Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Baseball's Hidden Dangers

I'm always fearful when I'm on the ball field because of aluminum bats. The kids today are stronger, faster and highly skilled due to sport specialization. I've been hit less than a handful of times and missed by the narrowest of margins hundreds of times more than I can count.

Yet that fear has become secondary for me of late. Baseball's bats and ball are upon us and I can't really concentrate wholeheartedly on it. I was diagnosed as having cancerous skin on my face two weeks ago and have been taking some aggressive treatment.

It's scary. Right now I feel as if I look like The Elephant Man. I have some grotesque marks below my eyes from where sun damage has accumulated and the treatment makes it look as bad as it feels. Obviously I waited until after basketball season was over and started treatment before the warmer spring and summer months are upon us, but working games now, I'm looking, feeling and probably appearing equally uncomfortable.

The lesson I would impart onto every single person reading this is be prepared and be vigilant. Yes, I used sun screen, but I wasn't always using SPF 30 like I should, and I didn't always re-apply every two hours like I should have been. SPF 4 and SPF 8 don't cut it, and it needs to be applied every two hours. That means when watching, working or playing a doubleheader, after Game One is over, sun screen needs to be re-applied in full before Game Two.

When I was young, playing in the sun or at the lake was carefree. It was cocoa butter, baby oil and cold beers on the dock. I didn't think about long-term damage to fair-skin. The truth is the sun is dangerous. Salts disposed in sweat, natural skin oils and dust can all accelerate the skin burning process and there is a limited amount of times you can burn your skin before the damage becomes permanent. Thankfully, I'm expected to make a full recovery, but don't make my mistakes. Use sunscreens when you're at the ball field. Use SPF 30 at a minimum, and apply it every two hours.

Play ball!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Clarkston's Breslin Debut Sours In 2nd Half

EAST LANSING, MI -- In what might be the only time the color combination of blue n' gold ever looked good in Michigan State's Breslin Center, the Clarkston Wolves walked onto the floor to start Friday's Class A semifinal in the home whites but walked off the floor feeling blue.

Kalamazoo Central's Maroon Giants proved to be too tall and too quick for Clarkston's 'Big Three' to survive another round in a 58-44 victory. When it wasn't near-giant Doug Anderson throwing down a handful of monstrous dunks and controlling the boards, it was anything-but-giant Juwan Hemphill running circles around the limited pressure the Wolves could muster.

The game was tied at 27 at the half. The Wolves surged to take a 31-27 lead but Central came right back. Terry Buchanen's triple just in front of the 5:00 minute mark of the 3rd put the Maroons into the lead for good. Buchanen tripled again a minute later and the Wolves never contended again.

As bad as the news was for Clarkston, it could have been worse. Brandon Pokley's 23 points, including a perfect four-of-four from behind the triple line, kept the Clarkston five alive but the dream died in a fourth quarter gone arwy. Down just 44-41 to start the final stanza, the Giants ran away for the victory, sucking any and all drama out of the final quarter. Jared Lawrence's bucket while being fouled with just 32.8 seconds remaining was the only Clarkston field goal of the final eight minutes. Lawrence added the free throw to complete Clarkston's only fourth-quarter points.

In the second game, despite no Oakland County teams playing, there was a distinct county presence. The game featured Detroit Pershing's Doughboys and the Romulus High Eagles; the three-man officiating crew featured Southfield resident Wallace Whitfield and Hazel Park High School Principal Don Vogt, who was designated as the game's Referee.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due in August, 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Detroit Country Day's National Prominance Due To State Dominance

I was interviewed for a story about 10 prep teams that would have defeated an NCAA tournament team. The writer, Stephen Spiewak from Jersey City, interviewed me, Tom Markowski and a handful of other national writers a while back for the story that was recently published at MaxPreps.com. I told Spiewak the 1990 Detroit Southwestern team, with Voshon Leonard, Howard Eisley and Jalen Rose, would have been a beast of an 'out'. In fact, I think those Prospectors could have won a play-in game.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning that the Prospectors would have been super-human had Chris Webber, long-rumored to follow best friend Jalen Rose to Detroit Southwestern, not been enrolled at Country Day. So, in a great story about Detroit Southwestern, there's a picture of Chris Webber and a cutline of what might have been if Webber had not been a Yellowjacket but rather, part of a quartet of Division-I players at one school, coached by the all-time winningest coach in Horizon League history, Perry Watson.

My bad.

Detroit Country Day won the 2009 Class B girls' state championship Saturday. That's the 10th title triumph for head coach Frank Orlando, himself an all-state basketball player nearly 50 years ago at Detroit's now-closed St. Thomas High. Orlando has also won a state title in baseball. But is Orlando mentioned in the same circles of Kathy McGee, Lofton Greene, Diane Laffey or Bernie Holowicki?

