Monday, September 29, 2008

Why Dearborn High's Pioneers Matter To The KLAA

During the last two weeks it's become common knowledge to prep sports fans in metro Detroit that the MEGA Conference, a Wayne County-based power conference, will disband, and many an Oakland County HS athletic director is watching -- and taking notes, too.

It's no secret that athletic budgets, compatibility and competitive balance concerns are on the hot seat in the monster-like, 20+ school athletic conferences that make up the bulk of prep sports leagues in the three-county area. What garnered a lot of attention was the news that Dearborn High was a candidate to join the Kensington Lakes Activities Association (KLAA).

Here's some aspects to consider about why Dearborn, and not Garden City, became a serious candidate for the KLAA.

Parker's A No-Go: It doesn't appear the recently-completed but yet-to-be opened Howell Parker High School will open anytime soon. In fact, it appears the Howell School District cannot open the building at all due to serious budget constraints and a possible miscalculation of population growth in the community. The fact that the district is negotiating a movie contract deal to use the school as a movie set tells you all there is to know about the possibility Parker opens anytime soon.

Garden City Enrollment: The monstrous schools in the KLAA and Garden City are a mismatch. Albeit a fine community with much to offer any league, Garden City would struggle to match up with the expanding populations in Hartland, Brighton, Lakeland, Milford and South Lyon. Dearborn is a still-teeming community with equal distribution among the three big schools, making Dearborn a better choice for a long-term membership.

Fordson - Dearborn Relations: In researching Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, I found a handful of instances when Dearborn High and Fordson didn't play a football game for many years at a time due to conflict between building/district administrators or coaches. In fact, Edsel Ford and Fordson shared the same track & field facility recently when Fordson was having renovations done to their iconic campus. A Dearborn city official told me off the record, "If anyone thinks that Fordson would have been offered to use Dearborn's track, they're delusional. The schools simply don't like one another." Dearborn Superintendent Brian Whiston had to unconditionally guarantee Fordson that the Dearborn game would be available to them before Dearborn could be allowed to seek a different league affiliation.

Royal Oak Made It Work: The two schools, Dearborn & Fordson, might not be a good fit to one another as league members. Now-closed Kimball and Dondero were in the Southeastern Michigan Association (SMA) and Metro Suburban Activities Association (MSAA) for many years and enjoyed almost 35 years of outstanding football rivalry without being in the same league, something that seems to befit Dearborn and Fordson. That was the genesis of the Oakland Activites Association (OAA), combining two leagues with competing schools from the same city in the same league, but it crushed the many local rivalries and enhancing just a chosen few. I mention Dondero because the Oaks used to a fierce Fordson rival when the Tractors and Oaks were in the old Border Cities League (BCL).

Therefore, just because geography makes more sense for Garden City to be in the KLAA, it might make the KLAA even better to have Dearborn in that league. Dearborn would make the KLAA a three-county conference and make for an outstanding cross-county game in many sports.

Former Detroit Tiger broadcaster Paul Carey told me he thought very highly of Ivy Loftin's Dondero football teams because they played Monroe, Dearborn Fordson, Wyandotte, Highland Park, Grosse Pointe HS -- a powerhouse before the North-South days -- and finally, after the rigors of the BCL, the season-ending game with crosstown Kimball. Conversely, place Dearborn in the KLAA today. They would have league games against the three Livonia schools (all playoff teams in '07), Wayne Memorial, the upstart Rockets from John Glenn and crossovers with schools like Howell, Milford, Lakeland or Novi. To top it off, the Pioneers could end the season with Dearborn Fordson.

That's a football schedule.

Edsel Ford Factor: What does concern me is the chance that Dearborn and Edsel Ford would stop playing one another -- that's not good, but in a three-school town, these kind of concerns come up quite a bit. I'm not certain there's a solution, either. On the other hand, because two of the three schools are moving to a manageable conference, this allows Edsel Ford and Fordson to play DC's Falcons a bit more in all sports.

It was great the past two seasons seeing the big crowd for the Fordson-DC football game although I'm sure the Falcons would have liked a different result. It would be my opinion that a matchup of Milford and Dearborn, or Dearborn and Catholic Central, would be of interest to prep fans, because it's the type of matchup that isn't seen much these days, thanks to the monster power conferences that have seemed to have outlived their usefulness.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, available at and other fine retailers.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

As MEGA falls, Downriver League and Northwest Suburban League Rises

The Northwest Suburban League looks like a strong candidate to come back to fruition in 2009-2010. Whether or not the schools in negotiation keep the retro moniker remains to be seen, but there's a historic union being forged and a couple rivalries to be saved by these discussions.

