Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

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.