The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Pioneer High School it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Pioneer High School Sat, 26 Jul 2014 16:12:47 +0000 David Erik Nelson What the crap are they building in front of Pioneer High school? On bare dirt, no less! [photo]

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AAPS: No Wind Turbine for Teaching Tue, 11 Feb 2014 15:58:23 +0000 Chronicle Staff Educating Ann Arbor area students about wind power might still take place with funding from a U.S. Department of Energy grant. But that teaching won’t take place in the context of a demonstration wind turbine the city of Ann Arbor had hoped to construct with the federal money.

That’s because Ann Arbor Public Schools has informed the city that the district won’t be partnering with the city on the construction of a 100-150 foot tall, 60kW wind turbine on school property.

In a letter dated Jan. 30, 2014 from AAPS superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift to city administrator Steve Powers, Swift concluded: “I believe that it is not in the best interest of the District to consent to this project.” However, Swift’s letter leaves open the possibility of future collaboration: “I … sincerely hope that we may explore and partner on other City of Ann Arbor – Ann Arbor Public Schools endeavors in the future.” [.pdf of Jan. 30, 2014 letter from Swift]

While the concluding nod to collaboration is common administrative boilerplate, the wind energy project could still result in the kind of partnership it describes. Brian Steglitz is the city of Ann Arbor engineer who is managing the wind energy project and spoke with The Chronicle by phone on Feb. 10. Steglitz explained that the U.S. Department of Energy, which had awarded the $951,500 grant, has asked the city to regroup and consider how to proceed with the educational component of the project, even with no viable location to construct a demonstration wind turbine.  The USDOE has indicated that it would be receptive to using some of the grant money on a proposal that is simply an educational project, not involving construction of a wind turbine.

According to Steglitz, about $70,000 of the $951,500 grant has been spent so far. The educational project would cost significantly less than the amount of the grant. If the USDOE were to accept the city’s modified proposal, it would eventually need city council approval – to expend the grant funds in that manner.

At its June 17, 2013 meeting, the city council wrangled over expending some of that initial $70,000, when it deliberated on a $49,883 contract with CDM Smith to perform an environmental analysis (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – for constructing a wind turbine at a Pioneer High School location.

The council vote on that contract was not unanimous, with three councilmembers dissenting: Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1). Objections included the fact that the Pioneer High School site does not enjoy wind patterns that are well-suited to electric power generation. So some councilmembers were skeptical that the amount of power that AAPS could obtain from the project would be worth the investment.

According to Steglitz, CDM Smith completed the scope of work in the contract, and a report was filed with the USDOE. Steglitz indicated that based on that report, the project seemed like it could be on a path to be granted a categorical exclusion for additional environmental review. That became a moot point, when AAPS indicated that it was not willing to partner with the city on wind turbine construction. From Swift’s letter to Powers:

1. The Pioneer area is not considered a high quality location for this purpose due to low average wind speeds. It is doubtful that the operation of a wind turbine at this site would generate savings.

2. The maintenance support for the unit does not seem fully developed. Presently, only two repair technicians work for the wind turbine company in North America performing maintenance and repairs. I hesitate to be the owner’s representative for a high profile unit when it may not be repairable in a timely fashion. The unit also needs regular cleaning for appearance sake creating another potential scheduling obstacle.

3. The “ice throw” is an additional concern. In the winter the thaw and freeze process allows ice to form on idle blades. When the unit is set in motion by the wind it releases the ice in a random manner. The blade tips travel at up to 300 mph and ice thrown from the blades could create a potential problem.

The USDOE grant was accepted by the city council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting. The grant included a requirement that the city provide $484,390 in matching funds on the $951,500 grant – which the city expected to achieve through partnership with a third-party developer: Wind Products Inc., out of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The plan had been to locate the wind turbines on AAPS property, and that Wind Products Inc. would construct the turbines. Wind Products Inc. would have then provided AAPS with a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA), which would have given the AAPS some guaranteed minimum of power at less than the current market rate. The city of Ann Arbor would have been the recipient of any renewable energy credits (RECs) from the installation.