No. Why? Because he's from Country Day. In the minds of many, it doesn't count the same. He isn't guiding the hand he's dealt, they say. He recruits, they complain. He hand picks his talent, they say, sniding. He has an unlimited budget, he should win every year, they mumble under their breath. Yet they never complain about the private school that finishes in fifth-place. It's only the champion they are quick to discredit.

They never said these things about River Rouge. All River Rouge did was win 12 Class B titles in 19 seasons as a public school with the best prep basketball coach the state has ever seen.

The Detroit Free Press ran a nice story about the 'Jackets today, but the mention of Orlando's feat was minimal. I'm OK with that because the focus was placed upon Country Day's student-athletes. There's a coach who knows about Orlando's snub. In fact, he plays his home games in the same gym that Orlando calls home. Kurt Keener has been the boys' coach at Country Day since the Tigers started 35-5. Nobody had boo to say about the Yellowjackets until a 14-year-old phenom walked through the doors with his mother. Suddenly Chris Webber changed the perception of Country Day from a rich-kid playground into every other school's worst enemy. 10 girls' titles and seven boys' titles later, Country Day is the opposite of the family business in The Godfather. You get ex-communicated if you do side with Country Day.

There's a great article in today's Detroit News about Country Day senior Faziah Steen. Upon graduation, she's going to play at Dartmouth next year. A girl who tore her right and left ACL in three years, who watched her teammates celebrate last year and was so embittered about missing it that she willed herself to come back her senior year for this opportunity. She's going to Dartmouth -- how outstanding is that?

Country Day has a number of self-imposed obstacles. It's about $25,000 a year to attend the school. How many families do you know of that have 25K sitting around for high school per year, per kid? You have to be able to pass the entrance exam and you're required to play at least one sport and participate in extracurricular activity if you don't play a second sport. If you can't afford the tuition, you have to apply for need-based aid, a decision that Country Day has no influence in. That shrinks the pool of perspective students drastically. Country Day doesn't get $80-90 million dollars to cover the operating budget, which is approximately the amount Novi's public schools require to keep the doors open, the lights on and the floors swept, among other things.

Oakland County is lucky to have a wealth of private schools and Country Day has an outstanding legacy of student-athlete achievement. What's wrong with having a very successful school among your state's quiver of arrows? Their string of titles in boys' and girls' basketball isn't any less impressive than River Rouge's incredible 19-year run just because they're a well-to-do private school. Their athletes work just as hard, put in just as much effort and dream of the same dreams any other team from any other school does.

Why should they be punished when their dream comes true?

T.C. Cameron delivered Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries to Arcadia Publishing a mere 7,000 words over limit...oops. The title, after edit, will be available in August, 2009.

(Photo courtesy The Oakland Press/Bryan Mitchell)

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Remember Pontiac Central's Chiefs

Pontiac Central played their final boys' basketball game last night. Birmingham Seaholm sent the Chiefs into the history books with a 67-47 defeat in a Division 1 district game.

With apologies to Denzel Washington, today, I find it apropos to make a statement about this quiet passing.

Remember the Chiefs.

There was no ceremony, no remembrance and none of the passion and pride for the city of Pontiac the Chiefs used to evoke. In that way, Central's last game was very Brooklyn Dodger-esque. The Dodgers played their final game at a decaying Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957 and sadness and bitterness converged for the Ghosts of Flatbush at the intersection of Bedford, Sullivan and McKeever Place. A scant 6,702 showed for the final game versus Pittsburgh. Brooklyn blanked the Bucs, 2-0.

There's a sense of sadness in Pontiac today because the Chiefs left the prep basketball landscape rather meekly, similar to Royal Oak Dondero's final football season. Central and rival Pontiac Northern will merge after this year. Teachers are being fired en masse. It's going to be a difficult transition, mashed into a five-month timetable. Pontiac's consolidation is considerably different than Royal Oak's Kimball & Dondero from three years ago. Some, including Coach Chuck Jones, thought the 'new' Royal Oak High School should be re-named with the 'old' name of Acorns and given a color combination of the blue n' white of Dondero and the blue n' gold of Kimball, merged into the 'new' blue, gold & white of Royal Oak High.

That's not an option in Pontiac. The Chiefs are Pontiac like the Tigers' olde English 'D' is Detroit. Only in the last 10-15 years did Central finally omit the 'Pontiac' from their uniforms and go with the word 'Central'. I'm researching Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries and the contribution from Pontiac Central High to metro Detroit's basketball heritage is comparable to what Catholic Central or Brother Rice added to the Catholic League.

