Saturday, August 30, 2008

HS Sports Can Lead To Awards For The Right Reasons

Among a few thousand fans at Eastern Michigan University's Rynearson Stadium, the Lions of South Lyon High School outran the Vikings of Walled Lake Central High by a 20-9 count in the first of four games that began at 11 a.m. yesterday as part of the Big Day Prep Showdown IV presented by Comcast Television.

But if you're truly counting winners, eight players stood out from the rest.

The big winners were the two recipients of a $500 scholarship presented in each of the four games by the Detroit Metro Sports Commission (DMSC). Eight players representing the eight participating schools earned a scholarship award. Representing Oakland County was Walled Lake Central's Cory Davis and South Lyon's Joesph Powell, and later in the day, Lake Orion's Aaron Gill was announced as the Dragons' scholarship recipient like Davis and Powell had been during halftime of their game.

DMSC Chairman Robert Porcher, a former Detroit Lion who ruled the defensive line for several seasons wearing the Honolulu Blue and Silver, said "The vision for the event is to celebrate not only football, but to acknowledge the tremendous academic and civic accomplishments of students from the participating schools who excel in their own pursuits."

It's likely most of the athletes playing or cheering on Rynearson's floor in yesterday's four games at EMU will never cheer or play football past high school. Of the lucky few to participate in college, maybe one player will ever have more than a pipe dream of playing in the National Football League (NFL) like Porcher did. So the DMSC, with the statistical knowledge of these chances at pro stardom, gave the schools participating in yesterday's games complete autonomy to pick the winner, and encouraged the schools to use a formula of civic responsibility, school pride and academic achievement and need to determine a winner.

In short, it was about who represents Lake Orion, South Lyon and Walled Lake Central the best that mattered most, not who had the most tackles, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash or who could throw the tightest spiral. Who wore the school colors with the most pride and dignity? Who helped improve their community? Who could combine the words 'student' with 'athlete' with the most proficiency?

In Oakland County, some of our area school's athletic departments can look like a beachfront, with each wave of kids looking like a never-ending crash of water, one after another, one class of kids after another, year after year. The names, records and sports start can easily start to meld together in a blur.

It's really all about providing opportunity to the entire student body, and taking time to recognize the outstanding contributions of the student-athletes that strive to embody the true ideals within the term 'student-athlete' is, in my humble opinion, one of the very best parts of school sports.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, now available at all major retailers

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wednesday Writings About Refereeing: Part I

Note: This is the first installment of a Wednesday-only series I'll run this fall. I'll publish an op-ed as it relates to refereeing within the high school and collegiate footprint from the Great Lakes.


The need for impartial game officials was born on the first road trip a team ever made to an opponent’s field or facility that featured a crucial call going against the visitors. Inevitably, the visitors returned home with a resolve to not let that happen to them at their own facility, and the evolution of the term “homer official” was born. When was this? College football started at Rutgers in 1869. Professional baseball traces back to the 1850s in upstate New York. As broadcasting Hall-Of-Famer Ernie Harwell recalls, "Back then, they just grabbed a regular ole' guy out of the stands to umpire, so you can see what they thought of umpires then (laughing)."

The perception that coaches despise us when we’re perceived to be wrong holds some truth, but that's a false truth, too. Many a night a coach has told me our crew did what we needed to do, and a healthy portion of those statements come from the coach that the call went against. When the emotion of the game has dissipated, it’s not uncommon for a coach to admit the call was right or the officials handled the night’s business correctly and professionally. In fact, it’s the very rare night a coach goes sideways and ballistic over a particular call or the efforts of one or all officials. Most nights, at all levels of officiating in America, end rather conspicuously.

The officiating industry, to that end, is much like the airport: Not much thought or consideration is put towards it...until something goes wrong.

That wrong usually includes an official’s decision that had an immediate effect on the outcome of a game -- an official’s worst nightmare. It’s usually here that the statements of mistrust, new training, new officials, new everything and an overhaul of the way government governs itself is usually mandated from the players and coaches inside an angry locker room. These statements are sometimes gobbled up by an eager corps of press, who rush back with quotes and sound bites of the disdain to help describe the night’s outcome.

However, most coaches admit that officials get it right the great majority of the time, and if they're correct, what’s the problem with officiating as is? Today, technology, expectations and money are driving a new level of perfection. Television is no longer reserved for major college football, and replay slows the game to a frame-by-frame crawl in the pursuit of getting the call right. Combine this with the demand at every college to win the league title and play in the Rose Bowl with the insatiable taste of money generated by a well-to-do bowl appearance and you've got the collegiate football scene in a fishbowl.

