Thursday, May 29, 2008

Prep Baseball Districts Preview, Part II

Note: Today is the second part of a two-part preview of this year's baseball districts of note in Oakland County, including the history behind some of the matchups that remain possible today or have taken place in the past. Today a preview of Districts 29, 30, 31, 60 and 61.

With pre-district action commencing Tuesday, the rest of the field goes forward either today or tomorrow. District matchups sometimes create the most difficult games in the road to the state baseball championship, because neighboring schools bring natural rivalry and familiarity to a district game.

District 29: This is definitely a lakes area district with the three high schools of Walled Lake represented but Central, Western and Northern, plus a gritty squad of Lakeland Eagles and the always dangerous Shamrocks of Novi's Catholic Central. Last year the Shamrocks were grouped with Northville, Novi and Farmington, forming arguably the toughest district in Oakland County of '07. This year the most likely challenge would come from Lakeland. District 29 notes: While not located in Oakland County in 1999, CC defeated Troy 6-5 in the '99 championship game... the Warriors of Walled Lake Western captured 1984's crown.... Northville has been ranked in the Top 10 coaches poll all season.

District 30: Last year's Division I Cinderella came in the form of West Bloomfield's Lakers, who escaped Brother Rice in a suspended district final in eight innings and advanced to the quarterfinal. No such luck this year as the Lakers, the host for this bracket, were dispensed in the pre-district game by Birmingham Groves, 7-1. Those Falcons will face Brother Rice, the Catholic League runner-up from Wednesday's loss to Dearborn Divine Child at Comerica Park, in the morning game Saturday. The winner gets Southfield Lathrup or Birmingham Seaholm in the final. District 30 notes: Birmingham Seaholm won the Class A championship 20 years ago and were dubbed 'The Miracle Maples'... The son and grandson of the '88 Seaholm coach, Don Sackett, now wear the Groves uniform. Jamey Sackett is the Groves receiver and Mark Sackett, his father, is an assistant coach under Jim Crosby. Ironically, it's the same role Mark Sackett had for Seaholm in '88, leaving the possibility of another Birmingham miracle in the offing... Rice captured the '92 and '94 final and was runner-up in '03 and '86, joining Royal Oak Kimball as the only Oakland County school to play in four Class A / Division I finals... West Bloomfield won the Class A title in '83... Groves and Seaholm split three games (1-1-1) in '06 and '07, including a 15-inning game that ended in a 7-7 tie due to darkness. Groves swept the Maples this year.

District 31: Last year's Division I runner-up, Pete Finn's Farmington High Falcons, are bracketed with one of this year's favorites in Northville's Mustangs, who have re-loaded for a third straight campaign. Farmington Hills Harrison, who defeated Top 10-ranked Royal Oak this week, joins North Farmington and Novi. The Wildcats are back to their fundamental roots after a down year in '07 and Harrison is a defending district champion. It would be tough to expect any of these teams to top Northville, but an upset isn't out of the question, as witnessed in '07, when Farmington edged Northville in the district final. Finn's Falcons used a bit of strategy by stealing 3rd after a prolonged injury break for Northville's catcher, who had been stung by a foul ball on the previous pitch. A throwing error resulting in the winning run for Farmington in the district final with Northville. District 31 notes: Novi and Northville play for the Baseline Jug in football and their rivalry in all sports is a spirited affair, making a Novi-Northville a marquee upset special... Farmington was within one pitch of winning last season's state title tilt with Lake Orion...

District 60: An upstart group of Rams representing Madison Heights Lamphere joins Ferndale, Hazel Park and Detroit Country Day, leaving this district to a pair of south Oakland County rivals (Ferndale & Hazel Park), a new player in the championship fray (Lamphere) or coach Frank Orlando and Country Day, himself no stranger to championship competition. With Ferndale and Hazel Park having average seasons, it's a better bet to place Lamphere and DCC as potential winners of this district. District No. 60 notes: Hazel Park played for the Class A title in '74 and '76... Ferndale was coached for many years by Hall-Of Fame coach Annis Joseph... Country Day took the Class B title game in '95 after being runner-up in '93... Frank Orlando, a Hall of Fame member from '91, had the honor of having the Country Day field named for him, but it was demolished to make room for a campus addition after last season... Hazel Park was the prep home to former World Series and Cy Young winner Bob Welch, who played as an Eastern Michigan Huron. Welch and Bob Owchinko led the Hurons to the championship game of the College World Series in the mid 1970s before pro baseball.

