BY AMBER COLVIN: A TOUCH OF DUTCH
Published April 11, 2007
It's one of the highest compliments to pay in Ann Arbor.
When Bo Schembechler and Gerald Ford passed away last year, the praises couldn't stop flowing about the compassionate, intelligent and dedicated people they were. But one phrase on everyone's lips resounded louder than any adjective could: They were Michigan Men.
Kevin Borseth was hired as the next women's basketball coach this week, and as soon as the ink was on the contract, the athletic department mouthpieces chirped about our next great Michigan Man.
In more than a century of athletic competition, the University has been popping out Wolverine after Wolverine worthy of this title - on the field, behind the bench and beyond. Get named a Michigan Man and you join an elite, almost legendary group that spans many sports eras.
But as we admire that rich history, do we ever talk about a woman who deserves our most-esteemed label?
I know we've had more than a handful of spectacular female athletes don the block 'M.' I had the privilege of watching and interviewing one last year, the consistently amazing pitcher Jennie Ritter. Michigan's all-time strikeout leader had heart, and that's a big reason why the Wolverines won a National Championship in 2005. She was a strange mix of confidence - demonstrated by her celebratory fist pumps and finger points - and modesty, always doing her duty for the good of the team. Not to mention the girl could throw a killer pitch, and she could do it hundreds of times in a row.
And then there's the woman who coached her, Carol Hutchins.
Sure, she hooped it up at Michigan State during her undergrad years, but after 23 years of leading the Wolverines, what colors could Hutch bleed but maize and blue? She's Michigan's winningest coach and hit the 1,000-win plateau earlier this season. Her style is Schembechler-esque: brash at times, but a leader who can inspire players to great heights.
Those are two powerful women, and that's just looking back one year into one sport. I'm sure many more lie deeper in Michigan's past.
The problem is, how can we find them and fully celebrate them if they can't be propped up into this nifty category we created for the men? They could be heroes - if only they had a name.
So, what's the response to a Michigan Man - a Wolverine Woman? That just sounds silly. Keeping the alliteration is nice, but somehow that title doesn't have the same tinge of respect and honor.
We need a moniker that could span more than just sports. Obviously Ford's campaign as a Michigan Man came more from his stint in the Oval Office - and how he kept his Michigan ties throughout - than on the gridiron.
Then maybe one day we'd have something to call Mary Sue Coleman. (Even though, in my opinion, she's got a long way to go, but that's another column.)
This is Michigan, and bragging is our specialty. We're the victors valiant, conqu'ring heroes and all that jazz. Some call us arrogant, but really we just have a history of winning - and that comes from the remarkable people who have comprised our programs.
I don't want to eliminate an entire gender's worth of bragging rights. I'm proud of our Michigan Men, and I want to spout off the merits of their female counterparts as well. It's so easy to celebrate when you have a distinct merit to award. Shouldn't we cherish everyone who made the Michigan family great?
Somehow, I don't think we can fully do that when the men are in a club of their own.
- Any ideas? Colvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.