The 2006 major college football season provided an excellent example of this. Today, the Big Ten assignments are doled out on a month-by-month basis because of what happened after the entire schedule was culled and distributed in the spring prior to that season.

The officials assigned to the '06 Ohio State - Michigan game were assigned based on merit, not addresses. Halfway through the '06 season, the 800-pound elephant in the room was the potential of an undefeated Michigan going down to Columbus to play undefeated OSU. Michigan started the season No. 14; Ohio State was the preseason No. 1. After Michigan defeated Penn State, it was obvious the Wolverines were going to earn the No. 2 spot in the rankings and march into The Game by defeating Iowa, Northwestern, Ball State and Indiana before the annual, season-ending clash with the Buckeyes.

While the Wolverines were grinding their teeth effectively on their opponents, Ohio State was ripping theirs in pieces. Whereas the Wolverines defeated Northwestern 17-3, Ohio State annihilated the Wildcats 44-0. Michigan handled rival Michigan State 31-13 at Michigan Stadium; Ohio State mauled the Spartans 38-7 in Spartan Stadium. The Buckeyes had defeated Michigan in three of the past four games but this was being billed as the new “Game Of The Century”, and the Big Ten acted accordingly.

Treating the game as a Bowl game, the league replaced any officials on the game with any significant ties to either state. That meant some officials, having been assigned to “The Game Of The Century” before it ever was titled as such, lost the prestigious assignment without so much as having made a wrong step, much less a wrong call.

That’s the climate of officiating today. While the referee isn't wrong first, the public at large is looking more actively for those 'wrongs'. In college football, the officials have one decided advantage over every other official in American sports in that regard: Every play is replayed. Although they’re at the mercy of someone in the booth to determine if their call is correct or needs to be overturned, at least there’s the possibility of walking off the field without being wrong when something major happens. That’s not the case in baseball, basketball or hockey. Baseball, in fact, after stating unequivocally that replay will not be a part of it’s umpiring tools anytime soon, now claims video appeal will soon be instituted before the season is over.

Therefore, officiating has become much easier, right...or is it? It's easier as long as you embrace the following edicts: Be right but never be wrong. Be damned if you’re wrong when you should have been right, especially if video says so. Yet it's the truthful official who knows the training, requirements, rules study and access to video of games worked have increased dramatically. It’s much easier to get better and embrace the new mechanics and ideals of officiating.

So know you know a thing or two about being an official -- feel like putting on the stripes and making a call or two?

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Is Kilpatrick So Shameless? It's Never His Fault

I never thought I'd say this, but Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is a visionary. He's carved out a new niche for himself and others to surely follow him within American politics and combined it with America's obsession for reality-based entertainment.

America's Most Shameless Victim. Catchy, huh? Is that the phone ringing? I'll bet it's representatives from FOX -- I want royalties. Even Kilpatrick's former lawyer, James Parkman III, hinted we could see the proceedings at Comerica Park or Ford Field.

The thought struck me today as I looked at Kilpatrick, the man never at a loss for words, never to miss an opportunity to spin everyone's venom and disgust at his behavior as 'them against me', standing mute as he was arraigned on felony assault and obstruction charges today. Today, for maybe the first time ever, it was a judge obligated by constitutional law and not Kilpatrick's free will responsibile for the "not guilty" plea on Kilpatrick's behalf. The brightest star to come out of Detroit since Chris Webber, Kilpatrick is the law school grad, the accomplished lawyer, legislator and elected politician who cannot even speak on his own behalf any longer.

So I pose this question: Why is it never Kwame Kilpatrick's fault? To believe Kilpatrick is to believe everyone is out to get him. The term everyone encapsulates a lot of people. It includes the residents of the city, the police and firefighters he empowers, the millions of suburbanites that surround him and the ultimate bad man, that damned media! Kilpatrick's math means more than six million people are against just one man. That's all the people in Lincoln Park and Garden City, from Grosse Pointe to Gibralter. Royal Oak, Rochester and Romeo, too. Woodhaven, Warren and Wixom to boot, plus a couple hundred other communities I omited from that list.

