Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Back in the saddle

Hoo boy, been way too long since I posted something here. Trying to wrangle on-time previews for all the various Saline and Milan sports and then put together the Gameday Guide special section (out this week with schedules, rosters, player profiles, and more! ... though, OK, the "more" means "photographs." Trust me, it's still a heck of a resource if you take your local sports seriously) puts a serious dent in one's blogging time.

But from here on out, updates should be regular and reliable. If I attend a Saline or Milan sporting event, you're going to hear about it here, usually not too long after said event. For now, the fall season has finally gotten revved up and in full swing. Here's a few observations and impressions from the opening weeks:

1. As a first-rate sucker for being as close to the action as possible when I cover football, I spend my time on the sidelines rather than in the press box or the stands. At Saline's Friday night football in Flint, vs. Carman-Ainsworth, I maybe should have ignored this policy for once. The storm front that wreaked havoc with kickoff times across the state drenched the Cavalier field and turned it into a glorified mud hole. The players' cleats turned most of the sideline to goo, and what wasn't goo was two-inch deep puddles. By the end of the game, you could easily spot how much playing time a particular Saline player had gotten--the filthier his white jersey had gotten, the more he'd spent on the field.

Of course, I'm doing all this complaining and all I had to do was watch what was goign on, much less try to play a hard-nosed game of football in it. Kudos to the Hornets for slugging out the win in conditions that I would favored Carman-Ainsworth's more straight-ahead running attack--their far-and-away leading rusher was quarterback Will Cummings, who seemed to take a shotgun snap, fake a handoff, then plunge off-tackle for abotu 27 consecutive plays in the second half--than Saline's precision misdirection running and greater reliance on the pass.

2. Kudos are also in order for the Milan football team, who took a first giant step towards a return to the playoffs with their 41-6 blizting of Ionia.There must have been some worry when the Big Reds put the Bulldogs on the schedule; after all, Milan didn't make the playoffs in 2006 even after opening with their traditional Week 1 pounding of Lincoln. Instead they were opening the year with a team that hasn't had a losing record in seven years and hasn't failed to miss the playoffs since 2001.

Well, so much for all that. No time for the Big Reds to rest on their laurels, though, with a trip to Carleton to take on the Airport Jets this week. Airport took third in last year's Huron League race and if Milan wants to make a charge at the Huron title--not out of the question based on last week's result--this is one they've got to have.

3. Took in two Saline sporting events Tuesday evening, the first being the Hornets' 2-2 draw in boys' soccer against ann Arbor Huron.To be frank, it was a game Saline should have won. The Hornets had the lion's share of possession and probably three times the number of good looks at goal Huron did, but wayward finishing and some officiating calls I'm going to be generous and call "questionable"--including the penalty kick that got Huron back into the match after trailing 2-0, for a foul that from where I sat appeared to be so far outside the box that Saline started setting up a wall before realizing it had bee nruled a PK--came back to haunt them.

The silver lining is that, in my experience, bad questionable calls and superiority of play tend to even out over the course of the season. If Saline continues playing at the level they did Tuesday and maybe wind up on the other end of the whistle's favor, they'll get their share of wins.

3. The Saline volleyball team lost to Pioneer in four that same night. You wouldn't think playing conditions inside a gym would be an issue, but I honestly wonder if the surprisingly intense heat inside the Pioneer gym was factor. The Pioneers' gym is connected to their pool, and between the heat and humidity the word "stifling" doesn't even begin to describe the atmosphere inside the gym. I felt like I should have been sitting around in a towel and wondering how warm the coals had gotten.

The heat was the same for both teams, but, of course, it was Pioneer's gym and they've been practicing in it for a while. I know no one on the Saline volleyball team is going to use that as an excuse and it's not, of course, the reason Saline struggled through the first couple of games. But athletes in any somewhat extreme and unusual playing conditions are going to at least start the game thinking "Oh my gosh it's so hot/cold/snowy/infested with moths in/out here" and not about, say, volleyball. Saline should have a better time of it at home.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Saline Summerfest Sentational

The Saline Summerfest rolled into downtown late Friday afternoon and maintained the momentum through late Saturday night with the Nine House Band. I got an early start at about 4:30 p.m., interviewing Saline artists Kelly Hagood and Carol McCullough as soon as I got there. Kelly makes sterling silver jewelry and Carol creates beautiful note cards. Check out one of four Summerfest videos on our Web site to learn more about these talented residents. Saline is fortunate to have such a wide variety of artistic talent.

After taking a short break from the heat back in our office, I returned to the festival to catch Teboe's Karate demonstration, Cottonwood Cloggers and Ann Arbor Dance Classics. Lucas Holliman, a Tiny Tiger in Taekwondo Saline, was adorable as he shadowed an instructor in front of a large crowd. The students at Dance Classics also impressed me with their talent.

I snapped pictures of Patricia Sholtiz, Maddie Montambeu and Emily Garcia in the cutest polka-dot outfits, and older students Aswathy Chennat, Rachel Brigell and Alli Zajac.

