Stories indexed with the term ‘University of Michigan sports’

Column: A Few Wild Guesses for 2014

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Because my last 700-word commentary completely covered every subject in the sports world that occurred in 2013, my editor thought, “Hey, why not preview the year in sports in January?!”

Why not? Because I have no idea what’s going to happen, that’s why. Nobody does. That’s why we watch sports: We don’t know how it’s going to end. It’s also why we shouldn’t watch pregame shows: everybody is just guessing.

Nonetheless, if The Chronicle wants to pay me to make wild, unsupported guesses – then doggonnit, that’s what I’ll do. Just one of the many duties that come with being a hard-hitting investigative journalist.

Let’s start at the bottom. That means, of course, the Detroit Lions. [Full Story]

Column: UM’s Softball Winning Machine

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

This spring, the University of Michigan women’s softball team won its 15th Big Ten title, and fifth in a row. It went to the NCAA tournament – for the 18th straight season – and won its 14th NCAA regional crown, before losing on Friday in the super-regional to third-ranked Alabama.

In other words, just another typical season for Michigan softball – a team led by Carol Hutchins, one of Michigan’s best coaches, of any sport, in any era. Winning titles is what they do.

And this was not even one of Hutchins’ best teams.

That’s how well this machine runs – and make no mistake, it is a machine. Hutchins’ teams have won more Big Ten titles than the rest of the conference – combined. But it’s a machine she put together, part by part, one that took years of tinkering just to win her first race.

That Hutchins even got the chance was a bit of a miracle in itself. She grew up in Lansing, the fifth of six kids. Her own mom didn’t see the point in her playing sports, let alone competing. But Hutchins refused to quit. [Full Story]

Column: Journey to the Stanley Cup

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Steve Kampfer grew up in Jackson, and learned to play hockey well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Michigan. He was a good student and a good player on some very good days, but few expected Kampfer to make it to the NHL. I confess that I was one of them.

What chance he had seemed to vanish on an October night in 2008, when he was leaving a campus bar. He started jawing with another student, who happened to be on the wrestling team. Things got hot, but it was all just talk, until the wrestler picked up Kampfer and turned him upside in a single, sudden move – then dropped him head first on the sidewalk.

Kampfer lay there unconscious, with blood sliding out of his mouth. His stunned friend thought he might be dead.

They rushed Kampfer to the hospital, where they discovered he’d suffered a closed head injury and a severe skull fracture, near his spine. He woke up on a flatboard, his head in a neck brace and tubes running out of his body.

His coach, Red Berenson, talked to him about the possibility – even the likelihood – that he would never play hockey again. The goal was simply to make a full recovery, but they wouldn’t know that for three months.

Kampfer was a student in my class at the time, which met twice a week at 8:30 in the morning – not the most popular hour for college students. Just one week after the incident, at 8:30 Monday morning, Steve Kampfer walked back into my class, wearing a neckbrace. He never discussed the injury. He never made any excuses. He never missed a single class. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan Hockey’s Cinderella

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last year, Michigan’s men’s hockey team was in danger of breaking its record 19-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament – a streak that started before many of the current players were even born. They were picked to finish first in the league – but they finished a disastrous seventh, unheard of in Ann Arbor.

The only way they could keep their streak alive was to win six league playoff games to get an automatic bid. Oh, and they’d have to do it with a back-up goalie named Shawn Hunwick, a 5-foot-6 walk-on who had never started a college game. Things looked bleak, to say the least.

But the kid caught fire. The Wolverines actually won all six games, they stretched their streak to 20 straight NCAA tournaments, and Hunwick won the league tournament MVP award. He was like Rudy – with talent.

But there are no sequels for Cinderella. One run is all you get. [Full Story]

Column: The Fab Five’s Real Leaders

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The past two Sundays, ESPN has been running a documentary called “The Fab Five,” about Michigan’s famed five freshman basketball players who captured the public’s imagination twenty years ago. It’s not quite journalism – four of the Fab Five produced it themselves – but it is a pretty honest account of what those two years were all about. And it is undeniably compelling. The first showing reached over two million homes, making it the highest rated documentary in ESPN’s history.

A lot of this story, you already know: In 1991, five super-talented freshmen came to Michigan, and by mid-season the Wolverines were the first team in NCAA history to start five freshmen. They got to the final game of March Madness before losing to the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils. The next year, they made it to the finals again, but this time they lost to North Carolina when Michigan’s best player, Chris Webber, called a time-out they didn’t have.

Along the way they made baggy shorts and black socks fashionable, and imported rap music and trash talk from the inner-city playgrounds to the college courts. It’s been that way ever since. [Full Story]

Column: Red’s Tough Skate to Success

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Saturday, more than 100,000 frozen fans will watch Michigan play Michigan State at the Big House. Not in football, which happens every other year. But in hockey, thus setting the record for the biggest crowd ever to watch a hockey game – anywhere.