~The Elusive Championship~

Of course, you might be inclined to tell me that Catholic Central and Brother Rice, the last two private schools to win a Class A boys' basketball title in Michigan, have indeed won championships. And Central's city rival, Pontiac Northern, won back-to-back Class A titles in 2001-02. Central never did.

True, it never happened when it mattered most for Pontiac Central. The Chiefs never won any of the five Class A title games they played in. But the NCAA tells us the 'Fab Five' never happened at Michigan, too. Does anyone really believe those Michigan Wolverines didn't leave a lasting impact on college basketball just because the NCAA says so? From 1959-79, Pontiac Central went to 11 MHSAA semifinals -- in 20 years! Zero wins in those title games might make them the Buffalo Bills or Minnesota Vikings of prep cagers in the eyes of some. It's fair. But Art VanRyzin and Ralph Grubb, Pontiac's coaches during this amazing era, never gave up, never quit trying. Further, the Chiefs didn't just compete but were a perennial power in the Saginaw Valley Conference. There was not a single prep league in the entire state of Michigan better than 'The Valley' during that time period.

Perhaps it was fitting that Seaholm and Central were paired for Central's last hurrah. Seaholm was formerly the original Birmingham High Maples and Central was originally Pontiac High's Chiefs. Birmingham and Pontiac were longtime prep football, basketball and baseball rivals for many years until the early 1960s.

The Chiefs shouldn't be forgotten as soon as the horn went silent to end their final game. Remember the battles that Pontiac High and later, Pontiac Central played that made your heart throb. Remember the Friday nights they made so memorable in so many different seasons. Remember the simetaneous hope and heartache they represented in Pontiac for so many years. Remember the Russell brothers. Remember Bill Glover, who was the heart and soul of Central for so many years.

Remember the Chiefs.

(Picture courtesy The Oakland Press/Feb. 1971/Rolf Winter)

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Rivalries, due August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Part II: Remembering A State Championship Worthy Of 'Hoosiers'

The Ferndale Eagles remembered prep seer Hal 'Swami' Schram's prediction about 1963's Class A semifinal that ran in the Detroit Free Press on Thursday, March 21: "There is no school for (Detroit) Northwestern on Friday...There will be no basketball on Saturday for Ferndale."

Bob Falardeau and the Eagles would have the final word after Falardeau's jumper with almost 30 seconds remaining downed the Detroit Public School League's regular season champion by a 52-51 count. Schram's prediction -- made without malice -- became the rally point for Ferndale in East Lansing as the Eagles advanced to face Adrian High's Maples in the state title tilt.

As Ferndale stepped onto the hardwood pines of Michigan State's Jension Field House for Saturday's Class A Final, nobody knew three grueling, gut-check wins -- all played consecutively and all one-point victories -- would allow Ferndale to win the title game handily, 76-58, in front of 12,473 fans and a statewide television audience. Bruce Rodwan, left of teammate Don Brooks (25) in the picture above, netted 25 points and pulled down 20 rebounds to earn himself a spot on the tournament's first team.

The Eagles stepped off Jenison's floor as state champions and winners of 22-straight games thanks to Kimball's upset of Detroit Pershing and some gritty magic that made 1963's title a lot tougher to earn than first glance might indicate but a lot sweeter to remember for the struggle it took.

Only Pontiac Northern (2001, 2002) and Birmingham Brother Rice (1974) have earned a Class A crown for Oakland County since Ferndale's two titles in the 1960s. Novi's Detroit Catholic Central, which earned titles in 1961 and 1976 (the last non-public school title in Class A), won those titles while still parked at their famed 6565 Outer Drive address in Detroit.

In the afterglow, Ferndale High hosted a champions' banquet at the school. The entire community was invited and some of South Oakland County's prep rivals regaled in the first Oakland County championship in the state's marquee division. Charles Jackson, principal at Kimball High, presented the 1963 Eastern Michigan League trophy to Coach Roy Burkhart's Eagles during the banquet's ceremony. Burkhart's first title had been delivered in his 17th season as mentor of the cage fortunes on Ferndale's Pinecrest Avenue.

Friday: Ferndale wears the bulls-eye before recapturing the Magic of '63 during March of '66.

(Photo courtesy 1963 Ferndale High Talon/Ferndale Historical Museum)

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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Part I: Remembering A State Championship Worthy Of 'Hoosiers'

Frank Clouser bought his first insurance policy from Bobby Plump, who's more famously remembered for making the game-winning shot for Milan High in the 1954 Indiana High School Athletic Association title game against mighty Muncie Central.

