What a year: A year of change, new beginnings and saying goodbye

C&G Newspapers | Published January 1, 2014

Another year has come and gone, so it’s time to look back and recall some of our favorite moments.

As the editor, what stands out most to me is the addition this fall of covering some of our local college teams and following the local athletes who have moved on to play college ball. It’s been a nice change of pace for us and, I hope, for our readers.

I’ve asked the sports writers to share of few of their personal highlights from the past year.

Taking a bow
This past year, the high school sports community witnessed local legends take leave from their respective sidelines.

Rob Ambrose led Birmingham Brother Rice lacrosse for 21 years. During that time, the Warriors won 16 state titles, eight Midwest titles, 16 Catholic High School League championships and a national title in 2008. The Warriors hold a streak of being undefeated against teams from Michigan for the last 11 years.

“I have plenty of things to do to keep me busy, but there will definitely be a void for me that I’ll miss because it’s been such a challenge and a lot of fun,” Ambrose said earlier this year. “It’s been a great 21 years of my life. It’s time to turn the page.”

Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day’s Kurt Keener is another coach who left on top. He leaves the boys basketball program after coaching 35 years and winning nine state titles, including one this last winter.

Al Fracassa has coached his last football game at Brother Rice after 45 years, nine state championships in the current playoff era, including the last three seasons, and as the winningest coach in MHSAA history.

“I wish I was younger and could coach some more,” he said after his final state title. “When you love something this much, it’s tough to leave it.”

I believe Ferndale’s “Voice of the Eagles” Joe Mahan would agree. He passed away in March at the age of 86. He spent 65 of those years dedicating his time to Ferndale High announcing games, keeping stats or anything else that could help his hometown.

Just months before he died, the school honored him with a plaque recognizing him forever as the “Voice of the Eagles.”

I was fortunate to spend some time with him in the days following the ceremony, where I found a man proud to be a part of his hometown.

“It’s been a long journey, and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of reasons to smile.”

Fond memories of Battle Creek
I was there as a kid — a travel baseball opportunity taking me on the road with my dad to a city known for cereal.

It was there, in Battle Creek, where we stayed in hotels, played games back to back to back, and felt like we were in the center of the baseball universe.

I was back again this spring, to report, for the final time.

When the MHSAA recently announced the state finals for baseball and softball would move out from Battle Creek and to East Lansing in 2014, I was hardly surprised but certainly a bit bummed.

Being part of the surroundings inside Bailey Park was always a treat. The baseball I covered there was the best the state had to offer.

In 2013, Bishop Foley won a third state title in a row, and may be the best prep team I’ve ever covered.

Liggett regained its top spot in Division 4, and Brother Rice, a team that operates with a professional-style mantra, was back for a thriller of a final in D-1.

Covering these finals is certainly work, but there are times it hardly seemed like it.

From one sun-soaked field to the next, the challenge of seeing every game I needed to while keeping tabs on every team there was a journey I felt like I had mastered.

Days were long and deadlines met, but Battle Creek will forever hold a special place in my heart, thanks to the game of baseball.

Change is the only constant, it seems, and change was needed for the MHSAA and its finals local.

But, whether it’s my memories there as a teen with my dad or those from the past few years where I got to watch fathers and sons celebrate together, Bailey Park was an experience, and location, to remember.

Blue Devils, Spartans and a host of new memories
As 2013 comes to a close, I’m looking back this week on the top sports moments that I was fortunate to experience while covering sports throughout the metro Detroit area and also as a fan of the Detroit sports teams.

I began covering the sports beat for several towns throughout Macomb County for C & G Newspapers this August, so I can only call upon a few months of local sporting events that I’ve been fortunate to cover so far. In addition to the team accomplishments we have listed already, I wanted to pick out a couple of specific moments that stood out to me as the most memorable.

Rivalry games always seem to come down to who makes a decisive play that turns momentum in their favor. This fall’s matchup between Grosse Pointe North’s and South’s football teams provided that moment.

Down 10-7 in the early stages of the fourth quarter with his offense sputtering, South coach Tim Brandon called a successful fake punt that led to a South touchdown a few plays later. South maintained momentum from there to win its school-record fourth consecutive game against North.

If I were to give an award for most dramatic game in any sport this year, I would give it to Fraser High’s soccer team’s district semifinal victory against Warren De La Salle. In a heated rivalry game, Fraser coach Thaier Mukhtar earned a victory against his old team 3-1 in overtime after a scoreless regulation session.

Personally, 2013 was a dramatic series of highs and lows in the sports world for me, but the apex of the sports year came on a Saturday night in Indianapolis in early December.

As a lifelong fan and alumnus of Michigan State, Jeremy Langford’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Ohio State to win the Big Ten Championship was right up there with the Pistons winning the 2004 NBA title for my favorite moment that I was lucky enough to witness live.

Something for everyone
Each of the five sportswriters here at C & G cover 22 sports over the course of a year.

For those 22 sports, we cover 79 schools. It’s amazing to see so many people who are passionate about so many different games.

There are schools that bring throngs of fans to the state wrestling finals. We see gangs of people tailgating for Friday night football games, and student sections at boys and girls basketball games continue to expand.

Fans of the Warren De La Salle football team could be found tailgating at just about any venue. The Warren Lincoln wrestling team’s following grew as the season went along, with the Abes fighting their way to the 2013 Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 2 state finals.

It’s good to see people caring so much. It’s a reality that every program will not field all-stars in every sport, so I really enjoy seeing programs find their niche in various sports. It’s also been great to see so many student-athletes try out for various sports.

Athletics helps build character and friendships with people you may have never thought you’d connect with. I didn’t play organized sports in high school, but the majority of friends I have had for much of my life came from chance meetings on blacktops and baseball diamonds. So I encourage anyone, no matter what gender or size, to pick a sport — any sport — and play in high school. You never know what it could lead to.


OU getting a football team — didn’t see that one coming
In 2013, something happened that a lot of people might have thought they would never see — Oakland University actually fielded a football team.

As an alumnus, I had inquired some years ago about the possibility of Oakland getting a football team, and based on a conversation I had with a university employee, it didn’t seem to be a realistic scenario.

However, the conversation I had with that employee was in regards to an NCAA football team. The possibility of Oakland starting a club football team is something I don’t remember ever crossing my mind.

While I may not have given it any thought, Oakland student David Brosky did. And aside from just thinking about it, he decided to do something about it. Brosky, who is the club president and a player on the team, posted some flyers to find out if others might share his interest in starting a club team at the school, and while it wasn’t necessarily a quick or easy process, with the help of Nic Bongers, the club advisor and also a player, eventually Oakland’s first-ever football team was assembled.

But having enough players to field a team is one thing, and generating interest from students, fans and alumni is another.  Going out to cover Oakland’s first home game, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to find in the way of support for the football team, but what I found was a nice-sized crowd, people wearing their Oakland apparel and a fun, college-like atmosphere.

After the game, Dan Donahue, who performed color commentator duties for campus radio station WXOU, said, “It’s cool to see your school actually playing a football game.”

There may not be a better way to sum it up than that.