I've learned that Dearborn high schools Fordson and Edsel Ford would join Dearborn Heights' Annapolis, Crestwood and Robichaud along with Garden City, Redford Union and Redford Thurston in a league for the 2009-10 year. That Dearborn Heights and Dearborn could become neighbors in the same small, cozy league is quite a concept given the history of each city squabbling with the other. It's not the same as being in the MEGA, which by comparison was like 30 schools parking their respective cars in a massive shopping mall parking lot.

The high school football success this season for the neighboring public schools of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights is something not seen since the early 1990s when Tyrone Wheatley ran with All-State success for state champion Dearborn Heights Robichaud (1990) and Dearborn Fordson was building towards the 1993 Class AA championship under Jeff Stergalas, a product of the Riverview football tree of Don Lessner. Five of the six schools are enjoying some of their best football success in recent memory this year, with Edsel Ford (3-1) enjoying a significant revival and Dearborn High (3-1) and Fordson's Tractors (4-0) on a collision course for one another next week. In Dearborn Heights, Annapolis is having one of its best seasons in 25 seasons at 4-0 and Robichaud is holding their own at a very respectable 3-1. The possibility that all three Dearborn schools could qualify of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) tournament along with two of the three Dearborn Heights teams is legitimate.

Now the two neighboring districts could be housed in the same, quaint league, an idea that was eased into serious discussion when the MEGA began to crumble last year and the Downriver League was formed. The original Northwest Suburban League folded in 1992-93 when the MEGA was formed under auspicious conditions. Those blessings quickly deteriorated into a quagmire of legal wrangling and overbearing travel requirements.

The obvious question is where does this leave Dearborn High School? In the past 18 months it was made clear to all three Dearborn schools from Dearborn Superintendent Brian Whiston that no one school could leave the other two schools behind with complete autonomy. With permission of Superintendent Whiston, Dearborn High School would be allowed to pursue membership in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association (KLAA) and form a division with Livonia's Stevenson, Franklin and Churchill, Wayne Memorial and Westland John Glenn. The KLAA is in need of one more school because Howell's Parker High School never opened due to financial constraints and enrollment issues.

There's a significant caveat to this possible new league alignment: Dearborn and Fordson would continue to play an annual football rivalry game, something that was promised by Whiston as a condition to Dearborn possibly joining the KLAA. In another twist, Ypsilanti High School joining the Southeastern Conference (SEC) would open the necessary date for Monroe High School to renew their long-standing rivalry with Fordson in 2010. The two rivals won't play next season because Monroe, which already agreed to accept membership for 2009-10 in the SEC, has no date to offer Fordson with the current alignment in the SEC.

That's good news for area football fans. One casualty of the MEGA's demise is the loss of Allen Park-Fordson game, one of the more compelling contests from the past handful of seasons. That the long history of the Monroe-Fordson game and the heated Pioneer-Tractor game could be salvaged keeps a lot of tradition going forward.

This news leaves the remaining schools from the ill-advised MEGA power conference to scramble to forge a union by the end of this year in this final, lame-duck season. The most likely scenario? A revival of the old Southeastern Athletic Conference (SAC) with Belleville, Highland Park, Romulus, Inkster, River Rouge, Ecorse and Willow Run.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, available now from, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Failure Is Allowing Failure To Derail Your Dreams

Remember Hunter S. Thompson? I'm willing to bet that if you don't remember the man, you might remember the way the man ended his well-chronicled life. He killed himself by firing a single bullet into his brain nearly four years ago.

It was Shakespeare's prophecy that all men kill what they love. Hunter the writer was a talented, charismatic, thought-provoking artist. Thompson the man was a shrouded, dark figure by some accounts, capable of going places on the mental health map that are reserved for the troubled and borderline perverse. He was portrayed by several other artists, notably in film by actor Bill Murray and in satirical cartoon as 'Uncle Duke' in the popular Doonesbury created by Garry Trudeau. Thompson was reported to have told an interviewer that if he ever met Trudeau, he'd light the cartoon's creator on fire.

That's dark.

So what does Hunter S. Thompson have to do with me and more specifically, dreams and aspirations as they relate to the things you love? I love to write, much like Thompson did, although that might be the end of our similarities. I wrote a book and it was quite a ride, a lot of fun to be sure. The finished product is something I'm extremely proud of but the road to that reality was filled with some dark moments filled with doubt, angst and some thoughts that rattled even my sturdiest rails.

Today I awoke with a heart filled with resolve and renewal, and it felt like waking up as a high school athlete and finding out your picture is on the front of the paper. What recharged the spirit? I realized the last nine months taught me some valuable lessons, ones that I'd heard a million times over but never learned them in the context that I lived them in the first person over the past nine months.

Live and learn. Mistakes happen. It's not always about what happened but how you respond to what happened that defines you. If you don't love you, nobody will. They all seem so cliche and yet, there's so much truth in their statements. You hear these lessons imparted upon you as an athlete in high school and college but in the real-time pace of adulthood, they're easily forgotten. Young athletes, heed this advice: Ask, ask and ask some more. Don't rush to grow up but rather, take all the time you can to learn the lessons of those who have gone before you.

