Sunday, December 30, 2007

Title hopes

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Grosse Pointe South ends Trenton's win streak but Trojans still shooting for states

By Anthony Fenech
Free Press Special Writer

The Trenton Trojans squared off with the Grosse Pointe South Blue Devils on the eve of December 19. Trenton was undefeated, and Grosse Pointe South came in with one loss, losing their undefeated status just a few days earlier.

The two perennially strong hockey schools each scored a pair of goals in the middle frame, but couldn’t muster another, and skated to a 2-2 tie at the City Sports Center in Detroit.

After a scoreless first period, the teams traded goals in the second, Scott Henegar scoring first for Trenton, followed by Jack Sklarski’s power play tally for Grosse Pointe South minutes later.

The Blue Devils would take the lead with just under six minutes to play in the period when Brandon Brundige connected on a slap shot just inside the blue line.

Staring down a one-goal deficit going into the third period, the Trojans put together an offensive burst with less than a minute remaining in the period, resulting in a controversial tying goal that would prove to be the game’s final score.

The attacking Trojans made their way into the Blue Devils zone, and after a shot by Kody Polin created a rebound in front of the net, captain Josh Miller got his stick on the puck, all while bowling into the South goaltender Trevor Sattelmeier. The puck trickled into the net while Sattelmeier was sprawled out on the ice, and the referee emphatically signaled a goal, drawing ire from Sattlemeier and the Blue Devils bench.

The third period and overtime went relatively quietly, with each team squandering key scoring chances and failing to cash in on power plays, and the game ended in a 2-2 tie.

“Tonight we were looking for a win. We had some seniors on our teams that were a little disappointed because they wanted to keep our undefeated streak alive,” Miller said.

Trenton is one of the state’s most decorated hockey programs, with more state championships than any public school. In 1996, they finished the season 28-0, winning the state title and were ranked #1 in the country.

Last season was a down year of sorts for the Trojans, who finished with a 13-8-5 record and lost in Regionals to cross-town rival Wyandotte Roosevelt.

The Trojans (9-0-1) get their first crack at Wyandotte on January 23. “It’s definitely going to be more of a rivalry game then it has ever been in the past,” head coach Mike Turner says.

Turner credits the team’s start to team unity. “The kids seem to get along real well and work well together. That’s a big thing. They all do things together and hang together.”

Miller, a senior captain, echoes that statement, saying, “Last year, everyone got along but we had a lot of different cliques. This year, we all are really close. There’s just a lot more chemistry.”

The Trojans sit atop the Michigan Metro Conference West Division, but are aware that Trenton hockey teams are judged by what they do in the playoffs.

“We’re excited about our chances come league play, but the history at our program has been one where we like to go far in the state tournament,” Turner said.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Lions players, celebrities participate in wheelchair basketball to help rehab cause

October 7, 2007

By Anthony Fenech
Free Press Special Writer

The players got introduced, but wheeled out to mid-court instead of trotting. There was the sweet sound of swoosh, bank-shots and even technical fouls, but no jump shots. And it was still a basketball game, but there definitely weren’t any losers.

At the Detroit Medical Center Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan’s 6th Annual Celebrity Wheelchair basketball game, a collection of local TV, sports and radio personalities came together and participated—most for the first time—in a wheelchair basketball game alongside the institute’s wheelchair basketball team, the Detroit Diehards.

The game took place at University of Detroit Mercy’s Calihan Hall, between the gold-clad Detroit Jam and the black-clad Motor City Rollers. Lions running back Kevin Jones, Jam head coach, who made his comeback from a knee injury later that week, wasn’t the only one ready to return from an injury.

So too was Jimmy Moceri, an 18-year-old former high school basketball star at Macomb Dakota. Moceri was injured in an auto accident on July 23, 2006, that left him paralyzed.

This was Moceri’s first time back on the court since the accident.

”It was my first time in an actual game, it felt great. I had a lot of fun,” a smiling Moceri said afterwards.

He has been practicing on Tuesday nights with the Michigan Thunderbirds Wheelchair Basketball Team.