Now I'll be the first to admit I'm not the most popular referee in town, but even I don't have six million people trying to run me out of town. Hell, even my wife isn't trying to get rid of me right now...but be patient and give it time.

To believe Kilpatrick is to believe while so many Detroiters are scuffling to keep their houses, jobs and food on the plate of their family's table, they also find the time to participate in 'Get Kwame'. When asked to respond nearly a year ago, Kilpatrick said 'everyone is out to get me!' When that didn't work, Kilpatrick said, 'it's racism!' When it's wasn't that, it was the media's fault. Of late the rally has been 'this is all political!'

Yet when the text messages, testimony and truth said otherwise, Kilpatrick hired 15-20 of the priciest lawyers he could find and paid them to say 'it wasn't our client, Your Honor, honest'. What's the old joke about what happens when a lawyer says he's being honest?

If it wasn't Kilpatrick and Christine Beatty talking about sexual trysts, ruining the lives of honest police officers and hiding facts from the people they report to, who was it? If he did no wrong, saw no wrong and spoke no wrong, why does he need an army of lawyers to say it for him?

Maybe now we know why Kilpatrick no longer has anything to say in his own defense. It's the non-response that speaks loud and clear today.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You're Invited To The Party! Rivalry Football Book Nears Kickoff

It's my humble honor and pleasure to extend an invitation to prep football fans everywhere in metropolitan Detroit to a number of interactive shows and signings as Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries rolls out next Monday!


August 25, 7:00pm: South Lyon HS Kickoff Dinner, Papa E'z Pasta & Pizza Kitchen. The Lions of South Lyon HS fire up for their opening game of the season of the '08 season with Walled Lake Central's Vikings. Papa E'z is on Pontiac Trail in South Lyon. Call 248-446-8228 for tickets. Purchase & signing donations to the South Lyon football boosters.

August 29, All-Day: Big Day Prep Showdown, Eastern Michigan University's Rynearson Stadium. The premiere prep football event in greater Detroit, featuring local teams from South Lyon, Walled Lake Central, Detroit Martin Luther King and Lake Orion. Tickets available at 313-202-1982 or Rynearson box office on game day. Purchase & signing donations to Eastern Michigan University's Sports Information Department.

September 3, 7:00pm: Royal Oak Public Library. Signing and interactive slide show and Q&A with former Royal Oak Kimball/Royal Oak High School head coach Terry Powers! Celebrate Royal Oak's Thanksgiving Day battles, The Little Brown Jug, The Oak Stump and the battles within the Border Cities, EML, MSAA and SMA! Call 248-246-3700 to register as requested. Purchase & signing donations to Royal Oak Public Library.

September 11, 6:00pm: Bargain Books of Farmington, Michigan. Join us with Bearclaw Coffee and a surprise visit from a local head coach for a signing. RSVP Bargain Books at 248-426-0572. Purchase & signing donations to be determined.

September 15, 7:00pm: Ferndale Public Library. Interactive slide show and signing celebrates the Hazel Park-Ferndale rivalry, to be renewed for the 79th edition on October 24th! Call 248-546-2504 to register as requested. Purchase & signing donations to Ferndale Public Library.

October 23, 6pm: Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Bloomfield Hills. Join me at the Telegraph Road location for a look at the upcoming playoff games and the traditional rivalry day, Week Number Nine of this year's high school season. Call 248-540-4209 to reach the store directly. Purchase & signing donations to be determined.

October 25, All-Day: The Oak Bowl at Royal Oak's Memorial Park. Join me with the Royal Oak Chiefs and Royal Oak Chargers as Royal Oak's battle for the city's Little League football championship is decided on the field in four fabulous games. Purchase & signing donations to the Chiefs and Chargers youth football programs.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Searn's Super 32 Prep Fans For Exciting Season

It wasn't that long ago, in a land far, far away, before the Internet was available to the masses, that prep football news came from just a few sources. It was a place called metro Detroit in the year 1994 AD. Way back then, in the days of land lines and shopping malls, the only prep football fodder came from the Detroit dailies, the local paper, or the barber shops and diners where the coaches, boosters or parents mingled.

We've come a long way. Today there's sources beyond the wildest imagination to get your motor running for the upcoming prep football season. Fans sites, blogs, team sites and independent rankings.

