Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Saying thanks on Memorial Day

Looking back, I was a chicken.
There was Walter Cronkite presenting the nightly scoreboard on the CBS Evening News. He would give the tally of how many North Vietnamese had died, and how many Americans.
Right away I knew I never wanted to become part of the tally. By then, the war in Vietnam had become extremely unpopular. It was really our first televised war, and I saw all I wanted on the RCA with the 12-inch screen in our living room.
You didn’t need high definition to define fear and that is what I felt.
Some of my oldest brother, Tom’s, friends had been drafted. Some had gone from suburbs to Ssoutheast Asia in an awful hurry. At least one had decided to head to Canada. There were FBI agents at his parents’ house on a mighty regular basis.
By the time I turned 18, there was no longer a draft. It was a lottery and I swear on the resume of Bob Barker it was one with potentially deadly results.
That initial lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1, 1969, in Washington D.C. There were 366 blue plastic capsules containing birth dates placed in a large glass container and drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men within the 18-26 age range.
The capsules were drawn from a container, opened, and the dates inside posted in order.
My personal lottery came a few years later. I was born in 1954. A group of us gathered together at Albion College to see where the numbers would fall. My birthday was September 17, and the assigned number was 320.
I was ecstatic and now all these years later, I am a little bit ashamed of myself.
I have a great life and how many others never got that chance? War has taken some of this country’s best and brightest.
They say freedom isn’t free, and that could not be more spot on. As a country, we have paid dearly, and continue to play dearly, for our freedom.
I remember being 18 and not knowing exactly what the future held. Was I going to Vietnam? Was I going to be one of Walter Cronkite’s tally?
I had played Taps at a handful of funerals for servicemen who had died in Vietnam when I was in high school, so I certainly was aware of the potential consequences.
I’d done the same in front of the veteran’s memorial in my hometown following the Memorial Day parade.
Memorial Day was Monday, and it wasn't t too much to ask to spend an hour or two watching a local parade. I stood up and saluted the flag. I said thanks to a veteran, a guy with long gray hair and a beard to match. I said a prayer for those who are no longer with us.
They served so I did not have to. They answered the call so I could stay home and play football and basketball and baseball.
My dad was in the Navy in World War II. My wife’s dad was a Marine in WWII.
That was the extent of our family’s military involvement. I never served. My brothers never served. None of my kids are currently in the military, either.
I went to a parade on Monday. I went to the veterans memorial. I stood there while Taps was  played. I listened to the speeches and watched the plane fly by and felt a little undeserving.
I have had a great life. I have a great wife and four great kids. Some others never got the chance.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Racing to battle mental illness

Hector Goodwin was a World War II veteran.
He was in the Merchant Marines, and those brave men and women took tremendous risks to keep this country’s vital shipping lines open.
They were subject to attack from submarines, dive bombers and surface boats.
In fact, Goodwin’s ship was ripped apart in one such attack. He was rescued by the British, but some wounds never seem to heal.
Goodwin suffered from what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In November of 1968, Hector Goodwin killed himself.
Peggy Goodwin, who is a city commissioner in Royal Oak, was just six years old when her father died. Her sister, Christina, was nine.
"People always say that kids are flexible and they bounce back, and that is true in a sense," said Goodwin. "But I believe that some of the feelings don't really manifest themselves until you get older. You hold things in and eventually you have to talk to someone; I know that was the case with me.”
Hector Goodwin was a very intelligent man. He was also very protective of his daughters and his wife, Elizabeth. The family lived in Huntington Woods.
"Ours was like a Brady Bunch street with all the kids having moms and dads," said Goodwin. "We obviously were a little different.
"Suicide was a very taboo subject. You couldn't talk about it. It was hard to reach out to anyone," said Goodwin. "By the time my dad was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it had manifested itself into alcoholism and other mental illnesses. I know he did seek help eventually.”
Getting help is what the Mind Over Matter (MOM) Race is all about. When it debuted nine years ago as a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention and mental health, 300 people showed up for the 5K run. This past year, more than 1,100 people participated. To date, more than $120,000 has been raised for research and prevention, and countless lives have been touched.
On Saturday, May 3, the 2014 MOM Race was held at Starr Jaycee Park in Royal Oak, which is located on the south side of 13 Mile Road just east of Crooks.
The four children of Gail Boledovich are the ones behind the MOM Race. Their mom, who had battled mental illness, was lost to suicide on May 1, 2005, just days before her 49th birthday.
The race title sponsor was once again the Forget-Me-Not Thrift Store in Lincoln Park. Business owner Kim Gross lost her daughter-in-law, Karen Gross, to suicide in January 2009. Kim Gross donates all her store’s proceeds to mental health awareness and suicide prevention programs, including MOM.
Julie (Boledovich) Farhat is the race founder and executive director. Farhat is involved with Royal Oak SAFE, a collaborative task force founded by Goodwin that works to promote mental health and wellness. 
For more information on the MOM Race, visit

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nick Ureel was real-life tough