One of the most pride-filled moments for local leaders was a presentation organized by the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce featuring state Rep. Pam Byrnes, who read a proclamation from Gov. Jennifer Granholm about Saline's recent 59th ranking on CNN/Money Magazine's list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live in the United States. On stage included some of the people who have had a hand in making Saline so great, including Mayor Gretchen Driskell, former Mayor Patrick Little, members of the City Council, Saline Downtown Director Art Trapp (who tells me he has read our blog), Wayne Clemens of the Saline Area Historical Society, Larry Oesterling of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce and the police chief.

I returned on Saturday with my mom. We found some great jewelry at a Canton artist's booth and admired the classic cars at Saline Street Machines. Nick Vermet, a sponsor of the event and president of the club, was kind enough to speak on our video about the club, the event and his 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix. He has served as president of the group the last four years, just as along as he has lived in Saline. By 10 a.m. Saturday, he said about 85 cars had been registered and they were expecting another 20 or so.

Next up, my mom and I jumped on a trolley and joined the Saline Area Historical Society's "History in Motion" historic tour. Video of the tour, led by historian and researcher Bob Lane, is posted on our Web site. Unfortunately, by the time the ride was over, I was exhausted and hot and decided to head home, forgetting about the watermelon-eating contest. If anyone has photos from the event, please e-mail them to me at I'd love to share them with readers, either in print or online.

Another highlight, of course, was Two Twelve Art Center's Vegetable Art Contest. I saw some of the entries and was blown away. They were all so creative. In particular, I thought the penguins were adorable.

Now that my first Saline Summerfest is over, I am already looking forward to next year and planning to spend even more time there. Hopefully, the weather will be just as nice as it was this past Friday and Saturday, although a little cooler would be nice. As far as the entertainment, artists, activities and sights, I don't know how the Summerfest Committee can top this year's event. They deserve a big congratulations and thank you for all the work that went into organizing the annual festival. It was another great community event and among the reasons Saline has been named one of the top cities in the nation. No doubt.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Taste of Milan A Small-Town Treat

I put the top down on the convertible today and took a 15-minute ride down Platt Road, traveling through Pittsfield and York townships and into the city of Milan for the local chamber of commerce's second annual Taste of Milan. Had I been thinking straight and not overcome by hunger after skipping breakfast and lunch while putting the finishing touches on the paper this afternoon, I wouldn't have stuffed my face when I got home and would have saved my appetite for the event. Instead, I walked in completely full, but excited to be in Milan again, where the people are welcoming and so proud of their town -- and rightly so.

The Milan Area Chamber of Commerce always does an outstanding job with local events, from its breakfast meetings with local speakers to its annual membership party and holiday float-building activity. While it would be unfair to compare the Taste of Milan to the Taste of Ann Arbor, it would be fair to say the local taste fest has charm and the down-home vibe of a family reunion. Twelve vendors set up booths around the parameter of the dining room at the Milan Senior and Activity Center, handing out samples ranging from beef brisket and grilled herb chicken with stir-fry vegetables to pepperoni pizza and sweet treats.

I met Beth Sackreiter of Dexter, who had heard about the event from a client and decided to stop by. I interviewed her for the video posted on our Web site while she enjoyed a sample from Campfire Restaurant and Catering. Beth said after tasting the grilled herb chicken, she would be sure to patronize the business in the future. I am sure that comes as good news to Campfire owner Dino Koukoumtsis and chef Julie Iott, who were at the event dishing up samples. Julie looked so professional in her chef's hat and coat.

Also on hand were Sue and Jake Lynn, owners of Our Old Shack Bar and Grill in Milan. What a cute couple, and you can tell they work hard every day at what they do. They've own the business for the last 15 years and said the friendships they have made with the people of Milan is the best part of owning the local restaurant.

Providing the entertainment and some lovely folk music for guests were Sandy Timmer on vocals and guitar, and Fred Crandall on harmonica. The South Lyon residents have performed at the Lighthouse Coffeehouse in Milan and came highly recommended, said Jean Wilson, president of the Milan Area Chamber of Commerce.

I also had an opportunity to chat with Guy Ciavattone, the franchise owner of Marco's Pizza in Milan, who said, to no surprise, the most popular pizza in Milan is the pepperoni and cheese, and Jack Wilson, Jean's husband, who was representing China One at the event because the new owners couldn't make it.

I've learned my lesson. Next year, I will be sure to come hungry and I'll definitely save room for dessert. Milan Bakery's spread of confections looked absolutely mouth-watering.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

It's almost almost here

I wouldn't say the fall sports season has started just yet, nor would I say we're on the eve of it just yet. But we're on the eve of the eve. Football practice kicks off Monday, girls' golf hits the links Thursday, with everybody else having their first official practice the 13th, the same day Saline's girls' golf team gets things officially started with a tournament in Mason.

I have two reactions to that news, the first being that I am more than ready to get the high school sports party started. We haven't had football since early last November, haven't had volleyball since March, and though I know it might not be everyone's cup of tea, we haven't had a good exciting cross country race since last October. It's time.

