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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