Live and learn? I submitted proposal after proposal to countless editors, agents and would-be publishers. Like most writers, I could wallpaper my basement in the rejection letters I'd collected, but like anything else, I never lost my confidence and verve. I got that elusive 'Yes'. The caller was point-blank in asking "Can you do this in 45 days?" I didn't know what I was getting into but I said yes anyway. This is what you want to do and someone's giving you a chance to do it. Go for it, right? Had I never tried, I would have never made a mistake. And I wouldn't have learned to avoid those pratfalls when I write Book No. 2.

Mistakes happen. If you know me at all, you know I check everything as a matter of religion. If the resurrection had a box score, you can bet I'd have a PDF copy of it on my desktop. When I got into college officiating nearly 10 years ago, I used to pour through box scores of games I worked that could be found on the Internet to try to gain even the slightest bit of additional information to make me a better referee or umpire. So when I found a pair of editing errors in my book that slipped past me, the publisher and everyone else, you can know I was devastated as a writer and journalist. Seriously devastated, so much so there were a few mornings it was tough to get out of bed.

Guess what? It happens. I see it happen in columns that are edited by the best and brightest on a daily basis. I know in my heart I know my material but I'm not going to play the blame game. How you respond to an unfortunate instance is what matters most. Finding out why it got missed is the most important part. Being a good teammate matters, too.

Does criticism hurt? Yep. Can I do anything about it? Nope, and I refuse to let others say a mistake defines me or my dreams. In the past five years I've lost my parents, lost my nephew to circumstances beyond my control and watched as a family self-destructed from inside out.
Yet in the same five years, I've become happily-married with an incredible woman, I've been blessed with great children, went back to journalism after not being paid to write anything in over 10 years, started a blog, got it syndicated by a major newspaper and wrote a book.

In short, I have a lot more to be thankful for than I could ever lament about.

I woke up today mindful of what I can do, where I live, who I have in my circle and the opportunities I have in front of me. I was gifted with the ability to do some great things. I can overcome obstacles of all shapes, kinds and sizes. Today I awoke with a revitalized spirit to do it.

All I have to do is keep trying.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, available now from Arcadia Publishing.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Writers, Referees Have Words In Common

The referees of the National Football League (NFL) will never be confused with literary wordsmiths, but the two entities, seemingly polar opposites, have one surprising commonality.

Word specificity.

Certainly, the aforementioned statement requires some consideration that extends more than a few city blocks away from the basic teachings of Journalism 101. However, the necessity of exacting word language is one not reserved exclusively for authors, editors and writers. It’s something referees and umpires utilize on a daily basis -- on an immediate stage -- in front of a demanding public. While some of this is staged and rehearsed several times over, like the classic drone of “Holding on the offense” (hardly prize-winning copy in anyone’s opinion), the more obscure the call and the more the play or foul impacts or changes the outcome of the game, the more intricate the required wording.

In a professional football game earlier two seasons past, a foul by the offense was committed while the clock was counting down the final seconds of the last quarter. With but eight scant seconds remaining, the home team completed a long pass to warrant a possible game-winning field goal try, but the play was flagged for illegal motion by a wideout. The crowd buzzed with anticipation as the officials huddled around the Referee, wearing the white hat. Finally, he gave the preliminary signal, a formation penalty against the offense that was booed lustily. The Referee finally stepped forward to an open patch of grass facing the press box, turned on his microphone and announced to 60,000 fans in the stadium and millions watching on television:

“Illegal motion by the offense – the receiver failed to set before the snap. The penalty is enforced from the previous spot by yardage and 2nd down is repeated. By rule, any penalty assessed against the offense in the last minute of the game with a running clock requires a 10-second runoff. The regulation four quarters of the game is now declared complete. Overtime procedures will now commence.”

That might seem like a convoluted way to say overtime, but tell that to 60,000 passionate fans paying $60 per seat, a pair of million-dollar coaches with a livelihood depending on winning and losing football games and millions watching on television. Does anyone think fans will be satisfied with, “The penalty, illegal formation against the offense. By rule, the quarter is over. Overtime.”

Not on your life.

Words like enforce, assess, declare and commence are all very active, precise words. They’re not only required, they embolden the game arbiters, forced by trade to make game-altering decisions. The articulate, exacting words also lend credence to the decisions they make without schmaltzy salesmanship.

Speaking as a collegiate and high school official, I’ve learned to be very careful in the words I choose when a delicate situation presents itself. To wit, instead of telling a coach I ejected No, 19 for fighting, I might instead tell the coach, “No. 19 has disqualified himself from tonight’s contest for fighting, and by rule, cannot sit on the bench for the remainder of the contest.” Notice the difference? I ejected the athlete in the first sentence. In the second example, the player disqualified himself. The player’s actions disqualified him, not the referee. A subtle difference that can go a long way in the immediate perception a coach forms of my ability to handle a situation.

