Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Respite For The Write Referee

The Write Referee is taking some time off. Be merry and be safe as you and those close to you welcome in the new year. See you again on January 3, 2009.

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chippewas Make Motown Their Expressway To Success

Editor's Note: Content updated at 5:00pm on December 28 to correct references to Butch Jones, mistakenly identified as Butch Davis.

DETROIT -- The catcalls, snickers and jokes remain, but if accepting a bid to the Motor City Bowl means Central Michigan University is playing football every year after Christmas, CMU coach Butch Jones welcomes all barbs.

Jones guided the Chippewas on Friday night in a hard-fought 24-21 loss to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in front of 41,399 at Ford Field. The Owl win was the 12th edition of the annual game, which has more than earned its' keep in 12 years of successful pairings. The Rose Bowl it's not, but the Motor City Bowl (MCB) is no Cherry Bowl, the ill-fated game that managed just two turns in the mid 1980s in the Pontiac Silverdome. In 1984 Michigan State helped bring around 70,000 into the 'Dome for the inagural game but the Spartans dropped a 10-6 decision. The next year the game was broke before kickoff and Cherry Bowl unceremoniously fell from the vine of college football bowl games.

MCB immediately struck an alliance between two neighboring conferences, the Mid-American Conference and the Big Ten. Aside from revenue giant sports football and basketball, the two conferences are competitive in many sports, the rare upset on the gridiron or hardwood notwithstanding. But Motor City Bowl has helped the MAC -- a bowl-starved conference -- attain a footing among major college football's elite, and perhaps no school or coach has been a better beneficiary than CMU and Jones.

Jones has succeeded former CMU coach Brian Kelly's success without missing a beat, in part because the Chippewas have made the Motor City Bowl a three-year tradition that means more than simply playing a football game on Boxing Day. In short, it allows the Chippewas to be a major player within recruiting circles that encompass metro Detroit's talent-rich, three-county footprint. "Without a doubt, the access created by playing a bowl game in our backyard, so to speak, is priceless," Jones said. "Our staff made a commitment to recruiting Michigan, and our success is predicated on how well we recruit Michigan. Playing in the Motor City Bowl has made such a huge difference in our program's success in recent years."

To wit, the Chippewas boast 16 players from the tri-county area, including seven from Oakland County. Three players hail from Lake Orion, a runner-up in this year's MHSAA Division 1 football finals. There's four players from Detroit's proper and three from Warren's De LaSalle High, making CMU's roster one stocked from all corners of Michigan and fortified with a large bounty from metro Detroit. Playing in the Motor City Bowl three straight years has contributed to Central's success on signing day.

Like Florida Atlantic, a school with hardly an ounce of name recognition in major college football just a handful of years ago, the Chippewas are a rare story that few schools could even hope to emulate today. In the early 1970s, Central Michigan and fellow in-state rival Eastern Michigan University were powerhouse NAIA schools who made the leap from small-time Christian athletics to Division-I status. While Eastern struggled in the late 70s and early 80s, Central Michigan flourished and thrived under a former Oakland County coach, Herb Deromedi. When Roy Kramer left CMU in the late 1970s, the former Royal Oak High grad and Kimball High coach began a 20-year reign in Mt.Pleasant that landed him in the college football hall-of-fame.

However, a not-so-rare story followed Deromedi's departure. The Chippewas struggled to regain that winning form. After Kelly quickly made CMU successful again, he was poached just as quickly by Cincinnati. Enter Jones, with an already strong acumen for recruiting and chalkboard strategy. Add CMU's trifecta of bowl appearances in Detroit and the Chippewas have re-chartered their path for annual success.

"We're very proud to represent our conference and our state in Detroit," Jones said."If being successful means coming to the Motor City Bowl three straight years, I'll take that success every day of the week as opposed to staying home for the holidays."

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

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gervin's Greatness Just Part Of EMU's Hardwood Heritage

When does an NBA Hall-Of-Famer designated as one of the 50 greatest players in professional basketball history not qualify was a lock as his college's greatest player?

When your name is George Gervin and your alma mater is Eastern Michigan University, that's when. Gervin was honored at EMU yesterday with an honorary degree at halftime of Eastern's game with St. Bonaventure. Before you get upset with my question, be careful not to misconstrue the premise behind the question. I'm not saying Gervin isn't EMU's greatest player. Gervin's basketball resume is the most accomplished of any player to ever wear EMU's verdant green and white. I'm saying there's a handful of other players who could arguably lay claim to the honor based on their total body of work at EMU.

It also means Eastern Michigan has been able to land some of the most overlooked talent in a region already nationally-recognized as a hoops hotbed. Eastern's basketball record book could easily make one scratch their head and wonder aloud, 'How did these players end up at EMU?' Reality reveals different players end up at a school like EMU for different reasons. Sometimes it's grades, a player's size or abilityjudged to be a bit below a bigger school's standards, which is the case the majority of the time. Other times, however, it's a dynamic coach who can recruit, like a Jim Dutcher or Ben Braun, or a player and a teammate, like the Thomas twins from Lansing and Detroit Northern's Lorenzo Neely. Sometimes it's simply a player's desire to stay close to home.