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Ann Arbor OKs Grant for Two Wind Turbines Tue, 08 Jan 2013 02:28:20 +0000 Chronicle Staff Two wind turbines, intended to generate electricity for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, will be constructed in or near the city of Ann Arbor sometime in the next year and a half. At its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy that will fund part of the construction.

The city is obligated to provide an additional $484,390 in matching funds on the $951,500 grant – which it expects to achieve through partnership with a third-party developer, who was not named in the council’s resolution. However, city staff responded to councilmember questions before the meeting by indicating it was Wind Products Inc., out of Brooklyn, N.Y. that is expected to make the investment.

The city’s plan is to make a $18,590 contribution of in-kind staff time, not paying any cash.

The plan is to locate the wind turbines on AAPS property and that the third-party developer will construct the turbines. The developer would then provide AAPS with a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) – which would give the AAPS some guaranteed minimum of power at less than the current market rate. The recipient of any renewable energy credits (RECs) from the installation would be the city of Ann Arbor.

AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis responded to an emailed query from The Chronicle describing the possibility that the site of the installation could be Pioneer High School, with the height of the turbines approximating that of two cell towers already located on the property. Margolis indicated that before any decision is made to locate wind turbines on the school’s property, the school district would solicit comments from residents who live near the site. The city council deliberations indicated little enthusiasm for locating the turbines near residential neighborhoods or very near a school building.

In the state of Michigan, Ann Arbor has poor to marginal potential for wind energy generation, compared with areas in the rest of the state – according to data maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy. However, the goal of the Ann Arbor project is focused on the educational benefit – as the schools integrate the project into their curricula and the public would have its awareness raised regarding renewable energy.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Column: Thoughts on Pioneer-Huron Melee Fri, 19 Oct 2012 12:48:35 +0000 John U. Bacon John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School football team went across town to play long-time rival Ann Arbor Huron. It wasn’t the players’ performance during the game that made news, however, but the coaches’ behavior afterward. And the news wasn’t good.

Pioneer came into the annual rivalry with Huron sporting a solid 4-3 record and a good chance to make the playoffs. Huron hadn’t won a game all year, and was simply playing out the season. The only stakes were bragging rights – and even those weren’t much in question.

With a minute left, Pioneer enjoyed an impressive 35-6 lead. At that point, it’s customary for the winning coach to tell his team to run out the clock by taking a knee, instead of trying to score again. But Pioneer threw a pass, and then another, and then another – one of them to the endzone – in a clear display of poor sportsmanship. That was the night’s first mistake.

This made Huron head coach Cory Gildersleeve apoplectic. He yelled across the field to Pioneer head coach Paul Test to knock it off. That was the second mistake made by the men that night. If your team is getting crushed, and you’re the head coach, you don’t worry about the other guys. You get your team to the locker room, and start working to get better.

When the game ended the players had no problem shaking hands, and saying good luck. But not the head coaches. At mid-field, Gildersleeve started pointing his finger and yelling at Paul Test – a coach I’ve known and admired for years. Test told Gildersleeve he didn’t call those pass plays – and that was the third mistake. That answer simply doesn’t fly. When you’re the head coach, you’re responsible for everything that your coaches and players do – and that certainly includes the plays your staff calls.

It turns out Test has a history of running up the score, and leaving bad feelings behind. Just ask Dexter, which Pioneer beat 69-0 this year. After the game, Pioneer’s players put one of their assistant coaches – who had been released as Dexter’s head coach, but still teaches there – on their shoulders, and marched him right in front of the Dexter bench, as if to ask, “How do ya like me now?” Dexter’s answer: Not very much, thank you. But no fights broke out.

The Huron-Pioneer game probably would’ve ended the same way – with some hard feelings, but nothing more – until an unnamed Pioneer assistant coach saw the two head coaches arguing, broke from the handshake line and ran up to Huron’s head coach. It’s not clear whether he pushed Gildersleeve or punched him, but there’s no question he made contact. A Pioneer player pulled his coach away, but the coach jumped right back in – and just like that, a bench-clearing brawl broke out. Call those mistakes four and five.

