son, is the junior varsity coach.
For a while there, it was questionable whether Mike Sermo would be around to assess anything in the years to come. This past June, he began experiencing an overwhelming fatigue.
“I didn’t have the energy to do anything,” said Sermo. “I couldn’t cut the lawn or do any yard work because I was so tired.
“Also, my feet and ankles were so swollen I couldn’t even put on some of shoes. I did not know what was going on.”
Still, like most guys, he rationalized things. Asking a lot of men to go to the doctor is like asking them to pull the car over and get directions. It’s an affront to our manhood.
But finally, come August, he knew he had to go to the doctor. The symptoms were just too much to ignore. The doctor sent him to a cardiologist who sent him to a surgeon. While there were no blockages, a couple of valves had nearly shut down.
Sermo, 67, went in for open heart surgery on October 12. Exactly one month later, on November 12, high school basketball practice officially began.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot of weight and I got my energy back. When I went to the doctor, he told me I’d gained 20 pounds. Most of that was water weight because I was retaining fluids. If I had not gone in, I could’ve had a heart attack or even a stroke.
“I just enjoy coaching. This is fun to do. I try to help everyone I can, and I enjoy working with David (McGlown) and his father,” continued Sermo.
Sermo retired from General Motors 11 years ago. He played high school basketball at St. Francis De Sales.
“Believe me, I was no star,” said Sermo, laughing. “I played most of my basketball from the bench.”
That is still his perspective. Thank God for it, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Of disappearing girlfriends and Manti Te'o

I’ve had girlfriends disappear on me, too.
Those whose alleged love lasted just about as long as it took for them to get the password of my debit card.
Then they disappeared quicker than a fleeting thought.
Those were not exactly Hallmark card moments.

But Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has done me one better. He had a girlfriend he never even met who never even existed who somehow died.
Is Dog The Bounty Hunter available to track down this bizarre story? How about the Ghostbusters?
Manti Te’o had supposedly never met the very alleged Lennay Kekua. They enjoyed an online relationship only that ended when she supposedly died of cancer in September.
It was a widely reported tale, and her so-called death occurred in the same week that his actual grandmother died. Now, it seems, he never met her, and she never even existed. Manti Te’o claims to have been duped by his very alleged buddy, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
No offense, but it is still difficult to believe he could have become so attached to a phantom. Manti Te’o is either incredibly gullible, undeniably dense, or a combination plate serving both in heaping portions. The unfathomable story might even cost him millions if it causes his stock in the upcoming NFL draft to plummet.
All and all, I’d rather just change the password of my debit card.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Have you hugged your kids today?

Former Wayne State University and Stevenson High School football player Serxho Guraleci. (Wayne State University)

Just hug your kids every chance you get.
Tell them you love them.
You never know when you might get another opportunity.
It doesn’t matter if your child is a wee thing; hardly knee high to Willie Shoemaker.
Or, if he is 6-0, 305 pounds.
Those were the rough dimensions of Serxho Guraleci, 22 years old, a former football player at Wayne State University and Stevenson High School in Utica.
He died while working out in a facility in Macomb County on Monday. He was running a cone drill, getting ready for a possible tryout with either an NFL or a Canadian Football League team, when he collapsed.
He always had a smile on his face, recalled Rick Bye, his coach at Stevenson. “He was the strongest player we ever had. He was a beast on the football field, but a puppy dog in the halls.”
Wayne State coach Paul Winters called it a “devastating loss for the Wayne State football family. Serxho was loved by everyone.”
He was an All-GLIAC defensive player. He was an Academic All American. He was getting ready for a combine at Grand Valley State University.
Instead, funeral arrangements are being made. Visitation is at the E.J. Mandziuk and Son Funeral Home, 3801 18 Mile Road, Sterling Heights.  On Wednesday, Jan. 23, visitation is from 5-9 p.m.; and Thursday, Jan. 24, visitation will be 1-9 p.m. Funeral services will take place at 10 a.m., Friday, Jan. 25, at St. Paul’s Albanian Catholic Church, 525 West Auburn Road, in Rochester Hills.
Just hug your kids. No matter how big they are.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance Armstrong is a dope

I like riding my bike.
There's nothing too scientific about it.
Hop on and go someplace.
Not that many years ago I would ride into work in Royal Oak from Rochester. Coming home at 2 in the morning was a bit tenuous, considering that bars let out about the same time. I did my share of dipping and dodging.
Performance enhancing drugs? That was not my style. Other than the occasional Gatorade or cool bottle of water.
So I have a bicycle in common with Lance Armstrong. Although mine was a Schwinn and I am sure his isn’t.
Thankfully, two wheels and a chain are about where it ends.
No blood-booster EPO, testosterone or blood doping. No Tour de France victories, either. Not one, not two and certainly not seven.
No lying thank goodness.
That is probably what is so infuriating about the entire Lance Armstrong saga.
He lied and lied and lied. Continually for years. Redundantly with vehemence and venom. He had the gall to sue people who dared tell the truth. Armstrong ruined lives and careers with such smug indignation.
It is a darn shame because the Lance Armstrong story was one we wanted so much to believe. Someone who battled all the way back from cancer to win the world’s most prestigious bicycle race seven times. It was the stuff of Hollywood. It was a Fairy Tale ending in spandex seven times over. It was a tremendously inspirational story the likes of which were difficult to believe.
As it turns out, we should not have believed it.