District 61: Bloomfield Hills Andover eliminated Notre Dame Prep on Tuesday, 7-2, leaving the Barons to contend with Cranbrook-Kingswood, Bloomfield Hills Lahser and last year's Division II runner up, the Eaglets of Orchard Lake St. Mary's. While it might be a surprise to some that a Catholic League school with a better record (Prep) were bested by an lower-division OAA school (Andover), it illustrates the quality of baseball in Oakland County. The Eaglets would be the battle-tested choice in this district but are relying on youth to mature quickly if they are to repeat a run to the title game. District 61 notes: The most picturesque setting for high school baseball in Oakland County is the home of the Cranes of Cranbrook-Kingswood, a field possibly traversed by Abner Doubleday himself (grin)... Pontiac Catholic won the '86 Class C title, and although not the same school, Prep is widely regarded as the 'replacement' to Pontiac Catholic. Oakland University men's basketball coach Greg Kampe's son, Keith, now playing baseball for the Golden Grizzlies, is a Prep grad and baseball letter winner... OLSM won the '03 and '98 Division II /Class B titles as well as being runner-up last season in Division II and '84, then playing within Class C.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Prep Baseball Districts Preview, Part I

CONTENT UPDATED AT 12:05am, Thurday, May 29, 2008 as it relates to District 26.

Note: Today is the first part of a two-part preview of this year's baseball districts of note in Oakland County and the history behind some of the matchups that remain possible today or have taken place in the past. Today previews Districts 20-27.

Yesterday opened the 2008 boys' baseball districts, an annual round-robin of upsets, problematic match-ups and numerous nail-biting innings for many of Oakland County's best baseball programs.

Unlike football, which is a qualifying tournament, all schools who wish to participate are seeded within class into districts of five or six schools. The history of the state tournament, which dates back to 1971, has produced 15 state champions and 19 runner-ups from Oakland County.

Here's the potential matchups to watch in Oakland County this week:

District 20: Southfield trounced Oak Park 16-1 yesterday, but the one to watch here is coach Jim Ellis and his Berkley Bears. The Bears have never advanced past a quarterfinal in any sport. In baseball, former coach Frank Stutcher and players like Andy Fairman ran into powerhouse teams in years past from Annis Joseph at Ferndale, Frank Clouser & Brian Gordon at now-closed Royal Oak Kimball and Don Sackett at Birmingham Seaholm, not to mention the teams from Hazel Park with Bob Welch and his cast of teammates.

Berkley's likely test will come from Redford Union High School. This year Berkley, also known as Bruce Flowers High for it's long basketball history, has a real shot to advance to the regional, which they host. If Berkley wins the district, a potential matchup is likely from the Cubs of University of Detroit Jesuit in the regional. Stranger things have happened, and if any Oakland County school is due, it's Berkley. District 20 notes: Milwaukee Brewer Ted Simmons and former Major League Baseball umpire John "Rocky" Roe hail from Southfield High... Oak Park used to be known as the Redskins but are now Knights...Redford Union is commonly referred to as "R-U".

District 22: Yesterday Warren Cousino fought the good fight before surrendering a 4-1 decision to Warren De LaSalle. This opens the possibility of a Warren De LaSalle - Royal Oak High matchup. Royal Oak had a big pre-Memorial Day week. First they trounced the defending state champion and No. 1 ranked Lake Orion Dragons 8-2. Later in the week they topped Bob Riker's Brother Rice Warriors, 2-1. It's been a tough two years at 1500 Lexington in Royal Oak, where 50 years of Kimball memories & tradition died with a forced bitterness. Coach Brian Gordon has helped the new-look Ravens make a mark towards new traditions, and besting De LaSalle for a district title would go a long way. District 22 notes: De LaSalle and Royal Oak Kimball met in the late 1990s in a quarterfinal that the Pilots took 8-5... De LaSalle is nicknamed the Pilots from their days off of Conner Avenue near Detroit's City Airport... Kimball remains the only school in Division-I or Class A history to play in three consecutive state title games (1971-73) and won the '72 title. The Knights also played for the '80 title... Royal Oak is the only Oakland County school in this district.

District 25: Romeo defeated Utica yesterday 9-4. Usually that's a game better suited for the football field, where Romeo and Utica play for a Brown Jug. Joining Romeo and Utica Eisenhower is Troy and Troy Athens. Athens has a Mr. Baseball candidate in pitcher Matt LaMothe, headed to Oakland University in the fall, and their neighbors at Troy High are always strong when it comes to fundamental strategy and execution. Athens has the talent; Troy has the recent tradition. Will either Troy team live up to their championship potential? District 25 notes: Troy went to the '99 finals, dropping a heart-breaking 6-5 decision in the final at-bat to Detroit Catholic Central when the Shamrocks were domiciled in Redford... Troy and Athens annually play one of their rivalry games at Comerica Park...Troy and Romeo used to be common opponents in all sports when both schools were part of the same league split of Oakland and Macomb County schools.

District 26: Oxford and another Oakland University recruit, Kyle Teague, outdueled Rochester Adams 2-0 Tuesday. That leaves the Wildcats to contend with Rochester, Stoney Creek and defending state champion Lake Orion also there to slug it out. Regardless, the Dragons are loaded and should win the district, but last week the Dragons found out no team is immune to losing when they dropped an 8-2 game to Royal Oak's Ravens. District 26 notes: No. 26 is loaded with past champions, including Lake Orion '07 title, Rochester, the champions in '97 and runner-up in '91, and Rochester Adams, who went to back-to-back title games in 95-96... Lake Orion grad Nate Recknagel was Big Ten Player Of The Year for the University of Michigan, this year's Big Ten champion.