That’s the bad news. The good news is just about everything that followed. No students rushed the field. The players, with only a few exceptions, tried to break things up. The schools’ athletic directors – both women – bravely jumped into the middle and helped end the melee. Since then, everybody’s apologized, and both teams’ captains have met to mend the fences.

Both head coaches received two game suspensions – one from the state, and one from the district. A few players will also be suspended for the next game – which, for the Pioneers, could be costly, as they push for the playoffs. Perhaps most important, the offending Pioneer assistant coach, who seems to have absolutely no idea what high school sports are supposed to teach, has been fired. Good.

But when I take a step back, I’m struck most by who started it, and who ended it. I can only hope that the men who run these teams start acting more like the women who supervise them and the teenagers who play for them.

On Friday night, it was women and children first. The men finished last.

About the author: John U. Bacon is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football.” He also co-authored “A Legacy of Champions,” and provided commentary for “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game.” 

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our publication of columnists like John U. Bacon. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The ChronicleAnd if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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Column: Spring Rowing on Argo Pond Fri, 16 Apr 2010 14:55:21 +0000 Dave Askins It’s late March and I’m lingering around the end of the boathouse used by the Pioneer High School rowing team, waiting for the boats to head down to the water for practice. Coach Rich Griffith has agreed to let me ride along in the motorized launch as he monitors the rowers’ workout. The following week I’ll take a ride with Huron High’s coach, Tom Kraft.

Pioneer Rowing

Alec Washabaugh helps carry the boat as Meaghan Kennedy directs traffic. Both are students at Pioneer High School. Next fall, Kennedy will be heading to Indiana University in Bloomington, where she’ll attend school on a crew scholarship. (Photos by the writer.)

From behind me comes the warning from one of the coxswains: “Heads up!” Coxswains steer the boats on the water – and on land as well, because lifting and turning the long craft requires coordination.

A peek over my shoulder confirms that the command is directed at me – I’m standing near the middle of an upside-down 8-person rowing shell held aloft by eight women. My noggin is safe for a few seconds as they pause. To clear the boat completely, I’d need to hustle a good 25 feet in one direction or the other. But that seems like an overly dramatic and panicky move. Surely that’s not what boathouse culture demands? Instead, I simply kneel. The boat makes its way over me and down to the dock.

The learning curve is steep. A few minutes later: “Heads up!” The scene repeats itself.

I confirm with Pioneer senior Meaghan Kennedy, who’s standing nearby, that yes, maybe I should find another vantage point. Kennedy is coxswain for the men’s varsity eight-man boat and one of the team’s captains, along with twins Zach and Mackenzie Miller. Kennedy is waiting to guide her own boat down to the dock.

Who Pays for This?

The Chronicle’s report of the March 24, 2010 meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees includes details on this year’s proposed budget, which features a new “pay-to-play” program for athletics [emphasis added]:

[Superintendent Todd] Roberts emphasized that it was a goal for extracurricular activities not to prevent any student from participating. The cost to participate in high school sports would be $150 for the first sport, and $50 for every sport thereafter. In middle school, there would simply be one $50 athletic fee for any number of sports played over one year. Scholarships would be available, he said, for athletics, as well as to cover the musical instrument fees.

Up to now, the fee assessed by the district has been $35 to cover insurance for sports sanctioned by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Rowing is not a sanctioned sport.

Coaches Griffith at Pioneer High School and Kraft at Huron High say the pay-to-play system will have an impact on their programs. Griffith told The Chronicle his rowers already pay $580 a year. For a fall and spring seasons rower, the proposed system would mean $200 more, pushing the total to $780. Griffith says that could give some of his 73 rowers this year pause. And if fewer students come out for the sport, that will nudge the cost higher still – the $580 cost is calculated by taking the budget set by the nonprofit Pioneer Rowing Club and dividing by the number of rowers.

Huron High rowing coach Tom Kraft

Not a financial bailout. Huron High rowing coach Tom Kraft empties some water out of the launch from the previous day’s rain.