Sports writers are long known for their usage of active verbs and colorful depictions, as well as the occasional absent-minded question, but their flair for words is slowing crossing from the press box to the sidelines. Therefore, the days when vernacular on the field matched the verbiage in the locker room, or 'jock talk', are over. Today’s major college and professional arenas are entertainment venues. People pay over-the-top fees to sit court side during National Basketball Association (NBA) games to listen to the dialog as referees defuse tempers and soothe the occasional feathered ego of multi-million dollar athletes.

Mike Pereira, the NFL’s officiating czar, tries to place his officials in situations that cultivate and play to each official's professional acumen. "I don’t teach the word script. The thing is you have to be natural. If I’m script-specific, I’m nervous and follow what everyone else says, "Pereira explained in a 2007 interview with for an article that was scuttled by Referee Magazine. "(As an official), you have to put yourself in comfortable position, because there’s a number of different people you'll have to communicate with, including coaches, players, administrators, even other officials, that an official has to communicate within many different situations."

Pereira also said something in the aforementioned interview that remains relevant today: "There are two different angles when the play takes place. The way it’s seen on the field, and the way the play is seen from on the sideline. "

Most football fans are well-versed in last weekend's call by Referee Ed Hochuli in the waning minutes of Denver's game with San Diego, won by the Broncos after a Denver fumble was incorrectly called an incompletion by Hochuli. It was the considerable communication skills of Hochuli, specifically his being forthright in the moment on the field and ultimately, his honesty about the grief he felt about his missed call that has quelled the situation as an unfortunate miss of a crucial call.

Even in failure, the specific word can paint a picture that leads toward redemption.

An official's elocution, however, has a thin line of demarcation. Say too much and risk muddling an already hotly-contested issue. Say too little and you might be seen as aloof or worse. It’s something longtime football referee Dick Honig mastered from a dual officiating career. Now retired from the field or court in the Mid-American Conference or Big Ten, Honig operates Honig’s Whistle Stop, a national, retail distribution business outfitting officials. Honig says being a wordsmith isn’t just in what you say, but how little you have to say to say it.

"Short and sweet leaves little room for repeat," Honig said in the summer of 2006 from his Ann Arbor headquarters. "It's important you make sure to answer the question - in full - without trying to say more than you have to. Often it's what is said that has nothing to do with the call or non-call that gets guys in trouble."

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and is working on a follow-up title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries!

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Skinner's Stories

Today I had the opportunity to talk with former Hazel Park and Birmingham Seaholm football coach Chuck Skinner. I was on the trail of setting up a Birmingham signing event when I caught up with Coach Skinner. It turns out he actually purchased Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries two days ago from a Barnes & Noble after a former player called to let him know he's now famous because of my book.

I'm kidding.

But seriously, Chuck Skinner, the toughest screw to ever march the sideline of Maple Field at Seaholm. The coach who went to college at Eastern Michigan University, who played football for Hurons with former Royal Oak High assistant coach and longtime Royal Oak Kimball head coach Paul Temerian. The man who is responsible for former Central Michigan University football coach Herb Deromedi being enshrined in the Collegiate Football Hall Of Fame in South Bend, Indiana.


OK, it's a stretch, and I fear that Skinner told me the story better than I'm going to tell you, but here goes. It was 1976 and Seaholm is working on it's fourth coach in eight seasons (or so it seemed) when a handful of applicants applied for the position at Seaholm. It went to Skinner, and therefore Deromedi stayed at Central Michigan University as assistant coach under Roy Kramer for the 1977 season instead of returning home to South Oakland County. Skinner turned Seaholm into the biggest league rival of Ferndale, Kimball and Hazel Park overnight. Deromedi? He was left in the dust when Kramer went to Vanderbilt University, and went on to become a Top 10 coach in the history of Division - I football for winning percentage, all because Skinner got the job at Seaholm 30 years ago.

Coach Skinner had plenty of good stories to recant, like his 1974 Vikings, the top-ranked team in the state according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) paper playoff. The '74 season was a test run for a football tournament that became official in 1975.

"I had the No. 1 ranking in '74 in the Free Press and AP until Week No. 8 of that season, when for no good reason, Birmingham Brother Rice went ahead of us. We crushed Center Line 42-0 on Friday. Rice played Madison Heights Bishop Foley the next night (Saturday). Foley had Fracassa's son at quarterback and my son playing in the backfield, so what happens? His own kid throws five picks and Rice won 35-0 to steal the state championship from us," Skinner remembers with a laugh.

