T he bleachers at Michigan Stadium were empty when she was sprinting down the sideline. She scored on the game”s first play.
Her head was completely bald, but she was the best football player on the field. She was a hero.
Her name is Kim Turner, and she is suffering from ovarian cancer.
Turner scored three touchdowns Saturday afternoon at coach Lloyd Carr”s third-annual Michigan Women”s Football Academy.
This was Turner”s first time with the program, and hopefully not her last.
“Oh, I loved it,” Turner said. “If I”m still here, you can bet that I”ll be back next year.”
Following Turner”s postgame hugs from many of the players and participants, Carr”s final words put the exclamation point on the afternoon.
“You will now forever be Michigan women.”
A record 500-plus Michigan women participated this year, and all proceeds from the event were donated to the Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“It is a great cause,” Michigan wide receiver coach and camp director Erik Campbell said. “Cancer is something that everyone”s been affected by.”
Lloyd and his wife, Laurie Carr, established the Coach Carr Cancer Fund in 1998, when he donated funds from a speaking engagement to the Cancer Center. Soon afterward, it was suggested that Carr partner with the cancer center to begin a fund for patient care programs in memory of his mother, Pauline, who died of breast cancer.
“With cancer, early detection is so important,” Carr said. “We raised some money, but we really want to raise awareness. That makes a difference.”
But coach Carr and Campbell couldn”t make that difference alone. Everyone involved with Michigan football pitched in and volunteered on their day off.
“When we say the whole program, we mean the whole whole program,” Campbell said. “Everyone in Schembelcher Hall is involved every coach, player, grounds crew and maintenance guy, secretary, and equipment manager.”
In fact, so many players volunteered that coach Campbell had to turn some away.
“This teaches the young kids to give something back to their community,” Campbell said. “And they enjoy doing it.”
Michigan junior offensive lineman Kurt Anderson relished the opportunity to participate in the camp this year.
“It may seem kind of corny, but it”s really great to meet your fans,” Anderson said. “These people are what make Michigan football great.”
The welcome mat
The preparations, the instructions, the food and even the grass coach Campbell needed everything to be immaculate for this special occasion.
“It”s like gameday,” Campbell said. “This is our first Football Saturday.”
Gametime was 9 a.m. Saturday. When the women began to arrive at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, the first thing many of them saw was this year”s likely starting quarterback, John Navarre.
The 6-foot-6 giant and his teammates, linebacker John Spytek and offensive lineman Tony Pape, arrived in golf carts to transport the ladies to the registration desk.
Photos and autographs started to slow the process, but no one seemed to care.
Audrey Demak, a veteran of all three football academies, will always remember forcing a humble and shy Navarre into a photo last June.
“It was so great to see him excel last season,” Demak said. “And I told everyone that I knew him before.”
Demak”s husband, a Michigan alumnus, signed her up without warning for the first year, but now she looks forward to the event.
“I still don”t really know football,” Demak said. “But now I”ll watch the game more because I have some idea what they are doing.”
Once inside of Oosterbaan, the ladies were given commemorative maize T-shirts along with a variety of other gifts, including the 2000 season”s media guide for Michigan Football.
“If I didn”t pick one of these guides up for my husband, I”d be walking back to Tennessee,” said three-time participant and Nashville resident Connie Hensley.
The Hensley”s make the drive north for every Michigan home game.
“It”s not healthy,” Hensley said. “It”s an addiction. Once you”re hooked, you can never give it up.”
Let the games begin
After all the gifts were compiled and stored away in bags on the perimeter walls, the camp began with its first lesson equipment.
Hanky Van De Wege, proprietor of Moe”s Sports Shop in Ann Arbor, was chosen to model the gameday garb and demonstrate how to put it all on.
“It really shows you how complicated the game is, when it takes that much work just to get dressed,” she said.
Carr followed the demonstration with a speech on how to win football games.
He provided five key elements: Play hard, play smart, tackle, block and do it all as a team.
Carr”s winning message reached women of all ages.
Michigan alumna Deborah Smart of Gurnee, Ill. braved treacherous road conditions to bring her daughters, Jasmine (11) and Jillian Walker (15) to the event.
“The best part is getting so up close with all the players,” Jasmine said.
Despite her father”s Michigan State pedigree, Jillian plans on attending Michigan when she is old enough.