Kraft has similar concerns. The Huron Rowing Association is the nonprofit that oversees the capital investment and operations for the Huron High School team. Cost per rower per season is $275, which comes to$550 for a full year. Kraft notes that some scholarship money is available. One obligation that scholarships don’t cover, says Kraft, is the 400 points worth of fundraising effort each rower needs to contribute. There’s a point system for volunteering with various fundraisers – a deficit in points gets paid at a 1 point = 1 dollar conversion.

The school system supports the rowing program with funds for coaches and travel.

The rowers are not alone in already paying something to support their participation in athletics. All 38 varsity sports at each of the two high schools have associated booster clubs. The check that Pioneer golfers write to the booster club, for example, is $200. But in a phone interview, Liz Margolis, spokeswoman for Ann Arbor Public Schools, stressed that no student can be prevented from participating in a sport due to failure to pay a booster club fee. The same will be true of the pay-to-play system, Margolis said.

Out on the Water with Pioneer Crew: “A Fool Maid of Honor”

From the dock downstream, to the south, it’s about 500 meters to Argo Dam. Once the two racing shells – one 8-man and the other a 4-man – have made their way to the dam end of the pond, Coach Griffith checks in with them from our launch. Before we’d left shore he had searched the boat house for one of the bullhorns, but found only a megaphone – just a cone with no electronic amplification. He tests it out: “Is this at all a viable means of communication?” The indication from the rowers is, no, not really. But they make do.

Pioneer Crew

Out on the water from foreground to background: Meaghan Kennedy, Zach Miller, Drew McMillan, Lucas Kennedy, Konstantinos Papefthymiou, Liad Lehavy, Nick Terrell.

Griffith starts them off with a two-pause drill. He wants them to interject “hiccup pauses” to make sure they get good “send” to the boat. The coxswains – Meaghan Kennedy for the 8-man and Zack Ackerman in the 4-man – are to call out the pauses to the crew.

We make our way back upstream well past the dock. Griffith admonishes the rowers, to “roll up together” better. We encounter some other rowing shells, and a kayaker who’s out on the pond that day, so Griffith hangs back with his motor launch. He doesn’t want to subject them to the wake from our boat.

We stop short of the US-23 bridge and turn around. The assigned drill – back up towards the dam – involves increasing the stroke rate every 20 strokes for 10 strokes at a time. This cadence is monitored by the coxswains, who are fed data from a rowing computer. The rowing computer works on the same principle as modern bicycling computers that count wheel rotations with a magnet.

Pioneer four-man boat

Pioneer men’s team, foreground to background: Henry MacConnel, Josh LaHaye, David Chapman, Chris Darnton, Zack Ackerman (coxswain, hand only – look for the purple swatch at the edge of the frame).

In the racing shell, a magnet under the seat of the first rower – the stroke seat – tickles a sensor each time it slides past. The computer automatically calculates the stroke rate based on elapsed time.

Griffith has the boats practice their starts. “Sit ready! Attention! Row!” is the command sequence. He focuses his rowers on body angle – they’re laying back too far at the end of the stroke during the starts. With high stroke cadences, he tells them, they can cut off the lay back – there’s no need to go past vertical.

I switch out of Griffith’s boat and climb aboard a launch with women’s coach Suzanne Buzzell. “Buzz” did her collegiate rowing at Michigan State University. She’s putting an 8-woman boat through its paces. They’re working on building up to a stroke rate of 32 per minute. Buzz is focusing them on their “catches” – the part of the stroke when the oar blade first enters the water: “Keep the catches light! Let the blade fall right in! Effortless catches!”

Pioneer Women s boat

Pioneer women’s team: Sarah Foster (coxswain), Hannah Graham, Annika Gage, Anna DeBoer, Claire Barrett, Rachel Bielajew, Ella Janowitz, Annie Oldani, Kendall Phillips.

And then, “Fool maid of honor!” Surely this was the distortion from the bullhorn? Or the way sound travels across the open water? [Unlike Griffith, Buzz had managed to snag an electronic bullhorn from the boat house.] A few more repetitions allow the actual words to settle acoustically in my ear: “Full blade of water.” Ah. That makes somewhat more sense.