District 27: Avondale defeated Waterford Kettering 14-6 yesterday, marking Kettering's last season in the Oakland Activities Association. That leaves Pontiac Central, Pontiac Northern, Waterford Mott and Clarkston, making an Avondale-Clarkston matchup possible. Rare is the opportunity for the Yellowjackets, 22-9 this year, to oust Clarkston in any tournament, so Avondale has a chance to make history. District 27 notes: Clarkston won Class A's title in 1976, defeating Hazel Park in an all-Oakland County final played in Midland.

While not in Oakland County, Detroit Western defeated Detroit Southeastern 4-3 to win the Public School League title in Comerica Park yesterday. It was the same Cowboys of Detroit Western that dropped a 2-1 decision to Kimball in 1972's title game, the first Oakland County school to win a baseball title.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Following A Legend Was Fuhr's Calling

Fred Fuhr never asked for glory and he never asked for pity, either. All he asked for was a chance. He got his team to the cusp of success it had enjoyed for several consecutive years and watched a rival ruin it. A year later, his team took it right back.

Fred Fuhr did what some unlucky sole will be asked to do at Clarkston High School when Kurt Richardson steps aside. Believe me when I say there will be a day when Al Fracassa is no longer on the sideline at Birmingham Brother Rice. Basketball coach Al Poynter did it at Berkley when Steve Rhodes said goodbye. Poynter has since landed on his feet successfully at Oxford High School.

Fred Fuhr followed a legend, the icon of the football program at Royal Oak Dondero High School, a man named Ivy Loftin. That's Fuhr on the right of Ivy Loftin in front of the regal, main doors of Dondero High in 1993, when first published in The Daily Tribune.

Fred Fuhr passed away last week in Jupiter, Florida. He was 69. A small obit in the Tribune, still Royal Oak's unofficial city bible, carried a simple, one-line tribute: Mr. Fuhr was a long-time teacher and coach at Royal Oak Dondero High School.

I guess the North won the Civil War and John Glenn was a pilot, too.

In Fuhr's first season the Oaks went 1-8, but that one win was a 14-0 decision in the Pontiac Silverdome against hated rival Royal Oak Kimball. His second season was a winless 0-9 and the grumblings around 709 North Washington Avenue suggested replacement, not resolve. Fuhr did what any good coach did. He didn't stray from the plan, kept his nose to the stone and kept the faith.

Sound familiar? Isn't that what us sage, old adults impart on our own children? Guess what? It worked, because in 1986, Fuhr's Oaks did what most well-coached teams do. They responded resoundingly. After dropping a 17-0 opener to Ferndale's Eagles, the Oaks blanked Bloomfield Hills Lahser 18-0. The next week Dondero lost 35-6 to West Bloomfield, but responded with three shutouts over Rochester, Birmingham Groves and Southfield Lathrup by a combined count of 63-0. After pasting Rochester Adams 26-6 and surviving Troy Athens, 14-11, the Oaks had captured their first Metro Suburban Activities Association (MSAA) title in five seasons and were poised to earn the school's first invite to the MHSAA football tournament if they won the Oak Stump Game in week nine. The Oaks would certainly 'Kan Kimball' into submission the next week.

It didn't happen. A highly-motivated Kimball team came over to Dondero's Cass Field on a gray, dank November day and ruined Fuhr's coronation by punching the Oaks in the mouth for four quarters in a 14-6 upset. Trailing 14-0, Dondero roared to a fourth-quarter score only to miss the PAT. When they pinned Kimball in the shadows of the train tracks on 3rd and 16, quarterback Mike Siwajek found receiver Danny Holeton for 18 yards. First down, Kimball. A few plays later the clock expired and it was game, set and match, Kimball.

It was then that Fred Fuhr earned his school's respect. He shook hands at midfield. He consoled his team before meeting with reporters. Did he complain, offer excuses or say it was anyone's fault? Nope. He told reporters that the better team had won the game. He explained he had smelled trouble all week, that too many Oaks believed winning would just happen when Kimball came to push.

What did Fred Fuhr do after that game? He went back to work. So did his Oaks.

After another tough, one-possession loss at Cass to Ferndale to open the '87 campaign, Dondero rattled off eight straight wins. They authored an undefeated 7-0 chapter in the MSAA and overwhelmed Kimball in the Silverdome, 27-7. Fuhr would go on to win the MSAA in '91 and went to the playoffs in both '90 and '91. Three league titles, the only two playoff appearances in school history and 33 wins in six seasons after starting 1-17.

Fred Fuhr isn't going to be mentioned with Charlie Jestice, Tom Mach or Al Fracassa as a legendary metro area coach. He wasn't the man who was the one constant, like the lighthouse at the end of the pier standing tall year after year while the never-ending crash of waves passed by, representing one class after another, year after year. Fred Fuhr was the guy that took over at a school and made it his own without you knowing it.