One of the best prep football sites on the Internet among many is Searn's Football Site, home of Searn's Super 32 Rankings. The metro area is well-represented in the preseason-season poll, with 16 of the 32 slots occupied by schools from the metro area. Additionally, of the 26 schools listed in the site's Honorable Mention, eight hail from the metro. That's 24 of the 48 schools worthy of note in the preseason are from the Tri-county Detroit area. If you're a football fan, how could you not be ready for football season to start?

Counting the honorable mentions, the breakdown by conference is impressive. The Oakland Activities Association (OAA) leads the way with six schools ranked within Searn's site. The Kensington Lakes Activities Association (KLAA), Catholic High School League (CHSL) and MEGA each earned four rankings, followed by the Macomb Area Conference (MAC) with three and the Detroit Public School League with two. Detroit Country Day, an independent, earned an honorable mention nod to round out the 24 ranked schools. The county breakdown is as follows: Oakland County schools received 12 nominations, Wayne County took eight slots and Macomb county schools earned four rankings.

Of course, there's the occasional dissenter who will bend your ear to tell you that you can't trust everything you read (thanks, Dad), that it's just prep football (OK, Mom) and there are other pressing, important things to follow. True, true and true, but who cares? Following prep football is fun, and this season football comes at a most convenient time. The Detroit Tigers have been toothless since April, easily the worst team $138 million has ever purchased in the history of professional sports. The Detroit Lions? If you have faith, you're not familiar with the last 53 seasons. For the first time in 22 seasons, the University of Michigan Wolverines weren't found in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 college football poll.

Above all else, in this downtrodden Michigan economy, is there a better sporting value that $5 to watch a high school football game?

There's always room for prep football in metro Detroit, long regarded one of America's smallest big towns. On both the Michigan and Michigan State radio pregame broadcasts, prep football gets a more than a passing mention, with scores and stories from the Friday night that preceded Saturday's major college football games.

It's important to keep things in perspective, and yes, there's other important things to keep a focused eye on, but there's no shame is getting geared up for another prep football season, either.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Time Has Come For The Paul Carey Award

Yesterday I received my monthly edition of The Scoreboard, the newsletter for the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association, and the member spotlight was none other than Paul Carey.

Besides being nicknamed 'The Voice Of God' and being recognized as Ernie Harwell's fantastic play-by-play partner for 19 seasons of Detroit Tiger baseball, Carey was a tireless advocate of prep football and basketball in the state of Michigan from his WJR studio seat. Carey hosted the Michigan High School Football & Basketball Scoreboard Show at midnight on 'JR for nearly 30 years. In an age of pre-Internet media, Carey was the only source for the lion's share of scores that mattered most to metro Detroiters until the Saturday papers came out.

It's time to recognize Paul Carey for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of prep sports in Michigan.

I'm proposing an idea to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) to create the Paul Carey Award. Presented at the association's football championships at Ford Field, the award would recognize a state media member for their contribution to covering prep sports, a deserving writer or broadcaster of high school sports in the state of Michigan. The award's recipient should be decided by a committee after culling a list of deserving nominees from the athletic directors of the state association. Yes, it would garner a little additional attention to the state football finals, but more importantly, it would bring light to the outstanding contributions of so many dedicated media members statewide that treat prep sports like most writers treat a SuperBowl.

Speaking from personal experience, I'll never forget waking up on a Saturday morning and finding a picture of myself and my Ferndale High rival on the cover, above the fold, mind you, of The Daily Tribune sports section. Royal Oak's public schools had many great athletes in the last 50 years -- trust me, I wasn't one of them -- yet there I was. It's a thrill many of us never forget and something I notice still today, how hard the local media works to bring positive attention to prep sports in their respective communities. This is one of the facets of prep sports that make me proud to still be around school sports today, and I can't think of a better namesake for such an award than Paul Carey.

Carey wore a touching yet compelling foreword for my book, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and for my money, the foreword alone is worth the price of the book, a great retrospective of Detroit prep football. Paul Carey grew up the son of a highly-respected high school football official, the referee on many a Saginaw High-Saginaw Arthur Hill Thanksgiving Day game. After a stint in the military, Carey returned to Michigan and took up the craft of radio. Because of his upbringing in and around Michigan prep sports, he developed a strong vernacular for the who and why of The Mitten's high school scene, like how to pronounce Ishpeming and Escanaba, which games were most important for schools like Muskegon and Marysville, and who were the emerging powerhouses in Detroit's rapidly-emerging suburbia like Southfield, Utica, Dearborn, Pontiac and Grosse Pointe.