At the end of the stroke, Buzz wants the blades coming out squared and clean: “Don’t throw up that water!” Although Buzz is focused on giving technical feedback, she explains to me that underlying the technical work is an aerobic- and stamina-building drill.

Well past the US-23 and railroad bridges not far from Barton Dam, we turn around. The kayaker, who’s been following at a distance, approaches and asks if he’s bugging us. No, he’s fine, says Buzz. She asks if he’s trying to race them. He confirms that he is. He’s fine just as long as he doesn’t run into them, Buzz advises.

The women in the boat want to hear from Buzz how they’re doing. Asks one, “Are my shoulders staying down?” Buzz’s frank assessment: “Yes – when I yell at you!” Another wants to know, “Is my handle height at the catch getting better?” Again, Buzz doesn’t tell give her the unconditional praise she’s probably hoping to hear: “When I yell at you – yes.”

Pioneer Coxswain

Sarah Foster calls out the stroke count.

The practice for this boat wraps up with some start drills. The idea is to start with a five-stroke sequence with increasing power: half, half, three-quarter, full, full. That five-stroke sequence segues into 5 full strokes.

They’re trying to get the stroke rate up as high as possible. After several start drills, Buzz asks coxswain Sarah Foster for a report. They’ve been hitting between 31 and 32 strokes per minute with a high of 33.

Buzz tells them for the final drill she’d like to see a 36: “That’s doable,” she assures them. As they set off in search of a 36, Buzz exhorts them: “See how high you can get it. Have fun with this, ladies! Send it!

The report back from Foster: 35 and a half. Asks Buzz, “Seriously?” Yep. Buzz tells them to stroke it into the dock. The 36 will apparently be left for another day.

But no.

Annika Gage, rowing in the second seat, wants to take another shot at 36. Buzz obliges, giving them 15 strokes after the initial five, to get to 36 strokes per minute. “Sit ready! Attention! Row!” And 20 strokes later Foster announces their victory for the afternoon: “36 and a half!”

Out on the Water with Huron Crew

It’s a week later now. Huron High coach Tom Kraft and I are waiting outside the boat house as assistants Ted Deakin, Jerry Hoffman and Mike Dove tell the team how practice will work that day. Kraft tells me that Dove should be credited with getting the Huron rowing program started. After helping with Pioneer for a few years, he’s now back at Huron.

Huron Crew

Huron High rowers Peter Dolce (left)  and Matt Goolsby (right) before they were asked to “sit ready.”

The workout will be an experiment, says Kraft, combining the novice (first-year) rowers with varsity. Four novice rowers and four varsity rowers will sit in each boat. It’s a way for novice rowers to learn more quickly, Kraft says.

As we head out on the water, it’s windy – windy to the point that Kraft notes that the coxswains will need to be extra mindful, given the less experienced rowers in the boats. He also tells the oarsmen to be focused on the commands they hear from the coxswains: “If they ask you to row, you row, don’t make the coxies ask twice.”

After collecting the boats – three 8-man racing shells  and two coaches launches – near the dam end of Argo, the warm up starts heading north. They start with six people rowing, the other two just “setting” the boat – that is, balancing it. As they make their way up the pond, one of the three boats is clearly zipping along faster than the others. “Somehow that boat got loaded up with strong guys,” comments Kraft.

Kraft gives pointers: “Make sure it’s the outside hand doing the work!” “Get your hands out in front of your knees, sit up tall.”

After warming up, their first workout piece is seven minutes long with increasing stroke rates. In terms of stroke rate, here’s what it looks like:

1 minute  at 24 spm
2 minutes at 26 spm
3 minutes at 28 spm
1 minute  at 30 spm


Huron Rowing

Huron High School oar blade, just before the catch. In the center of the frame is Drew Baxter. Matt Schulte, sitting behind Baxter, is setting the boat during this warm-up phase.

With varsity-level rowers in every seat, Kraft said, they’d do 36-38 strokes per minute for an entire piece. For novices, 32 strokes might be all they could handle.