Asked about how he overcame his injury, Moceri replied, “Accidents happen, that’s why they call them accidents. I had the right attitude the whole time, and I’ve worked hard ever since I got hurt.”

Myreo Dixon, Detroit Diehards co-captain, who participated on the Rollers with Moceri, said he’s been impressed with how quickly he’s picked the game up.

“He is quick and a really smart player, it’s amazing how quickly he has adapted his game to wheelchair basketball,” Dixon said.

A trio of Detroit Lions appeared, Kevin Jones, Mike Furrey, and Fernando Bryant. Former Lions Scott Kowalkowski and NFL Hall of Famer Len Barney also served as honorary coaches.

Detroit Pistons guard Lindsay Hunter coached the Rollers, and didn’t take a seat the entire first half, even resembling his teammate Rasheed Wallace in picking up a good-natured technical foul late in the first half.

The game was close until the end, with Curtis Carter of the Diehards scoring on a breakaway lay-up with 34 seconds left, cutting the Jam lead to two, but the gold squad hung on for a 27-23 victory, although one would argue the only numbers that mattered were the smiles that were so present at Calihan Hall.

“It’s great for us to give back to the community and to definitely be in a situation like this, supporting this type of organization,” said Lions wide receiver Mike Furrey.

“It’s amazing how you can go through life and you always complain about the little things but yet somebody always has it worse than you do,” said Furrey.

“To be in a situation to come out here and they don’t frown or be sad for what they have, they get in the wheelchair and have fun. They’re excited and it’s fun to come out here and watch.”

FM WJLB 97.1 personalities Coco and Foolish provided color commentary during the game, often provoking laughs out of the crowd as the celebrities wheeled and spun around the court.

DMC Director of Marketing and Public Relations Cheryl Angelelli appreciated the support of the local celebrities.

“It’s exciting to see everyone that cares about the athletes and our program and what we’re doing and that’s very rewarding to see, and just knowing the money we’re raising is going towards such a great cause,” stated Angelelli, who, also disabled, is the #1 ranked swimmer in the 200-meter freestyle.

All proceeds go to the DMC Rehabilitation Association of Michigan and their wheelchair sports program. The DMC also sponsors wheelchair tennis clinics and wheelchair water-skiing events.

Also participating in the event were WJLB disc jockeys Dr. Darrius, Bushman and SunShyne.

“We do this every year, being on the radio we don’t work that many hours so I feel like it’s our duty to help out and have a good time. It means a lot to everybody,” said SunShyne.

Her favorite part was scoring on her second free throw, one that was playfully contested by Hunter and the Rollers squad, because the referees allowed SunShyne to shoot halfway between the foul line and basket.

“I’ll always cheat but that’s OK, I’ll always score every year,” she laughed.

“It’s just a lot of fun.”

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Team captains get sportsmanship tips at conference

September 30, 2007

By Anthony Fenech
Free Press Special Writer

In sports today, sportsmanship is often blinded by big-money contracts, arguments with officials, hot-headed outbursts, and even confrontations with fans. Good sportsmanship is rarely applauded, the focus instead on touchdown dances and trash-talking.

Sometimes, that same poor sportsmanship seeps down into the high school level. The Michigan Independent Athletic Conference is doing their part to emphasize good sportsmanship at the high school level.

On Wednesday, September 19, the MIAC hosted a captain’s luncheon, hosted by Southfield Christian Academy. The luncheon, designed to educate captains of all 12 fall sports on various topics of sportsmanship, included a guest-speaking appearance by Jack Roberts, Executive Director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

”I hoped to encourage the captains to think again about their role as captains and equip them with the couple of ideas for their leadership. The idea of thinking positively, I wanted to give them things they could remember,” Roberts said.

Roberts touched on a number of issues and added a couple of personal anecdotes, including an interesting story about his two sons. One graduated from the University of Michigan, the other from Appalachian State University.

“I might be the only parent in the U.S. to claim that,” Roberts joked. “I preach good sportsmanship all the time. Right now I have some work to do at home.”