After being hired by WJR, he asked permission of the station's programming director to do the scoreboard show, and WJR jumped at the idea. It was free programming and it tied the station in with every community it reached in a very passionate way. If you think high school football is big today, it was everything back then. And so it began, a programming addition inserted at the midnight hour that became the song and verse of prep football long after the marching band had played it's last note on Friday night.

It didn't take long to catch on. Carey added a basketball show on Tuesdays and Fridays of the prep basketball season, and for one season, it was sponsored by the Detroit Pistons, even though the basketball show didn't stick like football. If you were a prep sports fan like so many of us are in metro Detroit, you were up until midnight, waiting for Carey's scoreboard show at the twelve o'clock hour. Sometimes Tiger baseball ran late, pushing the Tiger postgame, WJR news report and SportsWrap back -- it didn't matter-- the football show went on, even as late as 12:45 am on one particular Friday night / Saturday morning.

I can still remember Carey reporting the Friday night scores vividly: "It was Detroit Pershing 20, Detroit Denby 16, Cass Tech defeated Cody 14-9, Detroit Martin Luther King 36, Detroit Chadsey 9..." Carey would read every Detroit Public School League score first, a clear nod the the city WJR operated within, and after the final PSL score, Carey would declare, "I'll be back with the suburban scores after this." Back from the commercial, Carey would rattle off every metro score with unfettered clarity and resonance. No one score was more important than any other, because Carey knew every score mattered to someone.

Carey worked nearly four decades at WJR, broadcast with a Hall-Of-Fame partner for 19 seasons of baseball with one of the charter franchises of the American League and was the soundtrack to the Tigers Bless You Boys' championship season of 1984. Yet as many people in metro Detroit remember Carey for the Michigan High School Football Scoreboard Show as they do for Tiger baseball, in a city that will be a baseball town above all else, no less. Even today, from his home in Florida, Carey still collects the All-State teams from the Detroit dailies and the Associated Press.

That's a great, lasting legacy if you ask me, and one that deserves to be remembered by the state's prep sports leadership.

(Photo courtesy Ernie Harwell collection)

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

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Props To The DSBA and 2008's Weekly Football Lineup, Too

This fall I'm going to be offering metro Detroit's prep football fans a breakdown of a specific rivalry game to coincide with each Friday of the season. I'll pick from a small handful of games that have long-standing implications in the communities that gear up for the annual game each year and write a feature about the game's history and some of the intricacies that the game features.

On the season's opening weekend for example, Livonia Stevenson plays Livonia Franklin, Dearborn Divine Child faces Dearborn Fordson and Hazel Park opposes Berkley. Did you know that Livonia Franklin won the state's first Class A football title and didn't return to the playoffs until last season? Were you aware that Hazel Park and Berkley played for a Little Brown Jug, the awarding of to the winner long discontinued, that currently is on display at Hazel Park's student atrium? Fordson and Divine Child is a rare, inter-city game that previous to last year was played just twice before.

That's just Week No. 1. There's the North-South War, the last year for Fordson-Monroe, The 40th Baseline Jug Game, The Boys Bowl and more! High school football in metro Detroit is loaded with great history and story lines and there's an entire season to get to it. It doesn't have to be that week's biggest game, just a game that means a lot to each school playing it. In short, a game that is as exhilarating to win as it is devastating to lose -- that's the alpha and omega of a great high school rivalry!

Thanks to the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association for highlighting my book tonight on it's website. Of course, I wouldn't be living up to my end of the bargain if I didn't mention DSBA Lifetime Honorary Member Paul Carey, the lead man for Detroit's original high school football radio show, wrote the book's foreword. For years Carey hosted the Michigan High School Football Scoreboard Show on Detroit's 50,000-watt blowtorch, WJR, AM 760.

Often on any given Friday night Carey would have to first finish the Detroit Tiger game he broadcast with Ernie Harwell from Tiger Stadium, plow through the Tiger postgame show, race back to Midtown and put together WJR's SportsWrap show at 11:15 from the 'Golden Tower' of the Fisher Building and then compile all the scores for his football show's midnight broadcast. And before you discredit this, remember, there was no, or other resource mediums. It was the barely-faster-than-molasses Associated Press wire service and more than a few phone calls to The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and the now-defunct Detroit Times, not to mention The Pontiac Press!

Finally, I've shored up some signings and will be announcing these signings later this week.

Thankfully, there's only a few more weeks until football!

~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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