After the piece is done, Mike Dove gets them started on their second piece – it will be a five-stroke start.  “All boats sitting ready! Attention! Row!”

Kraft notes that for some of the rowers that is surely only their second-ever racing start. But then he observes, “They got through it. And nobody died!”

Regatta: Hebda Cup

Coming up on the schedule for the Huron and Pioneer rowing teams is the Hebda Cup in Wyandotte on April 24. There are around 20 races scheduled between 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. that Saturday. The drive to Wyandotte, from Ann Arbor takes around an hour.

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Wrestling Fear and Poetry Sun, 19 Apr 2009 18:51:32 +0000 Mary Morgan Jeff Kass

Jeff Kass, rehearsing his poem "Build" at the Liberty Athletic Club.

When Jeff Kass contacted The Chronicle about his upcoming one-man show, “Wrestle the Great Fear: A Performance Poetica,” we were particularly intrigued by this statement in his email: “The piece includes a lot of physicality in the performance, including a great deal of wrestling.”

A one-man poetry performance with a great deal of wrestling? Yep, we were hooked. So we met with Kass recently at the Liberty Athletic Club, where he showed us exactly what he meant.

Kass has been a leader in local poetry circles – he teaches creative writing at Pioneer High and works with the Volume poetry program at the Neutral Zone, where he serves as literary arts director. But this is the first time he’s attempted a full-length, continuous narrative, complete with music, video, directors and intricate choreography. This ain’t no three-minute poetry slam.

Rather, Kass has crafted a play of sorts, shaped thematically by 28 poems that explore the relationship between students and teachers, in all its joy and angst. Kass says his effort is a convergence of several things: 1) a desire to show his former students that there are ways to push your art beyond the poetry slam, 2) the work he’s doing while getting an MFA from the University of Southern Maine, and 3) the realization that much of his current poetry is about students and teaching. He could have compiled his poems into a book, he says, but chose to perform because of his strong emotional attachment to the spoken word.

Annotated poems from the notebook Kass is using as a script.

Annotated poetry from the notebook Jeff Kass is using as a script.

The show looks at what it means to stand up in front of a group of kids, day after day, with the expectation that you’ll deliver to them wisdom and knowledge. The interaction between teachers and students can be like a collision – after it happens, do you retreat into your respective corners, or do you investigate the crash? Kass is all about wrestling with the aftermath.

The wrestling metaphor relates to his own struggles as a teacher, and by extension, to the same challenges that all teachers face: Preconceptions, an unwillingness to make emotional investments, fear of young people. This last one, Kass contends, results in efforts to control kids with dress codes, surveillance cameras, hall monitors and the like – actions that have proved controversial at Pioneer. “To me, that comes from a place of fear,” he says.

Wrestling those fears, plus his own personal fears – of lacking empathy, of not working hard enough, of balancing family and work – informs one layer of the performance.

Jeff Kass

Jeff Kass, rehearsing for his one-man show "Wrestling with Fear: A Performance Poetica."

Kass also evokes the Biblical image of Jacob wrestling the angel after defrauding his brother Esau of his birthright – a story that some interpret as Jacob’s internal battle over his actions. That image is one used on promotional materials for his performance, and Kass notes that “great fear” is one possible translation of the Hebrew word for “angel.”

There’s a literal wrestling connection as well: Kass was a wrestler in high school and, briefly, in college, and coached the sport as well – he notes that there aren’t many Jewish wrestlers. It was a way of differentiating himself from his father, an intellectual force and successful environmental lawyer. Rebelling against his father is similar to the way students rebel against teachers, Kass says – but there’s more to it than that.

Just after college, Kass was living at home and going through some boxes in his parents’ basement, looking for old baseball cards, when he came across his father’s undergraduate thesis. Its title? “Wrestle the Great Fear.”

The title was a jolt – a connection with his father through something that Kass had used to set himself apart. The thesis explored how American literary heroes evolved from the physical to the intellectual. But where his father saw a dichotomy of those two traits, Kass believes the two need to merge: “You have to be in order to increase your capacity to know.”

Jeff Kass

Jeff Kass executing a move during the performance of one of his poems.