Gervin grew homesick for his native Detroit at Long Beach State University and transferred back to EMU to play for Jim Dutcher along with fellow King grad Gary Tyson. While Gervin's story is unique, there's literally no end to the stories that brought so much talent to EMU.

Carl and Charles Thomas, who grew up in Lansing in the shadow of Michigan State University, joined Neely at Eastern after Ben Braun's relentless recruitment. Derrick Dial was the unfortunate recipient of the NCAA's ill-fated Prop 48 statues in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dial, who graduated from the scholar-acclaimed Detroit Cass Tech, became Eastern's No. 3 all-time scorer in school history with 1,891 points, earned a top 10 spot in blocked shots and become school's all-time career, season and single-game leader in made three-point field goals with 214.

There was Brian Tolbert, brother of Michigan recruit and University of Detroit star Tony Tolbert. Michigan State kept Tolbert in the fold for a possible scholarship until Southgate Aquinas product Jon Garavaglia won the state's Mr. Basketball award. The Spartans awarded the scholarship Tolbert coveted and Tolbert enrolled at EMU, where he scored 1,726 points, including 36 versus top-ranked Connecticut in the 2nd round game of the 1996 NCAA Tournament, the most points scored by any player in that season's tourney. Tolbert is 2nd all-time in made three-point attempts with 204 treys. Mr. Basketball winner Garavaglia? He's conspicuously absent from the MSU record book in nearly all categories for game, season or career.

And then there was Boykins, the 5'5 magician who Sports Illustrated named the county's best player under 6'0 in the periodical's 1997-98 college basketball preview issue. The recruitment of Boykins had an entire school's fan base scratching their collective heads. It had come down to the national signing day in 1994 at Boykins' high school in Cleveland, where Braun and Kent State's Dave Grube awaited the diminutive guard's answer to a scholarship offer from each school. Legend has it that Grube looked at Braun and said, "Well, either one of us will be brilliant or one of us will be fired." One year later, Grube was cannedfrom his contract at KSU and after Bruan's team had reached the MAC championship and accepted a bid to the NIT.

Boykins missed catching Kennedy McIntosh for the school's scoring record by a scant eight points, earning 2,211 points to McIntosh's 2,219 career total. Boykins would have started every game in his four-year career had it not been for EMU coach Milton Barnes, who took over EMU's reins after Braun accepted an offer from the University of California-Berkeley. Barnes, in a desperate attempt to prove himself a willful leader, benched the guard for the first five minutes of a non-league game his junior year. Barnes' tenure is a bad memory at EMU while Boykins is oft-remembered for his outstanding play-making and scoring ability.

So while EMU has struggled to regain it's former hardwood prowess over the past 10 years, much like the University of Detroit-Mercy, the school has a history and alumni list that brings with it as much cache as any mid-major school in the country.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August 2009 fro Arcadia Publishing. Cameron's first book, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, features pictures from the archives of The Oakland Press.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Former Glory, Hopeful Future Highlight Current UDM Titans

Is there a Division-I school in America that has been a better beneficiary of the city it domiciles within more than the University of Detroit-Mercy?

The question begs to be asked when one looks at the sheer volume of talent that has formed a procession-like march from Detroit's rugged public schools and former city Catholic schools into the hallowed halls named for Titan coach Bob Calihan. From Detroit Austin's Dave DeBusschere to Detroit Pershing's Spencer Haywood, Highland Park's Terry Duerod and Detroit St. Martin DePorres grad Tony Tolbert, some of the area's finest jewels of the hardwood have made historic Calihan Hall home. The list of Titan Hall-Of-Famers reads like a Who's Who list of the city's long sporting history.

Earlier this week Haywood returned to be honored as UDM played host to Aquinas College of Grand Rapids at Calihan. While the current Titans labored to defeat the tiny NAIA school, the nod to a glorious past and hope of a similar future was impossible to ignore.

Titan basketball is enriched by the fact that the University of Detroit is truly a product of Detroit's potent prep basketball legacy. There's UCLA, nestled in talent-rich and tony Los Angeles, and DePaul University in Chicago, another hoops hotbed. New York's St. John's University comes to mind when considering the aforementioned question, too, because the five boroughs command a similar presence as Detroit's basketball history. But unlike UDM, those programs are nationally-known brands with large, savvy recruiting networks.

All of those reasons make the men's basketball accomplishments of UDM all the more remarkable because the Titan legacy is largely made in the Motor City. Even today, as the UDM recruiting base has expanded regionally, nationally, and in some cases, internationally, to counter the shrinking Detroit public school population and absolute void of a Catholic League school within the city proper, UDM still retains its' distinctive city-proper signature with a handful of players from the PSL.