Sometimes the glory, the pity and the headlines go to someone else. Schools open, close and get renamed. Years from now some old codger with more miles in the rearview mirror than a '57 Chevy will sit in a McDonald's -- whatever those look like in another 30 years -- and the word Dondero will be screened on his sweatshirt. By then it might as well say Mars to most people, because Dondero will be something heard of but never really seen with flesh and blood.

Here's to a man who did something great at Dondero, a school that had already seen better days and made it seem like nothing had ever changed.

That was Fred Fuhr.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

(Photo courtesy The Daily Tribune/Craig Gaffield)

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

EXTRA! EXTRA! Tiny Acorns, Mighty Oaks & Knotable Knights

Author's Note: This is an Extra! edition of the two-part series 53 Years Later, A Rivalry Revealed, detailing the story of one seemingly innocuous high school football game played between two communities with little in common on October 14, 1955.

ROYAL OAK -- 53 years ago Royal Oak was the place to move to. It had a movie theater with a brightly-lit marquee and the Farmer's Market was the place to be on Saturday morning. A Friday night win got a player a free Saturday trim at the barber shop. Fish 'n chip dinner at the local diner and phone numbers that began with LI or MI exchanges. Woodward Avenue was best cruised with a four-seat Bel Air or convertible Thunderbird by kids fashioned in letter sweaters and crew cuts.

In 1955, Royal Oak was teeming with families forged from the post-World War II baby boomers. The city's school board approved a second high school, the uproar over its name a Royal Oak argument second to none. It was determined that Royal Oak High would be renamed for Congressman George A. Dondero and be called the Oaks, and the new school would be christened for School Board President Clarence M. Kimball under the theme of Knights. Royal Oak's annual Thanksgiving Day tilt with Birmingham would be replaced by the Oak Stump Game between Kimball and Dondero.

A rivalry was born and dividing lines had been drawn, but in '55, Royal Oak was still a one-school town. From the '55 Royal Oak roster that night was one Darrell Harper, a gifted, fleet-footed halfback who was an consensus All-South Oakland County pick. Harper would go on to be a starter at the University of Michigan and earn three varsity football letters, first under Coach Bennie Oosterbaan and then Chalmers 'Bump' Elliott. Harper played with Michigan greats Ron Kramer and Don Dufek, and was followed to Michigan by Kimball's Wally & John Gabler, Dick Ries and Craig Kirby. Harper later became the head coach for the Chargers of Southfield Lathrup High.

Royal Oak was coached in '55 by Jim Manilla, who won the last five Birmingham - Royal Oak Turkey Day games by a combined count of 105-26. Manilla hung up his whistle & knickers following the '56 campaign to accept the district's athletic director post. His first order of business was appointing two varsity football coaches. Ivy Loftin took of the reins at Dondero, going 151-79-8 in 27 seasons. Prentice 'Pin' Ryan was awarded the job at Kimball, going 48-16-5 in eight seasons. Manilla tabbed Paul Temerian to replace Ryan at Kimball in '65 and Temerian went 131-39-1. Loftin and Temerian, assistants under Manilla in Royal Oak High in '55, retired in 1983, when they were part of the inaugural class of inductees of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall Of Fame.

The three coaches (Loftin, Ryan, Temerian) combined to win 26 league titles and earned 12 appearances in the season-ending Associated Press Top 10 poll, but it would be an unheralded halfback and assistant coach who would make the most significant mark in Michigan's sports annals from the Monroe - Royal Oak game on October 14, 1955.

Herb Deromedi.

An Acorn in '55, Deromedi was playing his senior season behind Harper and halfback Ralph Forbes during an 7-2 campaign. Deromedi would accompany Harper to Michigan as a common student, roommates for each other's freshman year. As a U-M senior, Deromedi earned a position under Jack Stovall at Ann Arbor's University High. He followed that with a stint at Bryon High.

In 1964 Deromedi returned to his Royal Oak roots at Kimball as assistant to Ryan with Temerian, who had coached Deromedi in '55 in the same role. After a 7-1-1 mark in '64 that landed Kimball a league title and the AP's 10th spot, Kimball marched to a 9-0 showing in '65, Temerian's first as head coach, and was rewarded with another league title and the state's 4th-place ranking in the AP poll. Deromedi and sister, Sue, then a Kimball cheerleader, are pictured here after Kimball pasted Dondero 33-0 at Kimball Stadium.

Opening with two consecutive losses in '66, Kimball's Knights rallied to a 6-2-1 mark in winning the Southeastern Michigan Association (SMA) crown. That season Deromedi helped Kimball thwart his former school, Dondero, from winning the state championship by tying the No. 1 Oaks (8-0-1 in '66 / 5th AP) in front of 10,000 fans at Cass Field. The '66 game was perhaps the most memorable game of the series. After a potential winning score by Dondero had been called back thanks to an assisting the runner call, Kimball raced to Dondero's eight-yard line when the referee's gun sounded the end of the 14-14 thriller.