Though this is a one-man performance, there are many others involved. The show is directed by theater veterans Ben Cohen and Glenn Bugala – Cohen is the choir and drama teacher at Greenhills School, and Bugala has directed and acted for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and Performance Network. The show will also feature poetry performed by Angel Nafis, Maggie Ambrosino and Ben Alfaro, and music by Nick Ayers (of The Macpodz), Greg Burns and Sean Duffy.

We end this article with one of the poems Kass plans to perform on April 29. As for how he incorporates wrestling moves into the performance of his poetry, well, that’s an art form that defies written description. For that, you’ll have to see the show.

Reversal (by Jeff Kass)


You can't execute a successful Granby Roll
if you can't believe you can be a wrecking ball
and bounce

Pop your hips toward the sky
make your body an A-frame
post your weight on your left hand

Ready yourself for your quake
hop your left foot in front
of your right, now blow
your house from its moorings,
duck your head and make your
break violent

The Granby Roll will not work
if you don't have faith in your
own momentum, you cannot quit
halfway, your naked shoulders
exposed to the mat's cold mercy

You must believe you can ravage
your own symmetry and survive

Now try it from standing up
you are human, tall on two legs
and you can dive and spin
from upright too
it's hop, hop, go

Don't let your fear of falling
failure, falling, failure, don't
let fear of falling fail you,
failure fall you, dive,
dive  – trust your dive,
and roll.


“Wrestling the Great Fear: A Performance Poetica” will be performed on Wednesday, April 29 at 7 p.m. at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in the Michigan League, 911 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor. Admission is $5. To reserve tickets or for more information, call (734) 223-7443 or email Jeff Kass at

Sign for Wrestlethe Great Fear on a utility box near Burns Park.

A sign promoting "Wrestle the Great Fear" on a utility box near Burns Park.

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“It’s Insane That You’re Singing Like That!” Sun, 11 Jan 2009 00:55:00 +0000 Mary Morgan Robert Axelrod of Huron High. His break dance earned him a spot in the Jan. 17 FutureStars 2009 finals.

Robert Axelrod of Huron High. His break dance earned him a spot in the Jan. 17 FutureStars 2009 finals.

When The Chronicle covered a dress rehearsal of Pioneer Theatre Guild’s “Miss Saigon” last fall, many people we met backstage urged us to check out their annual FutureStars show too, and we marked our calendars. That date rolled around this weekend, when FutureStars 2009 kicked off with a total of four shows on Friday and Saturday, leading up to the blowout finale next Saturday, Jan. 17. [confirm date]

FutureStars is modeled after the pop culture phenomenon American Idol, minus the Simon Cowell acerbity. It’s a talent show, primarily of singers but with some dance performances tossed into the mix, too. In fact, one of the crowd favorites from Friday’s students-only show was a 6-foot-4 break dancer, Robert Axelrod from Huron High School. He’s advancing to the finals.

Like American Idol, a panel of judges give critiques after each performance. Unlike American Idol, those critiques were almost exclusively pouring on the love (see below for some examples). For the prelims on Friday, there were six judges: Etai BenShlomo and Bryan Langlitz, seniors in the University of Michigan’s theater program; Dorothy Yarrington and Scott Mooney, Pioneer High graduates (Yarrington was last year’s FutureStars winner, and Mooney was a host); and Don Packard and Jan Baublis (“Mr. Packard” and “Ms. Baublis”), teachers at Pioneer.

John Spalding sings "Say Goodbye" to Maia Gleason.

John Spalding sings "Say Goodbye" to Maia Gleason.

In the prelims, judges pick the top five performers for each show, and from that group the audience votes with applause to pick the three winners who’ll move on to the Jan. 17 finals.

For the finals, people dubbed by the Guild as celebrities will take over judging duties: Robb Woulfe, executive director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival; Roger LeLievre, music writer for The Ann Arbor News; and Angela Corsi, Miss Michigan 2007.