"This is what Keri (Gaither) and I are trying to rebuild, the identity that U of D can be a first choice for a PSL player," Haywood explained from press row on Wednesday night as the honorary Titan coach. "This is a special place and there's a unique history that matches the city itself."

UDM Athletic Director Keri Gaither faces a unique challenge. Continue advancing her school's athletic department from a financial and competition standpoint and do so in a city as depressed as any in America due to the economic conditions not seen in over two generations. And to be sure, UDM is a Detroit institution, because of the rich history that lives in the memories of so many followers. As one UDM staffer put it Wednesday night, "Calihan Hall is home to me. Even if I wasn't working, this is where I'd want to be."

Calihan, one of the area's living, breathing museums of basketball history, is undergoing a gradual renovation. There's the remodeled Titan Club and a refurbished foyer that relishes the Titan tradition with several etched glass panes, video boards and framed pictures abound. The press room upstairs is decorated nicely with pictures that recall the school's historic architectural infrastructure in it's glory. The floor gleams with the school's new Titan logo and the Titans' newly-renovated lockerroom is like a hall-of-fame at any other school. It's arguable there's not a building in the state, including MSU's Jenison Field House, with a more impressive pedigree of amateur basketball than Calihan Hall.

Likewise, the courtside Titan legacy is undergoing a renovation. When Gaither hired men's coach Ray McCallum to replace city icon Perry Watson, she hired a coach that was already well-versed with several aspects of the pressure that defines major college basketball. McCallum served as an assistant at Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana and was charged with resurrecting his alma mater's good name when hired to be head man at Ball State from 1993-2000. The Cardinals waged battles with Gary Trent and Ohio U., Devin Davis and Miami and Earl Boykins, Brian Tolbert, Derrick Dial and Theron Wilson from Eastern Michigan.

The last admission, EMU, is a key reminder of the progress McCallum must make within the network of PSL and Catholic League coaches in metro Detroit. While Boykins was a Cleveland, Ohio native, Tolbert -- like his brother, Tony -- was a DePorres grad, Dial was a Cass Tech product and Wilson was a transplant from Detroit King who transformed Royal Oak Dondero into a top 10 team in Class A for three seasons. Those players all could have played at UDM 15 years ago, but chose EMU lead by Ben Braun and Gary Waters. Waters now coaches Cleveland State, a Horizon League opponent who visits Calihan on January 3rd.

Tomorrow afternoon Eastern Michigan will welcome back Detroit King prodigy and former Huron George "Iceman" Gervin when the Eagles host the Bonnies of St. Bonaventure. Like UDM, Eastern has a history in several sports that most schools not located in the shadow of a Big Ten power would envy seven days a week. But in 70 games with EMU, the Titans enjoy a 55-15 advantage over their Ypsilanti rivals. Add winning marks versus Central and Western, and 32 wins combined over Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame, it's easy to see why UDM's hardwood history becomes a central rallying point for supporters of the program.

The amount of talent available to UDM has thinned, and fighting the state's three MAC schools, Oakland University and two Big Ten powers for the same fruit from the same trees won't be easy, but procuring the top rung of metro Detroit's talent is clearly McCallum's charge.

UDM is relying on McCallum and Autumn Rademacher, a former Titan hired to resurrect women's basketball, to re-make the Titans into what they're known for: A basketball power in a talent-rich region.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, which will be offered in August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing. Cameron's first title, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, is available at retailers nationwide.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Detroit Making Waves Nationally Online

Yesterday's historic announcement by the joint-management team of The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press has garnered the attention of nationally-known editorial boards, chat rooms and Internet-news gathering sites.

First is the bold masthead regarding Detroit's historic decision found at Editor&, one of the nation's most trusted media-on-media coverage sites. Also pushing these links was, who slotted Detroit's news just below Oprah Winfrey's decision to guide her production company, Harpo Productions, away from ABC to HBO for a broader spectrum of programming opportunities.

There's even a piece that features the well-reasoned opinions of former Freep Editor/publisher Heath Meriwether, who now lives in New York and works as a writing coach.

James Rainey of The Los Angeles Times chimes in with a healthy bit of disdain for why the papers in Detroit would cut off their most loyal readers at the expense of those who read it for free online.

Also of interest is the many respected media market analysts who openly question if the cuts are deep enough, something many of us with firsthand knowledge of Detroit's horrific business climate have speculated about in local forums for some time.

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

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Go The Distance...

Detroit's on it's way to being a two-paper town without a paper to be found.

Detroit's daily newspapers undertook the bold move Tuesday. To hear them tell it, it's the brave act. However, they didn't do it to lead the way, but rather to crawl out from under the piano of financial and structural overhead that so many other publishers and managing editors would like to do. Detroit's dailies will only be delivered in-home three days a week and the online edition will no longer be free.

That's just a start. If the paper's joint-management team had its' way, the presses and the delivery would all go away. It's a sad truth in Detroit, a town that labor built, because the large overhead is now largely obsolete. There's paper to buy from monstrous mills, and that production cost is no longer a thrill. There's manpower for staffing and benefits to be paid. There's editorial boards and advertising dollars to be made.