Roberts handed out questionnaires for each group of captains to fill out as a group. The questionnaire was eight questions long, asking questions such as the risks of being a team captain, the characteristics of good leaders, and ways to create team chemistry.

Libby Allen, a Southfield Christian senior who captains cross country, enjoyed the event. “It was good. We actually got to meet the people we run against and compete against, and so it’s kind of nice to see them outside of always competing, because you can’t really talk when you’re competing against each other.”

Noah Nelson, representing Oakland Christian’s soccer team, echoed Allen’s views on interacting with their fellow opponents. “I’ve grown up playing sports with a lot of these guys, just playing back and forth from 5th grade, so it’s kind of cool to sit down with them, hang out a little bit, talk to them,” Nelson said.

This was the first such event for the MIAC, and numerous coaches and athletic directors were present.

“I think the idea of us getting our kids together in a non-competitive environment where they can look at each other, not just as the opposing team, but as fellow soccer players, volleyball players. Many of our schools are Christian schools, so there is that tie as well. That’s good and it helps relationships between our schools and it builds a better camaraderie amongst the conference. It’s a great idea, a great event,” said Plymouth Christian Athletic Director Chris Johnson.

Johnson also assists with Plymouth Christian’s varsity boys’ soccer team, and believes the MIAC will continue with the captain’s luncheons in the winter and fall seasons.

“Anytime you can do something where you can get competitive people together in a non-competitive environment, where they can get to know each other, it’s a good thing,” said Johnson.

When asked what sportsmanship means to them, each captain and coach answered differently, but one explanation stood out.

“You’re gracious in defeat, and humble when you win.”

That quote came from Tim Koster, a senior Cross Country captain from the host school, whose answer seemed to collectively ring a bell with participants, visible with smiles and head-nods.

Dr. Phil Ackley, principal of Southfield Christian, said his school tries to preach that same line to their athletes.

“We try to say that over and over,” said Ackley, who offered his opinion on the favorite thing he saw from his athletes.

“Our students now see these rival schools as friends. They’re actually just like us. We’ve got all of the same interests and college decisions to make,” said Ackley.

According to Roberts, in 2007, the MHSAA has conducted 12 half-day captains clinics, with more than 2,000 captains participating. Afterwards, coaches and athletic directors have follow-up material to keep working with the participants.

“There’s a lot of this going on. This is really a centerpiece of our student-focused programming,” said Roberts.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Appalachian State: Hardly a mountain

Breezing over Michigan’s 2007 football schedule, you come across familiar names you haven’t seen in awhile like Purdue and Illinois, big games like Ohio State and Notre Dame, and … what’s this … a mountain range?

No, it’s Appalachian State. Appalachian what? Appalachian State. Don’t worry, you’re not the only person picturing their football practices in a quiet valley nestled between two gigantic mountains with the occasional “buffalo timeout,” as the backup kicker chases the herd away, consequently running for his life, sooner rather than later.

And you’re certainly not alone in not knowing such an institution even existed.

Last Friday, the Wolverines unveiled their upcoming schedule. Perched at the top was this unknown school from Boone, North Carolina, causing fans everywhere to stare into their newspaper or computer screen and say “Who?”

Consider us here in Michigan uninformed because after all, who doesn’t know of Appalachian State? They’re kind of a big deal—in the same way the Danville Braves rookie club is a big deal in the Appalachian League.

The Mountaineers—how fitting—were an impressive 14-1 last season, and have won back-to-back NCAA Division I football national championships. Wait, what? So Florida’s thumping of Ohio State was just an aberration?

No, not exactly. Explaining the NCAA football divisions is a lot like explaining the BCS. You can’t. However, I’ll do my best.

This is according to Michigan’s official athletic website,, which definitely doesn’t shy away from pumping up the Mountaineers as if they posed a smidgen of a threat to the Wolverines (see their online schedule):

“The Division I football classifications formerly known as I-A and I-AA are now Division I Bowl Subdivision (FBS - formerly I-A) and Division I Championship Subdivision (FCS - formerly I-AA). The 16-team FCS playoffs are officially known as the NCAA Division I Football Championship.”