The same gunshot that ended Dondero's dream also ended Deromedi's high school coaching career. Roy Kramer, who had spent a night in Grand Rapids at a coaches' clinic talking football and diagramming plays on a blackboard with the young Kimball assistant that summer, was named head football coach at Central Michigan University in 1967. The first person he called to join him was Deromedi. No one knew it then but the young man, who had played behind Harper and Forbes, who never played a down of college football, had earned the break in a career that would lead to making him the dean of the Mid-American Conference (MAC), a conference that arguably owns the best lineage of legendary college football coaches.

After 10 years as faithful assistant, Deromedi was named head coached when Kramer moved on Vanderbilt University as athletic director. Deromedi won three MAC titles and lead the Chippewas to back-to-back victories over Michigan State in 1990 and 1991, the only losses the Spartans have ever suffered in MAC tilts.

Deromedi's Chippewas were an amazing 25-4-1 versus in-state rivals Eastern and Western Michigan. His 110-55-10 record, including 110 wins overall and 90 wins in the competitive MAC are bests for any MAC coach in both categories. The legendary coach followed Monroe's Dick Waters and Royal Oak's Jim Manilla and Pin Ryan when he hung up his whistle and clipboard for CMU's athletic director's post in 1994. Deromedi retired from CMU in 2006 and was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame in 2007 in South Bend, Indiana.

One high school football game between the city high schools of two towns separated by 61 miles. Monroe, almost exclusively rural compared to today and removed from the big city like TV's Mayberry was removed from the real world. Royal Oak, emerging as a suburban nesting spot, with top-down cruisers and car hop service at restaurants and filling stations. Mt. Pleasant, still 20 years from Division-I football, then a sleepy, suitcase college for teachers.

The Monroe - Royal Oak game was played among hundreds of others locally and thousands nationally, but October 14, 1955 produced emerging story lines and leaders who created memories in three separate Michigan communities to last for generations to come.

(Picture courtesy 1965 Royal Oak Kimball High School Lancer yearbook)

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

53 Years Later, A Rivalry Revealed, Part II

Author's Note: This is the second part of a two-part series on the stories behind the names of the men who played in the Monroe - Royal Oak high school football game on October 14th, 1955, won by Royal Oak's Acorns 34-6. A newly-added 'bonus' to the series comes out Saturday morning!

MONROE -- Few, if any four-page game programs at all, from the high school SockHop era come with as many decorated story lines as Monroe's encounter with the visiting Royal Oak High Acorns in October of 1955. Certainly few games as one-sided as this one contain as many colorful characters on both sides of the gridiron. Monroe's sideline is filled with homespun stories of favorite sons, hometown coaches and one Eugene 'Red' Davis, a man so revered in Monroe his memory eternally fills the hearts of so many Trojan faithful. Royal Oak, by contrast, is a tale of established leaders, a lineage of sweet fruit from the wide-branched tree of success. They young men and boys that played under them went on to be the foundation of one town's success and one college's rise to prominence.

The only player to score for Monroe that night? Richard 'Bud' Jeric, No. 46, who ran in from four yards out after Royal Oak fumbled and Monroe recovered at the Acorn 32-yard line. It took 10 plays for the Trojans to score in the 3rd quarter, already trailing 21-0. Jeric went on to play at Western Michigan University and would return in the late 1960s to become Monroe's varsity football coach. One of his players was a young man named John Ray, now better known as Dr. John F. Ray, Monroe Athletic Director. Also playing for Monroe that night was Ron Gruber, No. 48, who's family owned Gruber Grocery Store, later sold to Food Towne Stores. Harry Herkimer, No. 50, was a tackle in '55 and now owns Herkimer Radio, a store specializing in two-way and short cell equipment.

Monroe's Athletic Director in '55 was Dick Waters, also the Monroe varsity track coach, for whom the Dick Waters Relays are named for. Monroe also named the school's pool for Waters, who ironically, couldn't swim. Head coach for the Trojans in '55 was Cleo Winchell, who was also a high school math teacher. It would be safe to assume Winchell enjoyed X's and O's no matter if they were of the algebraic or off-tackle variety, before and after the day's final school bell. Winchell passed away in the final days of 2007. Paul Wilder was also an assistant football coach and served as the school's baseball coach for many years later on, including when Ray played for the Trojans. Wilder passed away five years ago.

And then there was Eugene 'Red' Davis, listed as an assistant coach in the '55 program but clearly a man who was an icon in the Monroe athletic annuls for many years after his coaching days ended. Ole' Red Davis enjoyed a pipe from time to time, and was never at a loss for a few feet of homespun yarn. When he wasn't on the gridiron, he was the Trojan varsity baseball coach and served as the school's athletic director for many years, including the years Ray attended Monroe, from 1967-1970.

Ray recalls the Grosse Pointe football game of 1954, when Monroe traveled up to what is now Grosse Pointe South and came up on the short end of a hard-fought 12-7 decision. After the game, the Grosse Pointe students decided it was time to mix it up with the downtrodden visitors from Monroe, until Red Davis entered the fray. "He came up on this ruckus and said, 'Now listen here, I can't take all ya' on at once, but I'll take on every one of ya' one at a time -- now who wants to go first?' That was the end of that right then and there," Ray recalls with a chuckle.