There's delivery to mailboxes and the coffee house's deep pockets. The problem is, by the time the paper is here, the next day's news is near. And the cash flow inward no longer matches the cash going out.

Get the point? Detroit's joint-operations management is starting the ebb away from paper and towards exclusive online production. The Detroit Free Press reported an 85% jump in online hits this year as compared to last, if reporter M.L. Elrick's numbers are true as reported by a local Detroit television station two days ago.

I haven't purchased the paper is several years, because the Internet is always on and I don't have to leave the house, much less open the door. I say go the distance, with apologies to Kevin Costner, and finish the job. Go online for good and make it a cash cow.

The Oakland Press got the jump on Detroit's dailies in the prep sports genre with the alpha launch of MIPrepZone and the large family of blogs found at BlogCentral last year. The large network of neighborhood apers, opinions and blogs gives the Oakland Press a longer, more substantial reach beyond what our competition could compete with in an immediate sense.

The buggy whip was popular in it's day, too, but the car changed everything and the automobile grew. We're on a new cusp of society-altering change. Papers have long been running two editions too many. It's one or the other, and online is winning, so why delay the inevitable as the paper keeps thinning.

I say rock out the Internet; put that paper down. Metro Detroit's leading the way to a paperless crown.

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Detroit Leads Change In America's Daily Paper Medium

Detroit's two major daily newspapers became the first major newspapers in America to curb daily delivery to three days a week.

The paper will be delivered for home-based subscription on Thursday, Friday and Sundays only starting sometime early in the new year as the combined management of The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press aim to curb overall payroll by 9% before the end of the first quarter of '09.

The papers, managed under the umbrella of a joint operating agreement (JOA) since 1989 that pared each paper's holiday and weekend responsibilities in half, opened an 11 a.m. news conference with a paper-produced video that highlighted the paper's first 200 years as an innovative pioneer in the media industry. Self-plaudits included the first women's section, first paper-owned radio station, first Sunday paper and first paper-owned plane.

However, the overriding message was the admission that the digital age has made traditional paper production a dinosaur. With costs spiraling upward for manpower, availability of paper, and energy costs for materials, production and delivery, the newspapers are highly-motivated to pioneer the answers to what plagues the newspaper industry nationwide.

The JOA management also announced the online editions, free for the past several years, will be available for $12 a month. The $144-per-year subscription cost is aimed at saving both papers in terms of content, platform and brand.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Book Signing, New Gym On Tap This Weekend

Come see me tomorrow afternoon in Novi's Twelve Oaks Mall at the Borders Express bookstore from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

I'll be signing copies of my book, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and talking football,and a little basketball, too, as you finish your Christmas shopping. It's a great opportunity to get a great gift before the 25th is here!

Later in the evening, I'll be officiating at Royal Oak Shrine's inaugural boys' basketball game at their brand new basketball facility. The Knights will be facing their neighbors to the east, Royal Oak High, a school that used to host some of the bigger Shrine games in both football and basketball when it was better known as Royal Oak Kimball High.

Perhaps no school has needed a new gym more than Shrine, with it's cramped corners that didn't allow for three-point shots and a slew of other inconveniences. However, there's a ton of Catholic League history in that old, cramped barn and the old lady was witness to literally hundreds of old-fashioned Michigan barn-burners over the years. As we welcome the new, we bid adieu to the old, too.

Finally, the rumors continue to fly about The Detroit News & Detroit Free Press editorial staffs suffering greatly due to the economy, the lethargic newspaper climate and the need to shelve the old media platform for today's new, electronically-generated mediums. Yesterday chat rooms and e-mail threads buzzed with news that as many as 300 staffers could be axed from newsrooms and editorial staffs at Detroit's dailies. That and the possibility of the dailies only printing a hard copy on Friday, Saturday and Sundays.

The truth is Detroit's no longer a two-paper town, and it hasn't been for some time. It wasn't a three-paper town nearly 60 years ago when the The Detroit Times folded. If that sounds harsh, book a flight to Hartford, Connecticut and take the Amtrak into New York's Penn Station. You'll be amazed at how many papers are available on the platform of the commuter trains and how thick they are. It literally takes all two hours to get the daily paper digested on your way into the city, and it's like this in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, etc. In Detroit you can race through our papers in 15-20 scant minutes.

That's not to say the writing is poor or the content isn't worthy. It simply means Detroit's newsworthy footprint doesn't match the available advertising resources for revenue to justify a two-paper system.

One aspect I'm optimistic about is a boost in available assignments for freelancers like myself if the online platform goes forward in full. The current hard copy production model is expensive and severely limits cash flow. An online edition, especially an exclusively online platform, would free up a lot of needed liquidity. The catch is the advertising revenue and how to effectively trigger an effective advertising model.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and his syndicated blog is found exclusively at!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Progress Means Sacrifice For Daily Tribune Address

Holding on to the past is a great and noble ideal, as long as it doesn't impede progress. I walked by the editorial offices of The Daily Tribune last evening in Royal Oak, or should I say, what's left of the Tribune.

