Road Warrior Report #7
Michigan Spirit Unchanged; Eastern Michigan Frozen at Home; Personal Tragedy Averted
by Orlan H. Ree, Jr.
Something unusual and nearly tragic happened at the office today. The lifeline of any road warrior reporter or photographer is a piece of mobile technology known as the smart device.
In one of the largest college football stadiums in the country, I managed to lose mine. To the chagrin of all cheerleaders and dancers out there, I'm sorry, but this ranks as a much higher degree of mega sadness than any of you losing yours.
But don't worry. This story doesn't end with a grown man sobbing lightly in front of the Ann Arbor police. There is a happy ending.
This weekend was planned as a Michigan trifecta, catching home games at U of Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Western Michigan. Heck, even Michigan State was playing at home, but this was a typical warrior weekend, not suicide.
The drive from home base (SE Wisconsin) to Ann Arbor was familiar and routine, no complications. About the only new obstacle was parking. With media parking already gone, I was relegated to general population.
What astounded me most were the lots nearest Michigan Stadium. They were $30. In the 10-15 minute walk range were church lots, businesses, and large family lots that were $25.00. Of course, all of those lots were filled up. This is Michigan, afterall.
I found a spot on a dead-end residential street off of Ann Arbor Saline Road. My cost? Zero.
After entering the stadium grounds at the southwest corner, I wasn't going to walk all the way to the player's tunnel on the east side to access the field. With my media credential in hand, I went through the general admission gates.
I suddenly remembered that Michigan Stadium is very unfriendly in terms of creature comforts and design. Ground level on the concourse puts you 25-30 feet above the playing field, so you have to navigate long shallow steps all the way down. I'd rather do three minutes of aerobics to put me out of my misery faster.
I got onto the field and Michigan was leading already 7-0 just four minutes into the game. All four corners of the field were occupied by spirit groups, Delaware State in one, Michigan in the other three. A gentleman gave me a photo armband and away I went.
I hung out with the nearest Michigan cheer group. This is Michigan so naturally the cold weather was in full force. Donned in full warmups, the UM female cheerleaders did their bravest to appear delightful, even though they were shivering.
There are two distinct patterns you find when observing the Michigan spirit program.
First, the dance team puts above average dance skills on display. They also perform at halftime with the marching band and that counts as major points in their favor. I mean, you would be surprised that other top dance teams do not perform a choreographed routine at any time during a football game, squads like Memphis, Mississippi State, Ball State, and Purdue.
The Michigan dance team competes at UDA nationals in January. They have always been a disciplined group, they
are fun to watch, but they are hard to photograph (I'll explain in a bit).
On the other hand, Michigan cheer is akin to spirit or yell leaders, almost like the ones you find at UCLA or USC, not that there's anything wrong with that.
To their credit, the Michigan cheerleaders are fantastic supporters of the athletic teams, but do not expect to see lots of above-average skills with stunting, basket tosses, or elite pyramids.
Sure, they can do Swedish Falls, or single-male base one-arm cradles, but not much else. When they tumble in the end zone after touchdowns, only the females tumble. I've never seen a male tumble.
You just don't see full extension libs, cupies, chin chins, bow and arrows, nor any male one-arm extensions. As great with pride and tradition you find with Michigan athletics, the cheerleading squad delivers only capable, average skills. Luckily, the female cheerleaders have strong stage presentation.
Now, here is "hard to photograph" nuance about the Michigan spirit program. They don't react well to photographers.
When I make this type of observation, it better be widespread and obvious, and with Michigan, sadly it is both.
I can pick any other school I have covered over the past three years, far and wide, and only two schools, Northwestern and Michigan, are guilty of the following. When shooting close to UM dancers or some cheerleaders, they don't know how to respond as soon as they look into the lense. Instead of smiling or maintaining stage presence, they turn away. I hate to say this but I find such a reaction dumbfounding.
Like I just mentioned, not all cheerleaders are camera shy. Some will smile, pose, or maintain their on stage look.
The game was incredibly unexciting. People started leaving after the score was 49-3. It also signaled that I needed to complete minor tasks before leaving the stadium. Afterall, I had two more games to cover.
The drive from Michigan Stadium to Rynearson Stadium in neighboring Ypsilanti was 20 minutes because of traffic. This is when my world turned upside down.
The plan was to shoot for 30-40 minutes at Eastern Michigan to get the required shots I needed, then quickly leave so that I could drive west 100 miles to Kalamazoo to catch the second half of Central Michigan at Western Michigan.
But the plan quickly fell apart when I discovered after parking at Rynearson that I didn't have my Palm Treo. I'm one of those people who completely relies on a device to keep most of my life organized.
Besides the countless phone numbers, e-mail addresses, calendar entries, memos and tasks on my Palm, I don't even know my sister's or mom's cell numbers. They are on my Palm.
Instead of panicking, I kept composed long enough to walk to the indoor ticket window/will call to get my credential. Poor me, I asked the girl behind the window if I could borrow a pen because I didn't have my "smart phone" to take notes. I needed to record image filenames to match names of cheerleaders for captions.
I took a record-low 56 photos and left Eastern Michigan.
However, I just couldn't leave EMU. Thinking quickly, after I picked up the credential, I asked to speak with the guy in charge at the ticket window before I headed down to the field. Brent came out and I explained my predicament. I asked if I could borrow his cell phone to send a text message to my phone. If someone responded, I could make arrangements to retrieve my phone.
After waiting three minutes with no response, I went to the field to take some photos. When I came back up, I found Brent, and we spoke some more, only this time I gave him my business card in case someone sent him a message later.
I had no choice after I left EMU. I drove back to Ann Arbor. I parked near my original spot, walked around the area to search for the phone...nothing. Next plan.
I drove to Michigan Stadium, double-parked, got out and noticed all the general admission gates were locked. I asked a concession worker if they had a lost and found. He directed me to the north end of the stadium.
Again, I double-parked and a sentry-looking fellow said that lost and found was closed, they don't open until Monday..."you can call then." No, I don't have my phone. He said "oh yeah".
Next plan. I drove around to the east end of the stadium looking for an Ann Arbor police car, any police car. I spotted two female cops standing next to their squad. They were U of Michigan police officers.
I gave them my sob story, said I was heading back to Wisconsin,' I didn't know if someone would have turned the phone into the Ann Arbor police but can we call them.'
Both ladies were very supportive and kind, but as I spoke more to one lady, the other was calling into her command post, then she left.
The next thing I knew, the other lady cop got a call on her radio, then asked me for my name. After responding, she said "we have your phone, it's inside". Let me do some more high impact aerobics because I almost died.
While I mumbled 'thank you!', she pointed me to the front of the building and said go inside. I walked like a George Romero zombie, waited at the front door until someone came out and asked for ID. He was holding my phone.
"Where did you find it?", I asked. He replied someone found it inside the stadium. I graciously accepted the phone from the guy, walked back over to the lady cops, thanked them again, and returned to my car.
The rest of the day was lost.
I did stop in Kalamazoo, but only to eat dinner as the Western Michigan game had only seven minutes left in the game.
I took my time driving back to Wisconsin. I even called my sister just to ensure the phone was working. I told her the story, she listened intently, then said "ok, fine. I'm glad for you. See you later."
Yep, the life of a road warrior. Stuff happens, but you just keep moving on.