One of the players Davis coached on his baseball teams was Dean Duffey, who in '55 was voted Monroe's Most Valuable Player in that spring campaign. Exactly 50 years later, Duffey's son, Dustin, would follow in his father's footsteps, earning the honor of Monroe's Most Valuable Player.

Monroe is all about its' favorite sons, but like any school, there are those who have left Monroe to fill other positions at other schools. One such name that comes to mind is Charlie Jestice, a native son of Oklahoma and Monroe assistant coach, who applied for the head coaching position but didn't get it. John Ray offered his opinion: "Maybe it was his country-western drawl that some had trouble understanding, but he left Monroe and took the job at Dearborn Fordson and hated Monroe for the rest of his life," Ray told me today. "I do know he was inducted in an Oklahoma Hall-Of-Fame recently that he and (former Fordson head coach) Jeff Stergalas attended together." Obviously the seeds of the Fordson-Monroe rivalry have been well-planted over the years. When Monroe's football job opened this past fall, it was rumored Stergalas could become Monroe's new leader, which would have stoked the game's flame even more.

One man who left the Trojan fold from the '55 Royal Oak - Monroe game was Trojan assistant football coach Vince Sigren. Two years after the Acorns thumped Monroe in '55, Sigren was named varsity basketball coach at the newly-opened Royal Oak Kimball, stocked with half of the players that had been Acorns two years earlier. Sigren would hold the Kimball post for seven years, going 40-71 with a district title in 1961 before ceding control of Kimball to Dave Gunther before the start of the 1964-65 season.

One of Sigren's players in the 1959-60 campaign? A junior named John Scott Cameron, who also played for Prentice 'Pin' Ryan in football.

The author knows Cameron by a different name: Dad.

BONUS: Check back in two days for the Royal Oak side of the story, including how two assistant coaches became bitter rivals and how the last man standing became a Central Michigan University legend.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

53 Years Later, A Rivalry Revealed, Part I

Author's Note: This is the first of a two-part story of a football program, the game it featured and the season of 1955 for several metro Detroit schools. The 'golden age' of high school football was the period that stretched post-World War II into the late 1960's.
MONROE -- If you noticed the dateline, you already know Oakland County's prep sports scene these days has few ties to Monroe, Michigan, but that wasn't always the case. And as it relates to high school football, the 1955 game between the host Monroe Trojans and the Acorns of Royal Oak High played on October 14th reveals the story of rivalries since lost and a platform for so much Michigan sports history.
Why the Royal Oak - Monroe game of 1955? I came across an eBay listing for the program featured here. I bid on and won the program's auction and decided this would be a fun, internal fact-finding mission. What I discovered was a significant piece of local and statewide history, hidden neatly in a garden variety, four-page, high school hopsock-era program.
The victory on this night went to Royal Oak's Acorns by a 34-6 count. The win put Royal Oak in a three-way tie for second place in the now-defunct Border Cities League (BCL) with Grosse Pointe High and Wyandotte, thanks to Wyandotte's 17-0 blanking of the Pointers. That left the Tractors of Dearborn Fordson High atop the BCL, a league former Royal Oak resident and Detroit Tiger broadcaster Paul Carey called, "the toughest league in the state, hands down", in a recent 2008 interview. Royal Oak got a pair of touchdowns each from halfback Ralph Forbes and tailback Darrell Harper. Oakland County residents will recall that Harper went on to star at the University of Michigan and would return to south Oakland County as head coach of Southfield Lathrup's gridders. Harper passed away late in 2007.
Also of note is Royal Oak's No. 29, Herb Deromedi, who played but wasn't mentioned in the game's recap found in Royal Oak's Daily Tribune. Royal Oak's Jerry Snider netted Royal Oak's last score, a 37-yard touchdown. Monroe tailback Richard 'Bud' Jeric notched Monroe's lone tally. Joe Vestrand also earned praise for Royal Oak.
The Tractors would best Royal Oak for the BCL title in '55 with an 8-1 slate, one game better than the Acorns' 7-2 ledger. Fordson earned a No. 8 ranking in the Associated Press season-ending state poll. Birmingham High, now renamed Seaholm High, took the state's No. 5 spot with an 8-1 mark, including a perfect 5-0 as champions of the Eastern Michigan League (EML). Ann Arbor High was the top-ranked team in the AP poll with an 8-0 record. Lincoln Park's Railsplitters earned the state's No. 9 slot to round out teams from the metropolitan Detroit area in '55.
Royal Oak was a perfect 4-0 in '55 against their Oakland County counterparts. The Acorns ran around Hazel Park's Vikings 25-7, blanked Ferndale's Eagles 20-0 and earned a 26-2 decision over the Chiefs of Pontiac High at Wisner Stadium. Finally, in their annual Turkey Day game, Royal Oak survived a gritty showing by the then-undefeated Birmingham High Maples in the last Thanksgiving Day affair played at Maple Field, 27-20. Birmingham was coached by Vince Secontine, whose son Marc operates The Varsity Shop, a downtown Birmingham staple and the source of letter jackets for scores of Oakland County youth. The Varsity Shop also houses the old Royal Oak - Birmingham Game trophy, a red, white and blue-painted jug.
Royal Oak's '55 showing was part of a five-year span from 1952-56 that saw Royal Oak go 35-9-1, claiming a share of the BCL title in both '53 and '54. The contests of 1955, as recorded by The Daily Tribune, revealed the school's future name as the paper began referencing Royal Oak High as Dondero before the school was re-christened in the name of Royal Oak Congressman George A. Dondero in September of 1957. That fall the Acorns would become the Oaks and gain a bitter crosstown rival, a school christened for the Knights of Royal Oak Kimball, named for former Royal Oak school board president Clarence M. Kimball. The famed Royal Oak home at 1705 Greenleaf Drive is still referenced in the city's municipal building as The Kimball House.
The BCL champion Tractors completed a rivalry hat trick in '55 by virtue of their 19-0 win over Monroe, a 21-0 blanking of neighboring Dearborn High and a 42-6 pasting of Dearborn Edsel Ford, the inaugural year of varsity competition for the Thunderbirds.
Monroe, by contrast, was suffering through one of it's worst spans of football in their long history. From 1954-1958, the Trojans went 9-29-1. Royal Oak defeated Monroe consecutively from 1953-1956. Monroe's lone victory from the '55 campaign was a 7-o win over the Adrian High Maples, a rivalry that dates back to 1896, easily making the game one of the longest-running feuds in the entire state. To date, Monroe's rivalry with Adrian has been played 106 times, with Adrian holding a narrow 51-49-6 margin through 2007.
Part II: A look at the many participants from the 1955 Royal Oak - Monroe football game and how the players and coaches from a single HS football game went on to play pivotal roles in Michigan's local and statewide sports scene for years to come.
~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's A Matter Of Who, Not When In Oakland County