It's gone, like so many other markers of this region's past. The offices are now littered with trash from desks and filing cabinets moved to different locales, counties and zip codes. I'm not upset, just a bit melancholy at the unceremonious departure of another Royal Oak institution. Oh, the paper's still being published. The editorial department is now under the umbrella of The Macomb Daily. It's simply another stark reminder of how much things have changed in south Oakland County. While Macomb County is an emerging community filled with new subdivisions, teeming high schools with massive numbers filling their sports teams, south Oakland schools are trudging along as shells of their former selves while half-filled or empty condominium units shadow the region's footprint. While Macomb is opening new schools, older schools are being shuttered and razed in Royal Oak.

But this is progress, right? Would you believe that my mother's childhood friend while growing up on Maplegrove in Royal Oak circa 1950 was a little girl who's own mother had been handed off the sinking RMS Titanic at two months of age? In the middle of the dark night, awaiting imminent death in the icy North Atlantic Ocean, her parents knew enough not to hold on to the past, because the past was sinking to the bottom of the ocean, destined to pull approximately 2,200 other passengers with it. Life goes on and they were lucky enough to ensure life for their daughter.

This past week was the annual anniversary of Pearl Harbor's bombing from the Japanese. I'll bet most of America looked entirely different on December 7th, 1911 than the same date in 1941 for all the reasons other than the obvious. Likewise, I'm betting the 1971 was nothing like '41, and 2001 was nothing like '71, either. In '71 the World Trade Towers in the lower battery of New York City were still only seen in completion on the drawing boards of a architect in Troy, Michigan; In 2001, they were lying on the ground with the slurry walls containing New York's Harbor in ruin as well.

The trade towers alone ought to illustrate my point. They've become an icon for American spirit and resolve -- and rightfully so -- and yet they were with us for less than 30 years.

Things change. Life goes on, and I don't miss the old wall-mounted, avacado-colored, rotary-dial phones any more than the next guy.

The Daily Tribune is simply a victim of an era long since passed. There was a time when the Tribune boasted a daily circulation of 80,000 homes but today the Sunday subscription numbers barely pass 10K. Detroit News columnist Joe Falls used to speak glowingly of the Tribune as one of our area's best-produced newspapers, and Falls knew a little about progress. He came to the News when the now-defunct Detroit Times passed into memory some 50 years ago.

Newspapers are changing and the new template they're using today to publish editorial content and procure advertising is the same vehicle you're using to read this column today. The physical buildings that gave us the comfort of knowing our local paper was there for us is now largely part of a newspaper business that's passed on.

The Tribune used to be South Oakland County's daily bible -- now we're writing part of her own obituary -- the Royal Oak address part, anyway.

~ T.C. Cameron is author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, and officiates three sports at the prep and collegiate level.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Laughlin's Lesson Not To Be Ignored

I used to wonder why officials competing for the many prep and small college assignments are so ultra-competitive within officiating circles. As I got older, I realized it's because too many officials are overly-concerned with their own legacy -- the stamp they'll leave on officiating.
As I enter my older & wiser phase of officiating, I realize it's enough to simply be a good, honest official to leave a strong mark.

That was Rollo Laughlin, too. Trapped in the hustle of every day, it's easy to forget the simple lessons, but Laughlin embodied these wise tales. Be thankful for what you have and do everything you can to make each day meaningful.

Laughlin passed away last week at the spry age of 90 years old in Royal Oak's Beaumont Hospital. He golfed, drove and did what we all hope to do until the very end. Laughlin lived in Royal Oak since the 1950s, in the same house he bought with his wife and raised his three children in. Born in 1919, Laughlin grew up in Horton, Michigan, just outside Jackson. He was a forward on his school's varsity basketball team. As a senior, Laughlin helped Horton advance all the way to the 1937 Class D championship game. Horton lost a 21-18 decision to Marshall Shearer's Stevensville High team but the experience remained a lifelong memory.
Today Stevensville has become the Class B Lakeshore High Lancers, and Horton High has become Horton-Hanover High, a Class C school and 424-student home to the Comets.

After graduation Laughlin attended what is now Western Michigan University, where he presumably learned the skill of officiating. Tracking for a career in teaching changed with World War II for Laughlin, who enlisted in America's war effort. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor engulfed America for good on December 7, 1941 and Laughlin's enlistment lasted through '45. Stationed in Iceland as a logistical transport specialist, Laughlin plied his officiating trade in the many military basketball games played on base during his time in service.

Upon his return stateside, Laughlin discovered the Detroit Public Schools were literally hiring on the spot. Degree in hand, Laughlin was tabbed on the spot to teach physical education in an elementary school. To earn a few bucks and stay fit himself, Laughlin resumed his officiating career. From the late 1940s to the mid-1970s, Laughlin registered with the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) and worked football, basketball and baseball. He joined Michigan's oldest officiating association, the Southeastern Michigan Officiating Association (SMOA), and like most officials, he worked his fair share of big games among a majority of ho-hum assignments.