Football was really important back then with huge crowds and larger-than-life memories of the games, but it wasn't a live-or-die situation, either. Today what would be the outrage if an undefeated, top-ranked team didn't win the state title, much less didn't make the playoffs? In '74 The Vikings shutout seven of their nine opponents by a 214-25 margin while Rice tallied a 270-48 point differential. Among the victims of that Hazel Park campaign was a 6-0 whitewash of Lake Orion (6-3, Oakland-A North champions), a 20-0 triumph over Royal Oak Dondero (6-3, Metro Suburban Athletic Association champion) and an 8-0 shutout of Southeastern Michigan Association rival Royal Oak Kimball (7-2 in '74, 2nd SMA).

A different era to be sure. So were the rivalries, as Skinner remembers heartily.

"Pin Ryan was the coach at Kimball in the 1960s, and he hated to lose -- you couldn't even joke about it with him," Skinner recalls. "So competitive he was, but one week, Kimball gave up 40 points (most likely Kimball's 38-27 loss to Birmingham Seaholm on September 20, 1963), which never happened to them back then. Now back then, we would swap film with our opponent from the last week, and we (Hazel Park) were getting ready to play at Kimball. I called Ryan at his house and asked, 'Is this the Kimball defensive coordinator?' He was still so mad he could barely speak.

"Well, a few years later, we're playing Dondero and we botch three punts, and the Oaks pick up all three and take them in for touchdowns -- we got walloped. The next day, sure enough, the phone rings, I pick it up and I hear, 'Is this the Hazel Park special teams coach?'

"He got me back good."

Today Skinner spends summers up north on or around the golf course and remains in Oakland County during the cold season. The stories of motivating his Maples and Vikings, the championship tilts involving Dondero, Kimball, Ferndale, Hazel Park and Seaholm remain his fondest memories.

"You know, when I was at Hazel Park, we would play Dondero in the second game of the season every year, and if they won the game, his players would carry (head coach Ivy Loftin) off the field on their shoulders singing 'Happy Birthday'," Skinner said. "So 10 years later, I'm playing Dondero in the second-to-last game of the season before we would play Groves and they would get Kimball, and if he beat me there, they would carry him off the field singing 'Happy Birthday' and I couldn't figure it out.

"That was (Dondero assistant coach) Fred Fuhr, who told all those Dondero players to win the game for Ivy Loftin because it was his birthday, against two different schools six weeks apart on the schedule for over 10 years and not one Royal Oak kid ever figured it out!"

Like so many other coaches, life has slowed for Skinner, but the fire remains.

Content updated at 9:28am on September 16, 2008

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, available at Barnes & Noble, Border's Books and The Varsity Shop in Birmingham, Michigan

(Photo courtesy Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries/Gary Caskey)

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For Better Or Worse, Officiating Is All About The Ratings

One of the required caveats to attaining quality assignments is securing high ratings. These ratings come, in large part, from those coaching in the games referees work. This is the most oft-overlooked factor in just how skewed the entire officiating process unfolds. When the referee makes or is perceived to make a mistake in a big game, the questions always wind towards the inevitable: “How did this guy get on this game?” The answer is always the same. The coaches rated him among the best of the bunch, in a local, statewide, regional or national scope.

Phil Luckett. Remember that name? He's remembered as the referee who incorrectly handed the Detroit Lions the football on Thanksgiving Day to begin overtime in 1998. Most fans recall that Jerome Bettis of the Steelers correctly guess the coin’s flip but Luckett failed to acknowledge Bettis’s call. The Lions, of course, took the football and drove down the field far enough to allow kicker Jason Hanson to kick the game-winning field goal to earn the Lions a 19-16 win on national television.

Guess what? Luckett wasn’t totally wrong. In fact, a Pittsburgh sportswriter actually apologized to Luckett in a column after finding that Luckett, by rule, acknowledged the first, barely audible call by Bettis, which immediately was trumped by his louder, more audible second call. Few media members, either watching the game live at the Pontiac Silverdome in suburban Detroit or watching on television, knew the rule. Luckett did, but his nature, including a less-than-authoritative presence, was his own worst enemy.

In the days following the game, Luckett’s name was inseparable from the “how did this guy get on this game” comment. Obviously he had been rated high enough from the NFL coaches and observers to earn the 'referee' designation, assemble a crew and earn a premiere national television assignment. There’s only 16 referees working on NFL Sunday's each year. It's laughable to believe Luckett could fool all these people that often and sneak into the position of NFL referee by accident. In fact, it's not possible. Of course, the media was frenzied with the story and later, Luckett went back to his former Back Judge position. In a game the following season, Luckett was run over by a wide open receiver ready to catch a touchdown pass….and Luckett was soon out of the NFL. But Luckett isn’t the only goat to be remembered. Who recommended him for the referee position? Most important, what criteria was used to make that determination?

Ratings. The silent, unaccountable ratings.