To build a hockey rink on a football field, a six-man crew works for three weeks. First, they install the floor out of big plastic tiles called Terratrak, which were originally designed to create portable runways for fighter jets in the desert. If they can handle F-15s, they can handle Bauer Supremes. Then they put up the boards, the glass, and start flooding the rink with some 40,000 gallons of water.

Don’t worry – these guys have built rinks in San Diego and Mexico City. For them, Michigan’s a skate in the park.

The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network, and will receive worldwide attention. Lawrence Kasdan, the Michigan alum who wrote and directed the classic movie “The Big Chill,” will drop the opening puck. And every time Michigan scores, fireworks will fly.

But that’s not the most impressive part. [Full Story]

UM Regents: Housing Rates Up, Tuition Next

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (May 20, 2010): This month, regents met at the UM-Dearborn campus – this is their second month away from Ann Arbor, after holding their April meeting in Grand Rapids. They’ll be back at their regular location in the Fleming administration building next month, when they’ll be voting on the budget for 2010-11, including tuition rates.

Big Ten championship ring on the hand of a UM gynmast

Championship ring on the hand of a UM men's gymnast at the May 20, 2010 board of regents meeting in Dearborn. (Photos by the writer.)

During the May 20 meeting, regents approved a 3% average rate increase for room and board during the 2010-11 academic year in campus residence halls. A double room will increase from $8,924 to $9,192 – an increase of $268. The most expensive room – a single with a private bath – will cost $12,166, up $354. Rates for the Northwood apartment complex on UM’s north campus were also raised an average of 1%.

Three construction projects – including a $17.7 million expansion to the University Hospital emergency department and a new $2.5 million indoor golf practice facility – were approved, with no discussion.

A large part of the meeting consisted of presentations, including an update on how the university’s health system might be affected by recent national health care reform, and a report on the non-traditional education programs task force, which generated some comments from regents.

Several sporting achievements were highlighted at the start of the meeting, as has been the case in other recent months. Most prominently, the men’s gymnastics team attended and were congratulated for their recent NCAA championship win. The celebration included a cake, and regents were given caps – which some wore during the meeting – commemorating the achievement.

Sports-related news not mentioned during the May 20 meeting was the university’s response to allegations that its football program violated NCAA rules – the university announced that response a few days later. [Full Story]

Column: Against All Odds

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Michigan first baseman Mike Dufek stepped up to the plate in the tenth inning. The bases were empty, which in this game was rare.

Northwestern had shot out to an early 14-0 lead. We’re not talking football here, folks, but baseball. Then, incredibly, the Wolverines clawed back, run by run, until they tied the game with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. That brought Dufek up in the tenth inning, with the game in his hands.

That Dufek had even gotten that far was a story in itself. [Full Story]

UM Regents Road Trip to Grand Rapids

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (April 15, 2010): Under the high ceilings and crystal chandelier of an historic hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, university regents and administrators gathered Thursday for their monthly meeting in a venue designed to recognize UM’s ties with the western part of the state.

Dave Brandon

Dave Brandon addressed the UM Board of Regents for the first time publicly as athletic director, speaking at their April 15 meeting at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. (Photos by the writer.)

Though most of the meeting entailed presentations and reports – focused on UM programs with links to the Grand Rapids area and western Michigan – the regents also unanimously approved several action items, with little discussion.

Increases for parking permit fees – 3% in each of the next three fiscal years – were set, as was the transfer of the Henry Ford Estate to the nonprofit Ford House foundation. The estate had been given to UM in the 1950s along with land that became the university’s Dearborn campus. Regents also approved a major expansion of the Institute for Social Research building on Thompson Street.

During public commentary, two leaders of the lecturers’ union spoke to regents, charging that UM lecturers are being asked to shoulder an unfair burden as the university tries to cut costs. The union is negotiating with the administration for a new contract – its current contract expires May 15.

After the meeting – held at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel – regents, executives and staff headed over to the nearby J.W. Marriott hotel for a reception hosted by the UM Alumni Association. [Full Story]

Column: Hunwick Makes the Saves

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It’s been a dismal year for Michigan fans. The football team and the men’s basketball team both failed to make it to the post-season, and together they lost to Michigan State three times.

The men’s hockey team was supposed to be the saving grace. Entering this season, the Wolverines had made it to the NCAA tournament a record 19-straight seasons. That streak started in 1991, before many of the current players were even born.

The Wolverines were picked to finish first in their league – but they finished seventh, unheard of in Ann Arbor. The only chance they had to keep their streak alive was to win four straight rounds of their conference playoffs. Nothing else could save their season. [Full Story]

Column: Values Before Victories

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Michigan basketball team recently lost to Michigan State by one point, all but ending the Wolverines’ chances to return to the NCAA tournament. The Michigan hockey team faces Michigan State this weekend, and they need a sweep to improve their fading chances of getting back to the tournament themselves.

For Michigan fans, this is the Winter of Their Discontent. Provided, that is, only wins and losses count.