I’m going to abstain from repeatedly pounding my head on the keyboard out of complete frustration on how stupid that is and put it in Lehman’s terms for you: Appalachian State is a Division 1-AA football team.

And just like that, Bo Schembechler turns in his grave.

Michigan hasn’t played a Division I-AA team since 1943. There are certain things you can bank on every year regarding their schedule. A healthy serving of early season cupcakes, a season-ending Ohio State game, and a Division I-AA-less schedule.

You can’t say that for the latter anymore. Now, instead of just one cupcake, Lloyd Carr is treating his players to an entire cake walk to open the season.

There were undoubtedly more viable candidates for the September 1st opener than Appalachian State. Invite your usual MAC team to the Big House, give them some lifelong memories, beat their brains out, and send them home. But why pick on a Division I-AA school?

Better yet, pluck a semi-relevant team out of a major conference, much like last year’s Vanderbilt game. But it’s become clear Carr is taking the utmost precautions to get out of September unscathed after critics have come after his inability to stay in the national title hunt for any longer than a few weeks.

Last year, Florida beat up on Western Carolina November 18, hours before kickoff in Columbus. It wasn’t the least bit surprising to see Urban Meyer stroke his ego to the tune of 62 points on the puny Catamounts. But to see Michigan do that?

It’s been out of the question. They have prided themselves as a tradition-rich school with the utmost class and integrity. But this move separates the current state of the program from their long-standing morals.

Nothing good comes out of taking a team like Appalachian State behind the woodshed and blistering them by 42 points. Nothing. If anything, you’re going to hurt your players more by lining them up across from such inferior talent.

While Michigan is sleepwalking through games with teams like Appalachian State, Ohio State is getting right down to business with games against top-flight talent. The past two years they’ve completed a home-and-home series with Texas, and in 2008 they begin a two-year engagement with USC.

It’s not a coincidence Ohio State’s three-game winning streak over Michigan has come at the exact time they started upgrading their competition. Gone are the days Michigan comes to town as the best team the Buckeyes will see all year. It’s a “been there, done that” attitude the Buckeyes have been carrying into their annual rivalry game.

So pencil in Mike Hart for 150 yards and a couple touchdowns. Add in a couple Henne to Manningham strikes. Throw in a handful of turnovers and a defensive touchdown or two and light up the scoreboard with crooked numbers.

The Big House sells out, the athletic department gets another nice payout, and the football team is 1-0. All is well in Ann Arbor.

Just remember that with one game under their belts, the Michigan Wolverines haven’t seen one thing that everyone else has: a Division I-A football team.

Hopefully the cake tastes good.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Trammell's number should be retired

This spring, we’ll see Gary Sheffield trot to his residency in Comerica Park’s outfield wearing the same number that was a staple in the Tigers lineup for two decades.

He’ll do this over and over again, each time appearing as if he’s jogging through molasses, with the customary I-could-care-less-if-I-get-to-right-field-before-the-leadoff-hitter-takes-the-box kind of attitude that has infected major league players for years now.

You’ll abruptly flash back to a scrawny Californian patrolling the middle of Tiger Stadium’s infield, one who hit home runs before it was known shortstops could do such a thing, one who turned double plays in his sleep, and as outrageous as this sounds, one who hustled on and off the field.

You might don a huge smile and think of the 1984 World Series, in which this individual was named MVP, or maybe envision him and his partner-in-crime, Lou Whitaker, twisting one of their signature double plays.

You could even get up, grab a Coke, take a bathroom break, and plop right back down before the first pitch of the inning is thrown because Sheffield will probably still be strolling through the infield.

And, like me, you’ll probably wonder: Why is he wearing Alan Trammell’s number?

It just doesn’t look right. You try to shake the thought out of your head, but you then realize you’re going to have to look at this injustice the entire baseball season.