You want tough?
You’re probably thinking a guy who can easily bench 550 pounds and has skin the texture of beef jerky.
You want grit?
All right, so now you’re probably thinking about a guy whose face stubble could sand graffiti off buildings and whose voice makes James Earl Jones sound like one of the Vienna Choir Boys.
Your want real-life tough?
Undoubtedly that was Nick Ureel, a senior at Chippewa Valley High School, who passed away a couple of weeks ago after a courageous battle with cancer.
"If we don't learn a million life lessons from a young man like Nick Ureel, shame on us," said Scott Merchant, the football coach at Chippewa Valley. "Nick was always positive. He was never bitter or said `Why me?' He always had a smile on his face. He lived his life to the fullest. Nick had resiliency and he had spirit.
“I had football class and there were 70 guys in it and we all just sat and talked about Nick and the good memories we had. At the end of class, I challenged them to go home and actually tell those that you love that you loved them. As coaches, we always tell our guys to play like it's your last play, and that should be a lesson in life, too. Live like it's your last day because you never know."
Nick Ureel's last play for the Big Reds came as a sophomore. When he did not show up bright and early on the first day of football camp as a junior, the coaches at Chippewa Valley knew something wasn’t right.
“I mean, Nick came to absolutely everything related to football," said Merchant. "You never had to worry about him being at workouts or anything else. When he did not show up on opening day, we called his home to make sure things were all right. Nick and his mom came to practice Wednesday of that week. Nick’s back was really hurting and he didn't know if he'd be able to play."
A week or so later, the unbearable diagnosis was made. Nick Ureel had testicular cancer.
Despite the ensuing array of treatment plans that included surgeries and incessant chemotherapy, Nick was always on the sidelines for his beloved Chippewa Valley Big Reds. Even though he couldn’t play, he was happy to be with his friends and classmates. Much more specifically, Nick was very happy to be with his fellow offensive linemen.
"After we'd score, or after a series would be over, the offensive linemen would come off the field and sit on their bench, and Nick was always right there with them," said Merchant. “He was there to encourage them, or to cheer along with them.”
Nick did not just sit. Do you want to know tough? Do you want to know grit? Chippewa Valley opened its 2013 season against Dearborn at Wayne State University. Nick was coming off surgery and had told the coaches he wasn’t sure if he would be at the game. But a day or two before kickoff, he showed up at practice. Inspiration is much more than just a word in the Merriam Webster dictionary.
"We wanted Nick to lead us out onto the field carrying an American flag," said Merchant. "But I was worried about him. Before we went out, I told Nick aside that it was all right to just take it easy, that he could walk if he wanted to. I didn't want him overdoing it."
So what does Nick Ureel do? He told his coach that “we don’t walk onto a football field.” He took off running, waving the flag and smiling like he was auditioning for a Crest tooth paste commercial. All of his fired up teammates followed. Chippewa Valley beat Dearborn that day, 27-20, in a double overtime thriller. The victory was clinched when Alex Marko intercepted a pass. Alex told Nick that interception was for him.
The Big Reds raced off the field and huddled up in exultation and right in the middle of the joyful melee was Nick Ureel.
“Nick was at every game. He was a huge inspiration to everybody in the program. Despite everything he went through with the treatments, he always had a smile on his face. He was always so positive. He was just a special kid and a special young man. I learned a lot from him. I think a lot of us did. Not just about football but about life.”
Nick Ureel was tough. He was real-life tough.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Carpe diem ...please!

Carpe diem.
Seize the day.
That’s because you never know how many more pages on the calendar that are waiting for your signature.
That hit home with much more force recently.
My mom’s 86 years old. At least that is what her birth certificate says. Her lifestyle disputes that claim. She is fiercely independent. She lives alone. She loves to garden. She drives her own car. Not just to the nearby store or the neighborhood Applebee’s, but across the state to see my brother’s family in Muskegon. Nearly as far to visit her grandson’s wife and kids in Grand Rapids. To Ohio to check in with Kelly, her granddaughter; Kelly’s husband, Ron; and their two boys.
You get the idea. Mom is 86 going on 55.
Only she fell and broke her hip a couple of weeks ago. She is going through rehab now. All of a sudden, I have an 86-year-old mom. I never expected that to happen.
I’m the youngest of three sons.  Young is very relative these days, but you know what I mean.
My oldest brother, Tom, has had problems with his balance the last couple of years. His mental cognition is off, too. Sometimes words don’t come to him as quickly as they used to.
They used to come very quickly. He’s an attorney with a hair trigger vocabulary. These days, words sometimes fall out of his mouth in a jumble. His comprehension isn’t the same, either.
The doctors have diagnosed Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes (MELAS).
That medical mouthful sounds horribly familiar; it is what my other brother, Bill, eventually died of.
I don’t expect mournful violins. I don’t want meals to be put on the front porch. I don’t want to haul in fistfuls of sympathy cards from the mailbox.
I just want you to seize the day. That’s all.