Coaches control a great responsibility in rating officials, but a primary problem is most coaches know little about officiating. Most sports rely heavily on ratings from coaches because, like officials, coaches are always at the contest. Most NCAA sports at the Division-I level also have an observer and a rating from a fellow crew chief, but the rating from the coach is the constant at all levels of professional, collegiate and high school competition.

It's a flawed system no matter how anyone looks at it. Coaches don't know officiating anymore than officials know coaching. I've coached. I'm not good at it and I have complete respect for coaches that make it look seamless. For me to be able to rate a coach and feel like my opinion is unqualified is impossible and unfair to the coaches. Yet the truth remains: The assignment process and the rating process starts with coaches, like it has for the past 100 years.

In researching the origins of the assignment process, I found the assignments were doled out 100 years ago in much the same manner they are today in terms of rationale and merit. There was a rating system in place and it came primarily from coaches. There was a geographical consideration in place, and finally, there was an opinion of merit. The coach or assignor thought the official was competent to handle the assignment.

I spent a recent afternoon with my good friend “Touchdown Jesus”, also known as the library at The University of Notre Dame -- yes, all you television fans, that building wasn‘t erected for football. It‘s actually a real school building and in that building, there‘s books and archives and all sorts of historical reference. Remember it was Lou Holtz, the former Notre Dame coach, who said just two weeks ago on ESPN that he's written more books than he's read in his lifetime.

It's here, tucked inside the considerable archives of the Notre Dame history, where the dealings of a rookie coach by the name of Knute Rockne comes to life. Back them telegrams were today's text messages and letters were e-mail and Internet rolled into one. Contracts were sent back and forth and game assignments were extended to officials deemed deserving just like today. Coaches and departments heads of rival schools discussed which officials were deserving, or not, as the case may be for various reasons. Naturally, within this archive, the letters detailed the officials who routinely received the bigger game assignments, just like today’s assigning programs that detail which officials go where.

In letters between Rockne and Michigan’s Fielding Yost, game dates were set and officials were assigned. The two men openly discussed the abilities of many official and suggested to each other the merits and referrals of available officials. I bristled at the notion put forth in today's Detroit News article by a handful of Notre Dame historians that Michigan and Notre Dame's 35-year hiatus in their football rivalry from 1943-1978 came to pass because of Yost's anti-Catholic belief. That notion would be quickly dispelled if anyone saw the archives I saw.

Yost and Rockne were not at all unlike the coaches and assignors of today who find a comfort zone with certain officials and those officials are then easier to assign to certain schools, conferences and post-season assignments than others. Likewise, younger officials or those unproven are climbing a steeper hill than most, having to overcome getting in the door and then having to deal with a coach that requires you to prove yourself all over again.

That's not to say some things haven't changed. Former umpire Rocky Roe went to the big leagues in no time flat back in the 1970s by today’s standards because someone thought Rocky Roe could umpire, and that somebody had the power to say as much. Today you had better be into a pro school by your 24th or 25th birthday. That buys a prospective umpire four or five years to push their way through the minors and get into the big leagues, where, if they're you’re lucky, they’ll stick. Even if you’re in ‘The Show’ by age 30, chances are you’ll be out by age 50 or so. The days of the grey-haired veteran are evaporating.

The young, mobile, trained official is the new omega in today’s 2.0 officiating world. As for the alpha of how we get those officials, rate those officials and find those officials? It hasn't changed much, since the days of the buggy whip and Western Union.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and is working on a follow-up title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries!

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

ESPN's Mark May Doesn't Talk Truth About Officials

ESPN college football analyst Mark May vilified the game officials who worked Brigham Young's thrilling 28-27 triumph over the University of Washington yesterday on ESPN's College Game Day, a rant that was replayed repeatedly on ESPN's conglomerate of networks yesterday and today.

First, the facts. Brigham Young and Washington played a classic, back-and-forth battle that ended in a BYU victory when the Cougars blocked a 35-yard point-after try (PAT) with just two seconds to play that would have tied the game. The PAT was penalized 15 yards when Husky quarterback Jake Locker flung the football airborne over his shoulder in celebration after scoring a three-yard touchdown that gave his team a chance to tie the game.

Now, with apologies to Paul Harvey, here's the rest of the story. May called the decision to penalize the Husky signalcaller 'horrendous' and 'inexcusable' because it was administered at the very end of the game, taking the game out of the hands of the players. May took a second shot at an official in a different game, clowning an official for colliding with a player by calling the guilty back judge overweight and out of shape. Yes, the official was in error, but was the personal attack needed? Could it have been the official simply made one mistake in one game of a career that could possibly span a generation's worth of games?

Put another way, I don't believe this to be sports journalism at it's highest evolution, something ESPN has started to show less and less of in recent years.