Oprah: “Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?”

Armstrong: “Yes.”

Oprah: “Was one of those banned substances EPO?”

Armstrong: “Yes.”

Oprah: “Did you ever blood-dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?”

Armstrong: “Yes.”

Oprah: “Did you ever use any other banned substances like testosterone, cortisone or human growth hormone?”

Armstrong: “Yes.”

Oprah: “In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?”

Armstrong: “Yes.”

So what is the damage report? Mostly to Armstrong himself. He’ll forever have that Scarlet Letter on his forehead, and it is not an A for adultery. No, it is an L for Liar. Who will ever believe him again no matter how innocuous the subject?
If Armstrong says the sky is blue, you’ll glance skyward to confirm. If he says the sun is shining, you will do likewise. If he says he is not doping, you’ll look around the room for vials, needles or whatever.
Me, I'll just keep hopping on my bike once the weather warms up. I’ll keep dipping and dodging at 2 a.m. Two wheels and a chain. Thankfully, that’s about the only common ground between Armstrong and Evans.

Friday, January 4, 2013

TMZ: My guilty pleasure

I found myself watching TMZ earlier today.
If you have not seen the television show, it is basically a collage of entertainment news. There are certainly some staples. Most every day, there is a large dose of Kardashian. Also, the perpetually pregnant Jessica Simpson seems to elbow her way onto the screen on a very regular basis.
Harvey Levin is the man behind TMZ. If you do not know who he  is, think People’s Court. Levin is the lawyer asking the teeming masses for their opinion on the ongoing case.
TMZ sends out cameras all over LA and asks celebrities questions. Nothing about the fiscal cliff or global warming, but this is not Meet the Press. It is more like a fleeting 15 seconds of Justin Bieber before he hops into his expensive sports car and roars away. Sometimes the celebrities even answer. 
TMZ is fun in a voyeuristic sense. Generally, I could not care any less about any of the Kardashians. I feel the same way about Bruce Jenner. He stopped being part of my focus when he walked away from a Wheaties box straight to a plastic surgeon and came home with an expression of perpetual amazement, looking like a cross between Kenny Rogers and Carrot Top.
Don’t forget Honey Boo Boo, Sofia Vergara and David Spade. All three and many more are regularly parts of the TMZ collage.
I am not particularly proud of myself. I could spend my time doing more valuable things like reading, writing or eating Milk Duds.
TMZ is my guilty pleasure.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Relay this message: It's time to start running again

I’m beginning to look like a manatee.
Just about as mobile, too.
Or maybe a milking cow that is carrying an XXXL load of homogenized.
Just as uncomfortable, too.
I have gotten fat. There is no getting around it.
For a while, I blamed it on hot water in the washing machine and an even hotter dryer.
Things had started shrinking.
Until I realized my wife, Kim, washes everything in cold water and she hangs most things up before they are fully dried.
I even convinced myself for some time my shirts and sweaters were tighter because of all the weight I was lifting.
But I was not lifting much weight. Certainly not enough to go from Pee Wee Herman to Lou Ferrigno. And by far the most weight I’m lifting these days is when I get off the couch at home or out of my chair at work.
Now that is some serious hefting.
So it is time to get into shape. With an asterisk. It is probably not the ideal time, since Christmas cookies beckoned as did Chex Mix. Not to mention prime rib, honey glazed ham, and just about any creation fashioned from potatoes this side of Idaho.
That is not to mention the bowls of green, red and white M&Ms both plain and peanut; and the Reese’s peanut butter cups adorned in holiday foil.
But do you know what, there is no better time than now, especially when now is 2013.
I am going to start by walking a little bit. If my plan holds, that little bit will turn into a little bit more. And a little bit more will turn into running a little bit. And hopefully, that will turn into running a lot more.
                                         A river crossing at an earlier Great Lakes Relay.

My goal is a return to the 2013 edition of the Great Lakes Relay. That is a 10-person relay race that meanders through the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. The three-day event begins on July 19 and concludes on the 21st. It is mostly a trail run, and that hardly ever means wood chips and signage. Instead, it is frequently sand, mud and mosquitoes. Not much of the terrain is flat, either. You’re either going up or down, or down and up. There are a couple of river crossings, too. The Au Sable beckons and so does the Manistee. It goes on and on for about 280 miles, and none of those miles remotely resembles power walking past Macy’s at the mall.
Still, Michigan is a beautiful state, even when you are in a state of exhaustion. The folks from Pure Michigan would be awed.
But back to reality; I need to conquer 10 blocks before I engage in about 10 miles per day. I am in horrible shape, and I wish I was exaggerating. It is sad that I let myself go, because I used to run a lot. Not like a Kenyan who is sprinting all 26.2 miles of a marathon, but like an American who did marathons and Big Macs. I ran marathons. I did 5ks, 10ks, 10 milers and half marathons. I even attempted an ultra marathon or two.
The Great Lakes Relay is also on my resume several times over. I used to have a blast doing it. Rumor has it that my buddy, John Bassier, is signing up for the Relay. Another good friend, Jeff Kuehn, the sports editor at The Oakland Press, has also expressed interest.
I fell of the running wagon. I fell into the food trough. I am ashamed of myself. I don’t revel in my ways. I don’t revel in my weighs, either. It is time to drop some pounds. The Great Lakes Relay beckons.
I swear on a stack of Twinkies with an expiration date of July of 2048 I am back in the game.