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.