Mark May engaged in, at best, lazy reporting as it relates to opinion-based sports journalism and at worst, became another shill voice for the millions who don't know the first thing about the game as they sit on their couch with a bag of Cheetos and mug of beer. May seemed more interested in pushing the easy perception than the actual reality, like the handful of loathsome sports talk radio jockeys, opportunists with a microphone siding up with the many who live in the fog of alcohol-stained, foul-mouthed slurs directed toward officials on any given Saturday in any given stadium.

I don't mind that May doesn't agree with the call, nor would I dare take away his right to opine as much. To defend May, he's a former college football player and established college football journalist who usually elocutes flawlessly with equal parts wit and wisdom. It's the venom that he spewed forth onto the officials and the omission of all the facts in making his opinion known that I take exception with. It's okay to have any opinion as long as you're fair to the principals in the story when presenting your opinion.

May wasn't fair, instead taking advantage of two situations to make himself look like a hero to the millions of fans, many of whom have never officiated a down of football, much less the PAC-10, in their lives. Did he explain that the NCAA is requiring officials to flag all extraordinary celebrations, including throwing the football, as celebration fouls? Did he ask an officiating coordinator for opinion? (you can't tell me ESPN doesn't have access to those types of contacts on deadline) Did he report that all Division I officials have viewed the DVD put forth by the NCAA and the College Football Officials (CFO) association that specifically targets this type of celebration?

May didn't tell the whole story of the missed PAT, either. After blocking the kick, BYU was penalized with an identical 15-yard celebration penalty when the Cougar sideline spilled into the middle of the field in celebration. Why did May omit this? Because the subsequent play didn't result in any change to the score. If the penalty against BYU had resulted in a safety to give Washington a one-point win, would that penalty have been lampooned as 'horrendous', too?

There's no clock time applied to PAT situations, meaning the officials applied the same correct foul to the Cougars at exactly the same juncture of the game as they had applied to the Huskies with perfect consistency, something May ignored in proving his perspective to be lacking when it comes to considering all aspects of this officiating story.

Don't believe me? Do you think I'm just taking up for the officials because I'm a fellow official? Consider the two head coaches quoted in the game story, ironically found at on both Saturday and Sunday.

Said Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham: "It's one that they almost have to call. It really should be a no-call, but it's one they have to call when they see it."

If anyone knows about unfair in college football, it's Tyrone Willingham. This is a man who just suffered a crushing defeat, a man best remembered for being removed from his dream job at Notre Dame in a manner that truly was callous and horrendous. Did Willingham play the victim card? Did Willingham play the blame game? No, Willingham took the high road and exercised a leader's perspective.

How this man wasn't good enough to lead Notre Dame's football program remains a question as baffling as where Jimmy Hoffa rests.

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall also responded in kind. Asked in a different locker room without the benefit of hearing Willingham's answer, Mendelhall said: "I didn't see it, but I do know this, that throughout the entire game, there were all kinds of plays on both sides -- that was the most visible play -- but celebration is a penalty. Whether it was or not, I didn't see it, but if it was it should have been called. Even if it was our team, it should have been called. The rules are the rules."

Even Locker exercised some perspective in the moment of post game afterthought captured by reporters. "I just was excited. I like to play the game with emotion and it got the best of me."

Doesn't sound like coaches and student-athletes playing the blame game but rather, coaches and student athletes who know the rules, understand the responsibility that goes into officiating a game and are unwilling to engage in conduct that sullies themselves or their university. Sadly, that doesn't move copy, drive website hits or sell network advertising.

May also didn't tell viewers that coaches -- not officials -- write the rules, which would explain why the coaches understood and defended the call in the face of reporters eager to elicit a damning quote towards officials. Yes, ESPN quoted the NCAA rule that vindicated the officials, but didn't read the edict in the book that states: "When officiating a game, certain rules are to be ignored by the officials in certain situations as they relate to time, score and outcome. Officials are to specifically ignore unsportsmanlike penalties when the outcome of the game is in doubt."

That was omitted because it doesn't exist, in any rulebook, in any sport, at any level.

The rules are the rules, like Willingham, Locker and Mendenhall all admitted. When it's 35-0 in the fourth quarter, you can pass on calls like an unsportsmanlike penalty, but when the game's outcome remains in the balance and the score matters, so do the rules and their proper administration.

A knowledgeable football fan doesn't need May to tell them as much.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, available at major and not-so-major retailers now!

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

1st and 10 From The 20 On The Book Trail

Writing a book about high school football was an eye-opening experience on many fronts. It's created a small buzz within the prep football community, and everyone seems to have an opinion. I've tentatively decided to file that under the "all news is good news' category.

Yesterday I was yakking on the phone with Marc Secontine, owner of The Varsity Shop in downtown Birmingham, Michigan. Secontine's father, Vince, was the coach of the Birmingham High School Maples in the 1950s. For those that don't know, Birmingham High became Birmingham Seaholm. Secontine's also related to Birmingham Brother Rice football coach Al Fracassa.