Trammell’s number, symbolic of hard work, consistency and class, is now sported by Sheffield, and when you think of the aging superstar, you immediately think of steroids and prima donnas everywhere.

Trammell was a ball player. He was what people today mistake major-leaguers for—ballplayers. Today’s players are professionals, not ballplayers. Passion for the game, work ethic, and the absence of ludicrous contracts is what distinguishes the two.

It’s hard to say where Trammell fits in regarding Detroit’s favorite adopted sons. He wasn’t as adored as Steve Yzerman and he didn’t put up the kind of numbers Barry Sanders did, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a Tigers fan that didn’t love him, let alone a baseball fan that didn’t absolutely love the way Trammell played the game.

His fanfare has quietly diminished after last year’s Tigers cast a mammoth-sized shadow over Trammell’s three seasons as manager, hired merely as a publicity stunt to sell tickets in an attempt to cover up an on-field product that masqueraded as a major-league team with minor-league talent.

He was criticized immensely during his tenure, which was highlighted—or more suitably, low lighted--by the 2003 Tigers nearly setting a new record for futility with 119 losses. Trammell always operated with the utmost class, never excusing poor play with an obvious lack of talent, not to mention the barren farm system. People didn’t like his Joey Harrington-esque approach to losing. Still, Trammell weathered the storm, although he didn’t escape with his job in hand.

And hey, maybe Trammell wasn’t cut out to be a big-league manager. The organization certainly needed to move in another direction. But place any other manager in that dugout with those players, and their record would be very similar to the 186 wins and 300 losses Trammell had.

Even including his managerial career, Trammell’s number is long overdue to be retired. The career he had is good enough to garner debates on his Hall-of-Fame worthiness. Although that’s a topic for another day, his stats speak for themselves:

.285 career batting average, 185 home runs in an era where shortstops couldn’t hit for power to save themselves, six All-Star appearances and in 1984 he lost the AL MVP to Fred Lynn by a hair or two. That MVP award could be the one thing that’s keeping him out of Cooperstown the most, lacking a real signature award.

That coupled with a World Series championship and a string of ten consecutive winning seasons led by his Trammell’s stellar play, and I’m wondering what it takes in this town to get a jersey retired.

You can have a cup of coffee with the Pistons and get your jersey retired, but the Tigers have been reluctant to honor Trammell or his partner of 19 years, Whitaker.

With the kind of pride and success both enjoyed while wearing the old English “D,” the absence of any kind of honor so far or for the foreseeable future is baffling. Furthermore, the company in which both stand in is equally confusing.

Tiger greats Mickey Lolich and Sparky Anderson are also part of the “Neglected Tiger Greats” club.

So in steps Sheffield, right after being banished from the Bronx Zoo, and he’s immediately awarded #3 upon asking. A player who admittedly used steroids not knowingly, which seems like a whole bunch of malarkey in itself, and a player who is regarded as having an attitude problem.

That right there shows the kind of respect the Tigers have for what Trammell did for their franchise. None. It won’t matter years down the road if the Tigers retire the number. Frankly, they have shown Trammell all that needs to be shown.

He’s been retired for 10 years, and although the timing isn’t optimal to canonize him now after such a horrendous stretch managing, there would have been an appropriate time down the road.

Sheffield told the Detroit Free Press that he’s wearing it out of admiration for Trammell, which is all fine and dandy, but the admiration for Trammell should come from the organization, who in turn should retire the jersey.

But now, after the team has shown no immediate interest in preserving his number or legacy it seems as though it’s a slap in the face to Trammell and to the fans who want to see Trammell get the kind of respect he deserves.

Sheffield’s acquisition is a good move by the Tigers, but his acquisition of Trammell’s former number makes me question the organization’s motive in overlooking the past and catering to the present.

For every one of Sheffield’s home runs this season, you’ll see a #3 circling the bases ever so slowly in the kind of home run jog that’s become as much a lap of self-admiration than anything else these days.

And every single time it’s another reason the number should be emblazoned on the right-centerfield brick at Comerica Park, not Sheffield’s jersey.