His son, Keith, told me his claim to fame was also his biggest mistake. Working a football game at Berkley High when a Statue of Liberty play was executed to perfection, Laughlin's piercing tweet prematurely ended the play. A handful of yards downfield stood a Berkley runner stopped dead in his tracks due to the inadvertent whistle. It was a mistake that every official dreads and yet, every official worth his or her salt has experienced it in their own misfortune. To have never made a mistake like this is to never have officiated.

A reporter from The Daily Tribune, which used to be South Oakland County's unofficial bible, called Laughlin at his home to inquire about the controversial call. Back then officials weren't nameless robots and papers listed your address when you made the paper as an identifying mark, so finding someone wasn't a difficult task. Instead of lamenting this or that, Laughlin told the reporter on the other end, "I blew the call, there's nothing more to it than that. I just flat blew it."

After he hung up his whistle, he shelved his lesson plans a few years later after nearly 40 years on the job teaching. He watched Detroit morph into a nearly-all African American city from a melting pot of all nationalities in the immediate post-war boom times. Laughlin was a husband, teacher, referee and father, in that order. His acumen for officiating is nearly forgotten, as many of the officials he worked with, and the coaches he worked for, have either moved on, passed on or possibly both.

So today, I think of the lessons of Rollo Laughlin. First work hard, then work smart but be happy to have the opportunity to be making a difference -- big or small -- every day, in every possible way.

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

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Part II: Can Eagles Be Hurons and Hurons Be Eagles at EMU?

Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part post relating to Eastern Michigan University's former Huron nickname, the aftermath and possible solution to a decision that's haunted the Ypsilanti campus since the day it was announced.

In the handful of years that followed the 1991 decision to shed the Huron identity at Eastern Michigan University, a noticeable lull enveloped the Ypsilanti campus as it related to energy and spirit surrounding the varsity sports program. To understand this, one must first understand the summer of 1984 for the the things it represented at EMU not relating to George Orwell or the 'Bless You Boys' Tigers.

The Mid-American Conference membership was concerned the NCAA would strip the conference of its' Division-I status because a football attendance audit for the '84 season loomed. That meant that at least half of the conference schools had to make a minimum number in average attendance per game of the league would slip into I-AA status. Back then the MAC comprised nine schools, and only four schools were locks to make that minimum number: CMU, Toledo, Bowling Green State and Miami. Four schools were locks to miss the mark: Ball State, Kent State, Ohio and EMU. The bubble school was Western Michigan, and this greatly concerned the MAC athletic directors and presidents. If WMU failed, the entire conference would tumble, too. A secret vote was scheduled; Eastern would be sacrificed.

EMU football had been in shambles since coach Mike Stock took over in 1978, mirroring the school. Buildings were boarded up on Cross Street, leading discussion of shuttering EMU altogether. Stock inherited an 8-3 team from Ed Chlebek and floundered by going 3-7 in '78 and 2-8-1 in'79, but that was tame compared to the next three seasons. After beating BGSU 18-16 on September 13, 1980, Eastern lost 27 games consecutively. It took a 9-7 triumph over Kent State at Rynearson to snap a nationally-known streak on November 6, 1982. EMU students stormed the field and snapped the goalposts in half after the game in celebration. Only six I-A or I-AA programs have suffered more (I-A: Northwestern 34, Virginia & Kansas State 28; I-AA: Prairie View 80, Columbia University 44, St. Francis, PA 30).

The Hurons had been a powerhouse in football, basketball and baseball in the late 1960s and early 1970s, allowing the NAIA school to go Division-I. Today making the leap from NAIA to major college Division-I status would be laughable but Eastern, and two years later Central, were that good. To fast forward ten years later and see EMU teetering on expulsion and extinction broke more than a few hearts.

The solution's deciding vote was cast by CMU and it took a court injunction to save Eastern. Coach Jim Harkema rallied his players and their parents to the largest EMU lecture hall, Pray-Harold, in the summer of '84 and laid it out: Either stay, fight and survive -- unanimously -- or EMU would grant every player a release and shutter the program. The Hurons decided to fight and the CMU game, scheduled for October 6th at EMU, was circled in blood.

In '83 Harkema was hired from Grand Valley State and after beating Marshall 7-3, his Hurons lost 14-straight games...until CMU in '84. The Chippewas came calling and the revival of a school was at stake. In front of a sold-out Rynearson Stadium, Central motored to a 16-0 lead, but Harkema and his Hurons would go down fighting. In the second half, EMU was beyond determined, much like the Eastern-Central game a week ago. On the game's final play, Eastern booted a long field goal to tie the Chippewas 16-16.