As the high school baseball season winds down in Oakland County, the question is which teams will emerge to challenge for the state crown in June.

Obviously, Lake Orion has more than defended their state championship of 2007. The Division-I champion is leading the OAA's toughest division. The Dragons have handled challenges from a highly-regarded group of Ravens from Royal Oak High, the young Colts of Troy and their arch rivals, the Wolves of Clarkston. The Dragons are probably best suited for the playoff format, with depth, talented players that benefited from last season's championship experience and therefore, probably face the least chance of upset in the district.

Northville and Novi's Detroit Catholic Central staged a hard-fought district battle last season. In 2007 Novi was down, but the Wildcats are up this season and with Northville still offering a strong squad, the two rivals seem primed for another playoff battle. Add the always tough Shamrocks from CC, who compete in the rugged Central Division of the Catholic High School League, the Novi-Northville entries from the public and private sectors could stage some playoff drama.

In south Oakland County, Coach Bob Riker and Birmingham Brother Rice are firing on all cylinders. Rice was defeated by West Bloomfield in last season's suspended district final, where the Lakers and Warriors resumed play after a rain delay and West Bloomfield upset the Warriors three days later. That West Bloomfield team went on an impressive march towards Battle Creek before bowing in the quarterfinals. While a repeat of West Bloomfield's '07 success might be asking a lot, few figured the Lakers to be within a game of the championship rounds in '07, so who's to say it couldn't be done again?

To the south of Rice, Coach Brian Gordon's Royal Oak Ravens are again a fundamentally-strong team, a crossover from the Kimball teams Gordon coached after assuming the reins from former coach Frank Clouser. If there's a close game that comes down to execution and fundamental strategy, Royal Oak will be a tough out. Below Royal oak is Madison Heights Lamphere, who earned a a Top 10 ranking in the state's coaches poll to end April.

Rounding out the entries to consider are White Lake Lakeland, lurking quietly in the shadows of a final Kensington Valley Conference season but loaded with talent prime for a tournament run. The Walled Lake schools are not to be taken lightly and of course, there's the private schools like Royal Oak Shrine and Orchard lake St. Mary's, quiet of late but always dangerous after the tougher Catholic League battles.

Of course, baseball and basketball tournaments lend themselves to natural, annual rivalries, because unlike football, every school makes the state tournament and anything can happen when two schools familiar after many years re-engage a battle that plays itself out in many different sports.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Game Four Remains The Toughest Officiating Assignment

Any official worth the stitches in their britches will tell you what they think is the toughest assignment in the officiating circles they work within. Having worked football, basketball and baseball, I think it's Game Four behind the plate of a collegiate conference weekend.

It's the toughest game of the weekend with the least resources available. The teams are tired. The coaches are tired and the umpires are tired. Both teams are down to their fourth or fifth best pitcher at the start of the day and it's the game no one can afford to lose. One team is down 3-0 or 2-1, making Game Four a must-win situation for the team trailing the series. The difference in splitting a four-game series or losing three of four is huge, just as salvaging one of four as opposed to being broomed is a huge swing.

In high school baseball, schools play what I think is an archaic, backward rotation of games in terms of importance. High school teams play their more important league games during the weekday and leave the weekend for non-league doubleheaders and tournaments. Often times issues like weather, drive-time traffic and school-related conflicts interfere with the league game played mid-week.