Then again, where on earth did the summer go? Obviously, it hasn't quite gone yet--it is a solid 96 degrees outside as I write this--but cripes, we were turning out the lights on the track season and the baseball quarterfinals just last week, weren't we?

In any case, this week's "Fun and Games" column listed a few of the big stories we're going to be keeping a very close eye on here at the Reporter and News-Leader in honor of the impending season. The following aren't stories, but they are a few relevant thoughts that might have made the column if the column had been twice as long:

1. The football teams need to be ready in a hurry. As Brian discussed this week, Milan has replaced yearly opening-week ... how do I put this nicely ... "very likely win" Ypsilanti-Lincoln with Ionia, a team that hasn't done any worse than 7-4 since 2002. Between these guys and Chelsea, Milan may have the most difficult non-conference schedule in the area, arguably aside from ... Saline, who will still face the Railsplitters in Week 2. But they open at Flint Carman-Ainsworth, who they beat in Ypsilanti last year as part of the Big Day Prep Showdown. FCA has lost some key, NCAA Division I-quality players since then, but of course, so has Saline. And it will be very different traveling to Flint than taking the ten-minute ride to EMU.

2. Both area volleyball teams will benefit from the season switch more than their competition. I'm not sure how clear I really made it in my article today on Milan making the switch, so let me expound a bit here. Milan is a stronger program than they were a few years ago, but they're still definitely more in the "building" stage than the "maintaining" stage. Saline had an SEC champion team last year, one of their strongest in a few seasons. But they lost five seniors, four of them key members (the fifth, Emily Lloyd, was lost to injury early in the year). They've got tons of talent, but there may be some growing pains here or there.

So what both teams need is more practice time, more development time, more time to work on their games. Having the summer immediately ahead of the season (rather than basketball) helps with that, but of course it helps every team. But because there may be more room for improvement for Milan and Saline than for their league rivals, it will help them more. Think of it this way: for almost every skill, the better you are, the harder it is to improve. It's easier to go from hitting 50 percent of your free throws to 80 percent, for instance, than it is from 80 to 90, easier to go from being a good cook to opening a restaurant than from opening the restaurant to getting five stars. While other, more experienced volleyball teams might already be about as good as they're going to be, Milan and Saline can still use their extra time to take greater strides--and if there's more talent than their opponents to start with, those strides might just takle them where they want to go.

3. Me personally, I'm glad girls' basketball is now a winter sport. I totally understand why so many players, coaches, fans, etc. were opposed to the season switch. I nunderstand why some were for it. But for someone who grew up elsewhere, girls' basketball--any basketball--in the fall never felt quite right. Football, basketball, and baseball (no offense to all the other sports and with the understanding this was back in those unfortunate times when girls' sports were nonexistent) were the first three major sports in high schools and those were the three sports the high school athletic calendar was originally built around: football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring. Having never seen hoops played in the fall before, watching basketball one night and then football the next just felt ... awkward. This is why I think girls' basketball won't suffer for moving to winter: I think I'm not the only one who feels this way, and I think more fans will be in the mood for basketball, any basketball, played by either gender, in the winter than when the football's still flying around outside.

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Community should be proud of Chapter 310

When I finally reached John Kinzinger this week to ask him his thoughts on being named Vietnam Veteran of the Year last month at the national convention of Vietnam Veterans of America, he was at the VFW hall, where he is commander, preparing for an upcoming event on Sunday.

Kinzinger is always preparing for something. He is a man filled with uncommon dedication and energy. He invited me to a fund-raiser at Sidetracks in Depot Town Wednesday night; he wanted me to make it to the WWII event at the VFW on Sunday to take pictures. Once Kinzinger gets a hold of you, he does not easily let go. His passion pulls you right in.

There has never been a parade I have attended that I did not see Kinzinger marching. He appears tireless in his pursuit to assist and support veterans.

I talked with other members of Chapter 310, which was named Chapter of the Year at the national convention, and I don't know that I have talked with so many men who have as clear a purpose and as sharp a focus as they do.

Gary Lillie and Pete Belaire will tell you story after story to illustrate the work Chapter 310 does to support veterans.

Here's one Pete told me that I couldn't fit in this week's article:

There is a soldier from Parma named Tim Lang who was badly injured by an IED in Iraq. He was at the VA and Chapter members had taken to visiting him. There came a time when Lang was ready to head home, but would need to make regular trips back to the VA for physical therapy and other treatment. He couldn't arrange a ride from Parma to the VA that would fit his schedule so the Chapter made some calls and got the VVM car lot in Milan to donate a car to Lang. It was all set. But Lang never got to drive the car. Shortly after, he had a setback and was transfered to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda where they amputated his foot. Belaire and Kinzinger took a trip to Bethesda to visit Lang and learned he needed new shoes to fit his prosthetic foot. They took Lang on a small shopping spree to find him shoes.

That is supporting our troops. That is the best of the human heart.

My hat off to Chapter 310 -- not just for the honors they received at the VVA national convention -- but for their generosity, caring, dedication; in short, for their humanity.

They should make us all proud.

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