Clouser, who was born and raised in pint-sized Colfax, Indiana, was the longtime baseball coach, assistant boys' basketball coach, head girls' basketball coach and down box linesman during the football seasons at now-closed Royal Oak Kimball High. The longtime gym teacher also had a two-year stint as diamond coach at Troy Athens, winning two OAA titles. I recall Clouser telling me this story because history has a funny way of condensing a lot of important little facts into one single event.

Bobby Plump and Milan High was the inspiration for the 1986 movie 'Hoosiers' and Plump was characterized in the movie as town sharp-shooter Jimmy Chitwood. This is the story of the 1963 Ferndale High School Eagles, who won the Class A basketball title. At first glance of the MHSAA online records page, you might think Ferndale was a runaway train, marching to the title with a 22-0 record plus the Eastern Michigan League (EML) title to go with district and regional championships.

The '63 Eagles had more in common with the fictitious Hickory Huskers in 'Hoosiers' more than Milan High did. Further, to grasp how special Ferndale's '63 campaign was -- and how unique even an undefeated championship can be -- you have to first understand 1962, the year the Detroit Public School League ended its' self-imposed 31-year absence from the state tournament. The Detroit Pershing Doughboys made a long run in the Class A bracket, defeating Ferndale in the opener and Royal Oak Dondero in the district final. After crushing Warren Fitzgerald, Pershing beat Royal Oak Kimball in the regional final and Detroit King in the quarters before losing in the state semifinal at Michigan State University's Jension Field House.

Fast forward to Ferndale's magical 1963 tourney run, made possible when Coach Dave Gunther's Royal Oak Kimball team earned a stunning 39-32 win over Coach Will Robinson's Pershing team in the district opener. Pershing had upset regular season PSL champion Detroit Northwestern in that league's title game and was a defending state semifinalist but lost to a five-year-old school that played in exactly one quarterfinal in the 49 seasons the school was open. Kimball, however marginal the school's overall basketball success was, earned a 9-3 record versus the PSL in tourney games.

With the Doughboys eliminated, Grosse Pointe High's undefeated Blue Devils were considered metro Detroit's best team when Coach Roy Burkhart and Ferndale met the 'Pointers' in the '63 quarters. Ferndale was already battle-tested, having bested the always-gritty Highland Park Polar Bears in the regional final the previous Friday. Bruce Rodwan (pictured above) scored a basket with 37 seconds remaining to give Ferndale a 43-42 win.

Coach Chuck Hollosy and Grosse Pointe didn't know it but they had been tabbed as victims of destiny. Guard Jeff Hicks made two late free throws to give Ferndale another thrilling one-point win, 56-55, and pushed the Eagles into a date at Jenison Field House with Detroit's Northwestern High Colts.

Wednesday: The thrilling conclusion to Ferndale's 1963 Class A championship. On Friday the magic returns to Pinecrest Avenue in 1966.

(Photo courtesy 1963 Ferndale High Talon/Ferndale Historical Museum)

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

We're Evolved Humans, Not Big Birds

OK, short post here to get back on the straight and narrow. I'm on deadline to deliver the book and I'll be offering vignettes this week of an Oakland County championship featured in my basketball rivalries book, due in August 2009.

But first, we humans are not birds and as such, we do not have wings, making the term 'wingspan' a complete oxymoron. I cannot stand the collegiate recruiting writers who insist on using this term. "So-and-so prized recruit has an 84-inch wingspan..."

Caw-caw! Cue Bette Midler as well.

CONGRATS: Michigan State University is definitely back on the map after today's 62-51 win over visiting Purdue University to close out the Big Ten's regular season as the conference champions for the first time since 2001. With 12 wins over teams ranked in the RPI Top 50, Coach Tom Izzo is a strong candidate for conference coach of the year, and likely several Spartans might be in line for conference players awards, too.

But perhaps most impressive about MSU's sustained success is the great majority of it has been manufactured by players and coaches from Michigan.

Izzo's story from Iron Mountain is already well-documented. Each of his assistants have roots in Michigan's already strong reputation as prep and collegiate basketball hotbed. Dwayne Stephens, a former Spartan and Ferndale High All-Class A selection from the 1980s. Mike Garland, who coached Belleville High for a long stretch before embarking on a first collegiate coaching stint with the Spartans, is back for a second term of service. Garland began his coaching career at Detroit's Cody High. Finally, Inkster native Mark Montgomery, himself a former Spartan standout, was an outstanding performer at Southgate Aquinas, where he also coached after his prep career but before the school closed in 2000.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of memorable Spartan players have been from Detroit, Flint and Saginaw over the past 30 years, and especially so in Tom Izzo's last 11 years, an outstanding run that dates back to Michigan State's win in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament over Earl Boykins, Derrick Dial and Eastern Michigan University in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Spartans are still one first-class product manufactured in Michigan.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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