Unlike football or basketball, where the speed and emotion of each play is like a wave crashing upon the shore over and over, baseball is more akin to a slow, simmering pot, one that you're never really sure if or when it's ready to boil over and flip it's collective lid.

This past weekend Oakland University hosted Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne (IP-FW) in a Summit League conference series. Save for one inning, a frame resumed after a 30-minute rain delay where Oakland blew a close game apart, each school played each inning of the four games with no more than a two-run difference and most of the time the difference was one run or tied. Oakland took three of four but IP-FW could have just as easily split of taken three of the games. The game Oakland dropped was a 2-1 decision in the nine-inning opener Saturday afternoon.

When I first entered umpiring, I can honestly say I didn't have a strong appreciation for just how great it is when you can work a weekend series or a mid-week doubleheader without anything or anyone going sideways or ballistic. It's taken some trial, error and a healthy does of failure to acquire the appreciation I have for being able to walk off the field without feeling like you've stepped through a mine field.

As an official, one of the worst things you can do is look to make a call that is borderline just to prove you can make a tough call. There's plenty of opportunity to make tough calls without trying to cut a piece of hair in half just to prove you're that good. It's the many games that allow you to walk off the field with little or no incident that make you thankful for the handful of times you have to jump onstage and make a call that doesn't get questioned, scrutinized or ridiculed for no other reason than it wasn't a popular decision.

This season, more than any I can remember in a long time, there hasn't been a lot of discussion about this ruling or that decision, which is nice. It means either the games have long been decided or that the teams in the area of metro Detroit and the Great Lakes as a whole, both at the collegiate and prep level, are taking care of their own business by making plays instead of needing an umpire's call.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Oakland County Baseball Needs OU

This weekend I get an up-close look at the destination of many an Oakland County prep student, Rochester's Oakland University. The Golden Grizzlies welcome Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IP-FW) for a four-game set this weekend.

The neat, professional-looking campus is a reflection of the county footprint it's nestled within. The tony stores and quaint retail districts of Rochester and neighboring Rochester Hills, plus the manicured lawns and jaw-dropping residential communities that surround Oakland University are unique to just about any collegiate campus in the state. In short, there's no 'student ghetto' at OU. In fact, I've yet to see a fraternity or sorority house on or near the campus, although I do see the letters BMW, SAAB, and H3 quite a bit. I'm fairly certain nearly any college student would take that over what a beer-stained frat house could offer.

Yesterday's first game was rained-out, meaning four games will be played in the next 31 hours, starting with today's first pitch at 12:00 p.m. Oakland's varsity field has long been known to be a liability to just about every coaching staff the school has empowered since the days the school was better known as the Pioneers and was a Division-II powerhouse in many sports. Per usual, the weekend will be played with fingers crossed and eyes wandering to the sky, hoping prayers for no more rain will be answered.

It shouldn't be like this. I know Michigan is in the midst of a one-state depression and even mighty Oakland County feels the pain. That doesn't mean progress can grind to a halt, too. In my near-10 years within college baseball, I've watched three different head coaches struggle to recruit the best talent available in Oakland County to OU because of facility offerings. Nate Recknagel was a freshman team All-American at OU; He's at the University of Michigan now. This week he had a single, double and home run for the Wolverines in a mid-week victory over Western Michigan. Several county student-athletes like Recknagel have chosen schools like Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Central Michigan because of facilities.

Players don't chose the aforementioned schools over Oakland because of academics. OU's got tremendous offerings in the undergraduate programs it features. Three years ago the University of Detroit canned their baseball program, giving Oakland a better pool of players to pick from against the other five Division-I schools in the state.

Oakland needs a new facility, a legitimate facility, if they expect to compete for any of the county's best baseball players. Oakland County is chock full of collegiate-quality baseball players. Look at the most recent statewide poll from the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association, at, dated 4/30/08. Four of the top 10 teams in the Division-I poll pull their players from Oakland County, including top-ranked and defending state champion Lake Orion, also ranked No. 26 of the top 50 teams in this week's nationwide poll at The state's No. 10 team in Division II is Madison Heights Lamphere.

Times are tough -- I get that. College baseball is not a revenue-producing sport in this part of the country for any school, that is also fact. I don't pretend to have all the answers and the truth is, the answers are hard to come by. None of what I'm saying is news to the leaders at Oakland University and I'll be the first to admit I'm not going to be the one the writes the check to solve the problem. But as an Oakland County resident, I can also say that OU is a jewel in the rough, tucked away behind the glam and glitz of a well-to-do county. The school could be a regional, collegiate powerhouse at the Division-I level.

Oakland has a tremendous swimming facility and a perfect basketball facility, one that helped Coach Greg Kampe's Grizzlies to a win over the University of Michigan a few years back. Oakland's won conference championships and NCAA invites in other sports, proving it can be done.

Here's to hoping there's a way to create a better opportunity for the county's best players to stay at home and play college baseball at OU.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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