The message had been delivered: The Hurons would not die quietly. Eastern made the attendance mark and from '85-'89 EMU went 33-20-2, including a staggering 23-8-2 from '87-'89. The '87 team went 10-2 as MAC champions and won the California Bowl over the heavily-favored Spartans of San Jose State. EMU quarterback Ron Adams sent every Chippewa player a postcard from California to back up his guarantee that EMU would win the league after CMU had defeated EMU 16-6. Adams, the Taylor product and toughest EMU quarterback ever, made good on that bet with an exclamation point second to none.

So when the Huron identity was unceremoniously ditched in '90-91, that unique pride, spirit and determination that EMU students and student-athletes alike had come to rally behind died, too. The football team hasn't posted a winning record in the MAC since 1989 but more importantly, EMU struggles to gain a strong foothold with their older alumni. They earn a large gift sporadically, but the annual fundraising efforts resemble a trickle instead of an open tap, and often the bigger gifts are from the same, repeat donors. The school hasn't made enough inroads with the larger alumni base and money talks with more authority than any coach or school president ever will.

So what's the solution? Bring the Huron back alongside the Eagle and mirror Auburn University as an institution with two recognized nicknames. If Auburn can be both Eagles and Tigers, why can't Eastern Michigan be Hurons and Eagles?

First and foremost, EMU can accomplish this without being Indians, because the word Huron encapsulates so much of southeastern Michigan's footprint without being an exclusive reference to a Native American tribesman. This is the easiest solution to make peace with the 70,000+ alumni that believes Eastern alienated their loyal constituency for no good reason other than PC-surrender. I completely agree with those who argue that some Native American symbols foster and encourage negative stereotyping. EMU could be the first school to embrace a history in a new, positive light by rectifying images of years past without running from it's history altogether.

Second, could EMU embrace the old with the new? Maybe a return of the school's discontinued Circle-E with a feather draping of each side downward, encapsulating the phrase: "Our Huron Spirit Soars With Eagles". The school took a sacred symbol of the Native American and turned it into a cartoon caricature. Could a more dignified approach be the right approach in retrospect?

Certainly true is the fact that so many EMU alums have heard the phrase, "Until they bring back the Huron, I'm not giving any money." Facing headstrong into the teeth of an potential economic storm not seen in a generation, EMU might be smart to consider a option that could win over some hearts and pocketbooks simultaneously.

It's ironic to see one institution's Huron decision nearly 20 years ago (EMU) be in such stark contrast to a sister institution's Chippewa decision (CMU) despite the fact the two schools have so much in common as former NAIA schools, fabulous teacher colleges and a long history as strong contributors in the MAC. The bad blood that has followed for so many years is a product of difficult decisions and rivalry that becomes problematic when both schools are after the sweet fruit hanging from the same tree.

On the other hand, it makes for great theater and certainly makes Eastern's visit to Mt. Pleasant next year a must-see game in the MAC for 2009.

~ T.C. Cameron authored Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries in 2008 and is writing a follow-up to that title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due in August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Part I: EMU's Huron Dismissal Still An Enigmatic Moment

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part post relating to Eastern Michigan University's former Huron nickname, the aftermath and possible solution to a decision that's haunted the Ypsilanti campus since the day it was announced.

This past weekend this site got a healthy bit of traffic from online chatboards in the aftermath of Eastern Michigan's improbable, NCAA-record-setting 56-52 upset of defending Mid-American Conference (MAC) champion Central Michigan. For the Eagles, the win over the Chippewas was their fourth in five tries over their state rivals to the north, a fact that sits in the craw of CMU backers with obvious discomfort.

No EMU supporter will ever call a football season a failure when Eastern defeats Central, but many of the school's faithful continue to watch from afar because of a watershed decision that continues to defy common sense 18 years after it took place. I'm speaking of the school's decision to eliminate the Huron nickname. I read with amusement this past weekend the way current Eastern students who really know nothing of their school's decision to part ways with the Huron name defend the decision, as well as CMU's glee in rubbing Eastern's nose in it.

Central-Eastern has been an ugly game for both schools in all sports going back to 1984. That was when CMU administrators cast the deciding ballot in a secret vote designed to ensure the MAC's status as a Division-I conference by eliminating EMU from the league. Eastern fought that decision with a court injunction in the same summer the Detroit Tigers started 35-5 en route to their last world championship. Trust me, that's another story on it's own.

The demise of the Huron started quietly during the 1990 football season and quickly became the worst-kept secret on campus, when the 'Marching Hurons' were told to stop playing the old war chant and Huron Fight Song. Ironically, the first game this was noticed was the '90 Central Michigan homecoming game that attracted over 24,000 fans to then-tiny Rynearson Stadium. Eastern was in the midst of an eight-game losing streak during a 2-9 campaign but fought head coach Herb Deromedi's Chippewas with everything they had in a 16-12 loss. EMU was driving towards the CMU endzone when time ran out and I've not witnessed a harder-hitting game at EMU since.