Here's where the story gets good. Fracassa and I bumped into each other while I was walking out and he was waling into Eastern Michigan University's Rynearson Stadium. Naturally I shared the book with Coach Fracassa. His wife saw the copy I handed to Al and bought a copy for Secontine and had Al sign it for Marc. Little did she know that Secontine had purchased 20 copies from Arcadia Publishing directly to sell in his store.

The Varsity Shop has produced a table banner that will be making it's debut soon at a number of signings. It's this kind of enthusiasm for the book that warms my heart and tells me that, no matter the opinion of my book or my ability as a writer (or official for the matter), high school football is an important part of the community spirit in metro Detroit.

Library Event Nets Coach & Stories: This past Wednesday in Royal Oak I was fortunate to host a signing at Royal Oak's Public Library. Among the attendees were former Royal Oak Kimball HS/Royal Oak HS coach Terry Powers. Among his comments from Wednesday:

"We had good kids to pull from in Royal Oak, and I never had to ask my kids at Kimball to hit. That's one of the things about our teams that makes me proud. Win or lose you knew you had played Kimball."

Powers also talked about being hired at Kimball as it relates to the old Kimball-Dondero rivalry and what it was like to follow a legend.

"When I was hired the program was down, but it was made clear to me, 'That's the game you win, that Dondero game', and there was no two ways about it. I remember hearing the story about (Coach) Paul Temerian saying he was going to retire at the end of the 1982 season, but Dondero beat Kimball 35-0 (in the Silverdome). After the game he told Chuck Jones that he would coach another year -- that's a rivalry, making you stay another year so you don't go out like that against a rival."

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

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Oakland County's Best Nickname?

Almost all of us involved with prep sports in the O-C have considered it -- who owns Oakland County's best high school nickname?

It's not simply pick & choose and put it to bed -- that's the east way out. Who's has the most history and tradition? Which nickname is the most original? What's played out? Which name strikes the fear in opponents?

There's so many considerations and so little's a few to consider. Don't agree? Shoot me a note and tell me so!

Most Original: The now-closed Royal Oak Dondero and it's predecessor, Royal Oak High, takes the cake in my book. Until 1956, there was one high school in Royal Oak and they were known as the Acorns. When the district split into two high schools, the Acorns of RO High grew into mighty Oaks of Dondero High School. The Oaks...that's a keeper.

Most Tradition: Does it get any better than the Maples of Birmingham Seaholm? There's simply something about that title that evokes thoughts of crisp, fall evenings, a stadium loudspeaker crackling against the autumn leaves and popcorn and pizza steaming from the concession stand. Plus the Maples have about 100 years of football history.

Most Fitting Name To The School It Adorns: Clarkston High's Wolves. Of course, Athletic Director and Boys' basketball Coach Dan Fife is a letterman and graduate of the University of Michigan, so the easy thought is to say Fife played follow the leaders (the leaders and best?). the truth is Clarkston is at the northern reaches of the county and the school simply wears the title well. It wouldn't surprise anyone to find wolves in Clarkston, and many a team has been clawed by Wolves clad in Clarkston's blue n' gold.

Most Played Out: Knights -- way too many Knights! Bloomfield Hills Lahser, Royal Oak Shrine, Royal Oak Kimball, Oak Park, plus all the ancillary titles, like Lancers, Barons and everyone else from Medieval Times. As Jim Carrey is quoted in The Cable Guy, "The blue knight sucks; The red knights rules!"

Most Disingenuous: Redskins. Unlike Eastern Michigan University, who acquiesced to the PC-Police of the 1990s when the school's Huron identity was questioned, Redskins is derogatory simply for the name Red-Skins. Both Milford and Oak Park High eliminated Redskins in favor of Milford's Mavericks and Oak Park's Knights -- good move.

Best Import: Here's an easy one, the Shamrocks of Detroit/Redford/Novi Catholic Central. The Shams! The Rocks! Both live and die for CC High.

Most Obvious Choice: South Lyon would be cryin' if they weren't the Lions. It's always a good time out at The Jungle on Pontiac Trail.

Author's Favorite: That would go to the Colts of Troy High School. As their student body is oft quoted, "We Are...T-C!"

Here's 10 nicknames from the tri-county area that are my personal favorites: Dearborn Fordson Tractors, Dearborn Edsel Ford Thunderbirds, Detroit Pershing Doughboys, Royal Oak Dondero Oaks, Detroit Denby Tars, Grosse Pointe South Blue Devils, Detroit Catholic Central Shamrocks, Allen Park Cabrini Monarchs, Utica High Chieftains, Warren Lincoln Abes & a bonus selection: The Mount Clemens Battlin' Bathers!

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