Saying thanks to athletic directors everywhere

I was honored by the Oakland County Athletic Directors Association earlier this year.
The plaque thanked me “For your service, dedication and commitment to athletics in Oakland County.”
On it, my name was spelled Jim Evan.
Touche’ since I have bungled plenty of names since I started in this business in the late 1970s.
Honestly, I was very touched by the award.
I didn’t give much of a speech. It lasted about 32.45 seconds. I opted for a hurried thanks. Speaking in front of a crowd is my autographed phobia. I’d be more comfortable kissing Joan Rivers  or having an intellectual conversation with any of the Kardashians.
But my relative silence did not mean I was not appreciative. The award meant more to me than most people will ever know.
My dad was a coach and an athletic director in Walled Lake. I know how many long hours those folks put in. They get to the office early. They turn off the lights in the gym late.
Missed meals used to be wrapped in aluminum foil and reheated. Now they are put in the microwave in a Tupperware container. It’s all the same. Athletic directors and coaches miss dinner plenty.
Coaches make sacrifices. Athletic directors make sacrifices. Educators make sacrifices. They all work long hours. They do it for our kids.
I was a little kid when I realized that. My formative years were spent at practice or in the bleachers at what was then Walled Lake High School. I’d either be helping round up the basketballs, shagging baseballs, or watching a game from the far corner of the bleachers.
I loved every minute of it.
I still do.
Really, my life has not changed much, and I could not be happier. I’m still going to games. I’m still going to practices.  And, I am mostly still sitting in the far corners of gyms.
I have always had a love for high school sports. It must be genetic. Some people don’t understand the value of sports in terms of education. Granted, they might not help you get ready for the SAT or the ACT, but they sure the heck help you get ready for life.
I had countless pals who would’ve dropped out of school and gone straight to the Wixom Ford or Riley’s gas station if it had not been for sports. They begrudgingly went to math or science class. Contrast that with them sprinting to the wrestling room or the football field.
Cross country runners will tell you it takes hard work in order to succeed. That same thought is echoed through every high school locker room by countless young men and women, no matter what the sport.
Put in the miles. Or heft the weights. Or shoot baskets in the summer. Or swat baseballs in the cage. This is getting redundant. You get the point. You reap what you sow. So don’t just shrug your shoulders and say “So what?”
Sports are a good road test for life. Show up ill-prepared for a job interview and while the scoreboard won’t confirm it, you’ll be a loser. That job goes to somebody else.
Keith Dunlap of The Oakland Press was also honored at the banquet.
To reiterate, I did not give much of a speech. I am no Dale Carnegie grad. My relative silence should not be misinterpreted. I could not have been more appreciative. I grew up with high school sports. I have spent my entire adult life with high school sports.
Thanks to all of the athletic directors. Thanks especially to Brian Gordon, the athletic director at Novi High School. He used to hold that position in Royal Oak, where he also coached the varsity baseball team.
Thanks most of all to the late Tom Evans. He was an AD. He was my dad. I couldn’t speak at his funeral, either. Sorry, Pop. You didn’t raise a Toastmaster.

Red tag sail on Lake St. Clair

I’m not a sailor.
Not even close. I own a kayak and that’s it.
But in my heart I am.
I am on Lake St. Clair with sails billowing and the wind in my hair.
I am in the South Pacific on water so blue it makes Nicole Kidman’s eyes look positively rheumy.
I am in the Caribbean with the anchor down as I sit on the deck reading something by Hemingway or maybe it’s Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki.
I really don’t drink alcohol, but I would have to add a sweating longneck bottle of Red Stripe to that idyllic scenario.
I am captain and I am wearing a hat like the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island. I am walking jauntily on the deck like Jack Sparrow. I am Master and Commander, much like Russell Crowe, only a whole lot poorer and way more ugly.
I don’t know when the sailing fantasy took hold. I have always loved the water from the time I was a little kid on Rainbow Beach in Chicago. I still adore it, be it Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula, the Les Cheneaux Islands in Lake Huron or Carlin Park on the Atlantic Ocean in Tequesta, Florida.
But as far as watercraft goes, once you get beyond canoes, rowboats or kayaks, I have never owned squat.
I just like the idea of sailing. Maybe it started back in college when I began listening to Jimmy Buffet music. It wasn’t his mythical Margarita that I was entranced by. It was the whole sailing theme. Even though I was less than half the age, I was entranced by “A Pirate Looks at 40.”

Mother, mother ocean, I've heard you call 
Wanted to sail upon your waters 
Since I was three feet tall 
You've seen it all, you've seen it all 

Watch the men who rode you 
Switch from sails to steam 
And in your belly you can hold the treasures 
Few have ever seen 
Most of them dream 
Most of them dream 

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late 
Cannons don't thunder there's nothin' to plunder 
I'm an over forty victim of fate 
Arriving too late, arriving too late 

Maybe I haven’t arrived too late after all. Even on the horizon of 60, there’s a chance that my long-held fantasy could become a reality. The North Star Sail Club in Harrison Township is offering sailing lessons for youth and adults.
The club’s upcoming schedule includes Youth Learn to Sail (Beginner) and Intermediate; Advanced/Competitive Race Program; and Adult Learn to Sail Program.
An open house at the North Star Sail Club, 32041 South River Road, will be from 1-3 p.m., Sunday, May 18.
For more information, either call 586-463-2192 or visit
See you there. I’ll be the one wearing the hat like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.