“Dad will be mad,” Jillian said. “But he”ll get over it.”
Carr also laid down the one rule for the day do exactly what your coaches tell you.
His wife, Laurie, was also in attendance.
“I wish she would do everything she was told,” Carr joked to the crowd.
Carr closed his speech by stressing the use of water, rest and sunscreen during the afternoon”s festivities.
This is how we do it
The human sea of maize flooded out of Oosterbaan and into the bright sunlit practice field behind the facility. Next, the women were divided into 10 groups for the morning”s drill and instruction period.
Each group would learn something about each position from the Michigan coaches and players. The women would have physical activities in each group as well as a question and answer section. Each group was quick to mention why they were the most important position on the field.
The defensive backs demonstrated the correct form for backpedaling into coverage.
The linebackers taught the ladies to key the quarterback and react to running and passing plays.
The defensive linemen and current Detroit Lion defensive tackle James Hall, who was a senior for the 1999 season, showed the women how to fire off at the snap of the ball.
The special teams group provided the ladies with a chance to actually kick and punt balls.
“You should use your laces to kick, but most of you will just use your toe that is what most of the ladies do,” the less-than-politically-correct Michigan kicker Hayden Epstein said before a chorus of boos.
The offensive line went over blocking footwork and explained why they are so under appreciated.
“We might as well be in the witness protection program,” offensive line coach Terry Malone said. “If we do our job right, no one notices.”
When the wide receivers came to visit, the ladies learned how to catch a ball over their shoulder.
The running backs demonstrated the best way to hold a football when running down the field.
“I always tell my players, “It is better to die an early death than fumble the football,”” Carr said.
The tight ends tried to explain the difficult concept of eligible receivers, and the quarterbacks gave the women a chance to give and take snaps.
Assistant coach Stan Parrish needed to motivate the female quarterbacks to “get more personal” with their center.
Reactions were mixed, but the kicking and catching drills scored the most points with the majority of the participants.
But Beth Russell of Ann Arbor, preferred the linebacker drills.
“It was more intellectual,” Russell said. “It was really fun to see how they react to different plays.”
Russell was working on her master”s degree in Michigan football in this, her second year at the academy.
Welcome to the Big House
After each group had met with the coaches and players from each position, they broke for lunch courtesy of Cottage Inn Pizza.
After they had reenergized themselves with some chicken and some shade, the crowd of women began their march to Michigan Stadium.
The excitement could easily be seen as three friends began applying eye black en route.
Patricia Erdstom, Alyson Ryan and Jen Vana converged on the Michigan Women”s Football Academy from San Jose, Chicago and Milwaukee, respectively. Ryan and Vana are Michigan alumni.
But the Santa Clara graduate Erdstom said “I will be spending the rest of my life making up for not going to a big football school.”
Erdstom and the rest of the crowd gathered outside of the tunnel and waited for their moment of glory.
Then the doors opened, and the public address system played the song that the famous John Phillip Sousa himself rated “best college march ever written.”
After storming down the tunnel while the Wolverines” fight song blared, the crowd gathered at midfield and joined in their own chorus of “Hail to the Victors.”
“You can”t buy that feeling with gold,” Carr said.
Each of the 10 groups practiced in the stadium for about 25 minutes. Later, four scrimmages would take place together on different parts of the field, giving the women a chance to put their lessons into practice.
But make no mistake, these ladies were playing to win. Some women were cautioned for tackling opponents, and the blocking on the line was intense. The quarterback was knocked down after almost every throw and the atmosphere fell well short of lady-like.
While this was going on, one solitary man stood against the brick wall watching the action.
His name was Gavin Magor, and he had journeyed all the way from Sweden to attend this event. Magor was recently diagnosed with skin cancer, but the real reason for his trip was to visit his good friend Dave Schevsky.
Schevsky is in charge of the Coach Carr Fund website, www.coachcarrfund.org. His cancer has spread to his liver, but his commitment to the cause has never been stronger.
This event was designed for female football fans of all ages, but people like Dave Schevsky and the day”s best football player Kim Turner are the ones who the program helps the most.
His program may cater to the insane sports fans and the football-illiterate wives and mothers, but Carr is quick to point out exactly why this event carries his name.
“Remember, it”s all about fighting cancer. That damn, deadly disease.”