Each of the prelims has a theme. For Friday’s 9:30 p.m. show, which The Chronicle attended even though it was billed for students only, the theme was “Love Sucks.” As cheerless as that sounds, nearly all of the acts were performed with an exuberance that delivered the subtext, “Hey, love sucks – but look at what fun we’re having!” The singers were accompanied by a live band. For the finals, the local group The Hard Lessons will perform.

The Chronicle also learned that some of the prelim shows have a certain reputation. In the students-only shows, for example, parents and a smattering of other adults are relegated to seats in the back of the auditorium marked off with yellow “Caution” tape. These shows are looser, more fun, a little more (ironically) “adult.” And of the four prelims this year, word is that the best one is Saturday’s students-only show, with the theme “On My iPod.” That was an insight The Chronicle picked up from Farah, an exchange student from Munich who disembarked the No. 15 AATA bus with us on Friday night and was heading to the Pioneer basketball game. She was hoping to catch a ride home with her friend, because the bus doesn’t run that late.

Max and Chavonna sing the duet No Air.

Max Rasmussen and Chavonna Bigham sing the duet "No Air." They are finalists and will be performing on Jan. 17.

The FutureStars finals are expected to be an even higher-energy evening of entertainment. If that’s true, you can expect more audience cell-phone waves (imagine Bic lighters held aloft, but with a blue-screen glow), standing ovations and good-natured heckling. Last year, 1,200 people attended. Because this year the competition includes performers from all four Ann Arbor high schools, attendance will likely be even higher.

If you’re reading this in time for Saturday evening’s shows at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (students only), tickets are $5 at the Pioneer’s Schreiber Auditorium box office.

The Saturday, Jan. 17 finale starts at 7:30 p.m. in Schreiber Auditorium. Tickets for adults are $12, with students, senior citizens and teachers paying $8. Starting Monday, Jan. 12, you can buy tickets in advance at Morgan & York, 1928 Packard. The store accepts credit card payments – the theater box office does not. More information about this and other shows this season is on the Pioneer Theatre Guild’s website.

Finally, here’s a sampling of the judges’ comments from Friday’s students-only show:

  • “You both sound absolutely sick!”
  • “Your power belts are amazing.”
  • “In years to come, you’ll be paying the rent with those voices.”
  • “You look like a rock star up there.”
  • “I think you’ve got more soul in your pinkie than I’ve got in my entire body.”
  • “Your high notes and your riffs are like candy.”
  • “I can’t wait to buy your album.”
  • “This might be why you weren’t in class today.”
  • “You were super sassy and you had so much attitude.”
  • “That was absolutely tight.”
  • “It’s insane that you’re singing like that.”
  • “People who are 6-foot-4 don’t normally move like that.”

And thanks to Myra Klarman for all the photos you see here.

Robby Eisentrout, a finalist from Friday night students-only show, sang With or Without You.

Robby Eisentrout, a finalist from Friday night's students-only show, sang "With or Without You."

Ashley Park and Sonya Major

Ashley Park and Sonya Major sing "Take Me or Leave Me."

Julius Theophilus

Julius Theophilus gave a break dance performance.

The Rising Stars, an ensemble of underclassmen, performed opening and closing numbers for the Friday students-only show.

The Rising Stars, an ensemble of underclassmen, performed opening and closing numbers for Friday's students-only show.


Bekah Lauer, Molly Epstein and Maya Bassett-Kennedy listen to judges' comments after singing "Go Ahead."

Credits: FutureStars 2009 was directed by Sadie Yarrington and Amanda Choate, UM dance and musical theatre students. The vocal directors – Desi Oakley and Han Park – are also studying musical theater at UM. The show’s music director is David Perample, a local musician and accompanist for the Pioneer High School Choirs.

A final bit of behind-the-scenes drama: Two of the judges, UM students Etai BenShlomo and Bryan Langlitz, found out during Friday night’s late show that they’d both been cast in UM’s main spring show, “42nd Street.” Langlitz landed the role of the show’s romantic male lead, Billy Lawlor. Both are also former Theatre Guild directors – BenShlomo directed last year’s “Willy Wonka” and “Miss Saigon” productions, and Langlitz served as his assistant director.

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