But the head coaches of both teams did notch a couple moral victories last week. Yes, they’ve lost some battles this season, but they’re still winning the war. [Full Story]

UM Regents Get Updates on Research, Haiti

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (Jan. 21, 2010): At their first board meeting of the year, UM regents approved a raft of athletics-related projects, got an update on the university’s research efforts and applauded UM provost Terry Sullivan, who was recently named as the first female president of the University of Virginia.

University of Michigan regent Denise Ilitch, right, talks with Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, UM's executive vice president for medical affairs.

UM regent Denise Ilitch, right, talks with Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs, before the start of the Jan. 21 meeting of the board of regents. Ilitch, a Democrat from Bingham Farms, did not declare her candidacy for governor at Thursday’s meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The relatively short meeting also included a report on the university’s contribution to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

Two people spoke during public commentary. A local Sierra Club board member, James D’Amour, told regents that the group opposed the Fuller Road Station, a joint UM/city of Ann Arbor project being built on city-owned parkland. He urged them to “take no part in this unethical act.” They later approved the project.

And UM student Alex O’Dell described his vision for TEDxUofM, an April 9 event on campus being modeled after the influential TED Talks, where speakers get 18 minutes to share “ideas worth spreading.” [Full Story]

Column: Take Nothing for Granted

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Tuesday, the University of Michigan announced that Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon would succeed Bill Martin as the athletic director. It marked a personal high point of a great career – one you wouldn’t have predicted when Brandon played for Michigan as a third-string defensive back.

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a big feature on Bo Schembechler for the Detroit News. Bo liked the story and, out of nowhere, gave me his papers. When I tried to interest him in writing a book, he told me to ask him later – much later, it turned out. About nine years later. So, in the summer of 2000, I started without him.

The first person I sought out was Dave Brandon, who was in his second year as the CEO of Ann Arbor-based Domino’s Pizza. He probably didn’t know me from Adam, but he gave me an hour of his time anyway. And he didn’t spend it gushing about his greatest day, either, but confessing his worst one. [Full Story]

Column: Bill Martin’s Legacy

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, Bill Martin announced he would step down as Michigan’s athletic director, effective right before next fall’s first football game.

I was a little surprised Martin announced his retirement in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the football season. But, as surprises go, it wasn’t much of one. Martin has already put in a decade as the Wolverines’ athletic director, which is about average by contemporary standards. And he’s accomplished more during that time than anyone could have reasonably expected – perhaps including himself.

The big surprises happened years ago. [Full Story]

Gubernatorial Candidates Outline Agendas

Pamphlets for gubernatorial candidates Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder, on the table a Wednesday's Morning Edition meeting hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. Smith, a Democrat, and Snyder, a Republican, were both speakers at the event.

Pamphlets for gubernatorial candidates Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder, on the table at Wednesday's Morning Edition breakfast hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. Smith, a Democrat, and Snyder, a Republican, were both speakers at the event.

Running was a common theme for speakers at Wednesday’s Morning Edition, a breakfast meeting hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce at Weber’s Inn.

Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder are both running for governor, in the Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. Michael Ford, the new CEO for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, keeps the buses running, while Keith Hafner runs a local karate business. And Kevin Borseth, the University of Michigan women’s basketball coach who makes his team run drills, almost ran for cover when Russ Collins, the event’s MC, brought up an infamous YouTube video that Borseth might well want to forget.

Collins, who’s also executive director of the Michigan Theater, kept the speakers running on schedule – after the jump, we’ll give a summary of their remarks, presented in the order in which they spoke. [Full Story]

“What So Proudly We Hailed”

Interns with U-Ms Sports Marketing Department served as judges during the universitys auditions for singers to perform the national anthem at sporting events.

Interns with the University of Michigan Sports Marketing Department served as judges during the university's recent auditions for singers to perform the national anthem at sporting events. (Photo by the writer.)

The girl makes her way across Cliff Keen Arena’s wood-paneled gym floor toward the long table where the judges sit, leaning forward over their clipboards. She looks to be about eight or nine. She wears pink tights, a jean skirt, and an absolutely terrified look on her face: the corners of her mouth tug down, her eyes wide.

The judges smile at her as she steps forward to take the microphone. As she backs up toward the empty bleachers, looking no less nervous, one of them offers a compliment in a soft voice: “I like your tights!”

The girl opens her mouth and begins to sing: “Oh, say, can you see…”

Her voice is startlingly steady, given her evident anxiety. She finishes the song and hands to microphone back to the nearest judge. Then, the ordeal behind her, she turns and runs toward the door. She calls out in a high-pitched voice, to whoever’s waiting for her outside, “I sucked! I sucked!”

The judges exchange smiles, mark up the evaluation sheets on their clipboards with their maize-and-blue pens, and wait for the next person auditioning to show up. They will spend the afternoon and evening listening to singer after singer – young and old, nervous and confident – offer their personal rendering of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Why the national anthem? Because these Sept. 9 auditions determine which vocalists will perform that song at University of Michigan sporting events in the upcoming season. [Full Story]