In January 1991, at the height of campus angst over the conversion of Desert Shield to Desert Storm, when there was a campus protest literally every night, the Board of Regents and then-President William Shelton dropped the name Hurons. Shelton was the same man who helped convinced the administration at Kent State University to try to identify itself as 'Kent' in an attempt to distance itself from the history of the 1970 killings of Kent State students by the Ohio National Guard during an on-campus Vietnam War protest.

Does anyone with more than two marbles in their head believe Kent State isn't the same Kent State because it only says 'Kent' on the shirt? That's like renaming Detroit's 12th street as Rosa Parks Boulevard so that no one the wiser will remember the 1967 riots started on 12th Street at Clairemont.

Anyway, that year EMU's men's basketball team, coached by Ben Braun and led by Detroit Northern's Lorenzo Neeley, the Thomas twins from Lansing and Troy High's Marcus Kennedy, thundered to the Mid-American Conference title. The Hurons took the regular season crown and swept the MAC tournament title in Detroit's Cobo Arena. A week later Eastern upset SEC-champion Mississippi State and the Atlantic-1o's Penn State Nittany Lions in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament at the Courier Dome in Syracuse, New York.

It was in the tournament that the nation's press corps fell in love with the 'no-names'. Because of the previous January decision, the press wrote stories about this team from this funny-named Ypsilanti, and just how do you pronounce 'Ypsilanti', and what's with this 'Ypsi' reference? And, they don't even have a nickname, either! That and 12th man Joe Frasor's ability to land himself in just about every celebratory picture published made Eastern a fresh story, which is the equivalent of sports journalism gold. More importantly, what should have been the proudest moment for Eastern's loyal backers was another opportunity to be irritated and chaffed by the fodder created by the Huron decision. The Hurons lost to top-ranked North Carolina after a gritty upset attempt died in the last eight minutes of the regional semifinal game in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Four months later EMU quietly replaced Hurons with Eagles. Yes, EMU unceremoniously ditched their symbolism with an Indian tribe in favor of a cartoon caricature of one of the Indian's most sacred symbols, the eagle.

The irony in that still makes me shake my head.

For the next few years an overload of bumper stickers, shirts and banners proclaiming "Forever Hurons" and "Once A Huron, Always A Huron" drew the loudest cheers of the night at EMU football and basketball games. Then-EMU Athletic Director Gene Smith, now the current AD at Ohio State University, tried in vain to smooth the ill will with little success. Smith left EMU for Iowa State in 1993, surely thankful to have the Huron headache behind him.

What amazes me is how hard EMU tries to spin this decision today. I was a student on campus during the 1990-91 school year. It was an ugly reaction to the decision, and it only worsened with every attempt EMU made to justify it. First EMU shamed the Huron tribe by trying to impart that the actual Hurons had pressured EMU towards this decision -- it wasn't true. The Hurons, who migrated to Oklahoma, actually sent a letter of support from the tribe's chief on official letterhead. EMU then paraded a purported Indian chief out to say that Indian head logos and nicknames embrace stereotypes that degrade Indians. Fair enough at face value, except the man saying this had a less-than-savory criminal history. Oops. Later, Bill Shelton tried to say no Hurons ever lived in the Huron Valley -- again, a mistruth. Anyone who's read Saint Among The Hurons or knows native American history know the Hurons were in the Great Lakes region and were sadly slaughtered in battle.

Today, the university prints a cautionary tale at every opportunity it gets about the name Hurons being picked in a contest by a student who worked at the former Huron Hotel. The story recants in great detail how the student was 'undoubtedly' influenced by his place of employment, and the runner-up in that contest was 'Pioneers'.

Coming Next: The solution that is most plausible and why EMU could benefit the most from the potential solution.

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

48 Hours Not Enough

Is there such thing as prep sports overload?

I ask because in the summertime, when the days are carefree, the breezes are warm and the passion on the fields and floors are at a sleepy lull, we prep sports junkies pine for the scholastic season...mostly because there's so little to write about.

But to quote the irrepressible one, ESPN's Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. On Saturday we kissed the prep football season to bed for another year with the MHSAA finals at Ford Field, and Monday night we said hello to another basketball season with the opening games for the girls' campaign.

Wow. A whole 48 hours of down time. I could barely book an overnight with a round-trip flight to New York City for a quickie trip to 72nd and Amsterdam for a Grey's Papaya special in that time. In case you're wondering, that's two New York-style hot dogs and a large fruit drink for $3.50. Where's Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte when I need them? At least we got to skip the Lions on Sunday. Ah, small favors.

It used to be football season ended and there was at least a little down time, even if that was one short week. This year, like it was last year, the knickers are barely out of the dryer and into the storage bin from football season as the basketball shirts, pants and whistles are being yanked out for another season.

And who do we have to thank for this? That handful of mothers from Grand Rapids, who over 10 years ago declared that they were going to change the world for the better by forcing the Michigan High School Athletic Association to move girls basketball to the winter with the boys. By doing this, volleyball would be playing the fall and Michigan would join the other 49 states in that time-honored game, Follow The Leader.

In the meantime, I'm tired...of being tired.

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

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