This was how my career as a High School sports parent ended. With a loss to Dexter High in the first round of the 2017 MHSAA Lacrosse playoffs. Dexter 19, Chelsea 6.
The last kid, the last sport, the last season, the last game, the last quarter…the last minute, the last second….and poof, it was over. It seemed like it had just began, but in fact it began more than 8 years ago in the Winter of 2008. Add it up…3 seasons per school year, baseball almost ever summer, 3 kids, 8 years equals … a lot of games. and it all went way too fast.
As the minutes ticked down, I began reflecting on all of the games, all of the hours spent in the stands watching my kids compete with a plethora of other Chelsea High Schoolers that became like my own kids. Its been a wild ride. Tons of fun, lots of laughter, high fives, yelling at a ref or two, a few ill-timed screams and a few gut punches too. The gut punches are just as easy to remember as the huge wins, the hugs and the celebrations. All the emotions and experiences together made for an incredible experience and I wouldn’t change anything (except for one or two game outcomes).
I have two daughters and my eldest (Jessie) was just about to start pre-school when my first wife and I moved to Chelsea, where she grew up and was a ’83 grad of Chelsea High School. My daughters tried a few sports while very young. They played tee-ball with me volunteering in probably 1996 or 1997. The younger (Lexie) also played soccer one season after her 4th grade year, which would have been 2002 I think. Neither loved sports and they didn’t really take to it. They didn’t play any additional sports in Jr High or High School. Their mother and I were divorced in 2003 and I remarried in January 2009.
When Marissa and her kids moved to Chelsea in November of 2008, my step kids were in 7th grade (Tiffany), 5th grade (Christopher) and 4th grade (Nick). They immediately enrolled in available sports. Tiffany played middle school basketball within weeks of moving to Chelsea, I worked the clock at the Beach Middle School gym on countless occasions over the next 5 years while each of the 3 kids played basketball to varying degrees of participation and success.
Here are pictures of each of them that first year.
The Greatest Moments
The absolute top moment wasn’t really a moment, it was a series of moments that began in August of 2015 with the Chelsea High School Football team’s annual scrimmage with 3 other schools. It was the beginning of Christopher’s senior year and we knew his class was going to do great things. We had known it for many years. The moment had been brewing for about 6 years.
I remember standing outside of Beach Middle School with other dad’s waiting to drive Christopher and his teammates home from a 7th grade football game. As we stood there and discussed the boys week after week, even though they weren’t winning many games (this is normal for middle school football in Chelsea), we started to see something. We all noticed similar things: there were tons of kids in this class, they seemed to be bigger kids than even the grade ahead of them and they seemed to have a lot of kids that were very athletic. I wondered at the time if we were just typical sports parents that think their kids are the best ever. It crossed my mind, but I honestly thought these kids were awesome for their ages. As the boys grew and played in 8th grade, our opinions did not change. The following year, when most of them played on the freshman team for Chelsea High, they went an amazing 9-0. Even with some of their most athletic kids not playing with the freshman (a handful were playing up a notch on Junior Varsity), they still did not lose a game all year. Nine games played, nine games won. This accomplishment is in direct contrast to the philosophy of Chelsea football where the only level we care about wins and losses is at the varsity level. Wins on Friday’s is all that matters. But, don’t tell that to the kids. You want kids that win and that want to win each and every time they play a game. Here is a Facebook post from the final game of that year.
I believed that the class would do great things.
Their sophomore year, when most of them played on JV, they were a respectable 7-2. Their junior year, when they all played together for the first time, even though many didn’t get as much playing time as we would have liked (this is also common for juniors), they finished 7-2 and won 2 playoff games before losing to Detroit Country Day in the regional final, 21-0. Was a tough game with a few turnovers being critical. All this set the stage for their senior year, which began that August with a few scrimmages.
The season was amazing. They won each of their first 5 games before falling to Ypsilanti Community High School in a game that they never led and were simply out-played from start to finish. Was a wake-up call for them, I think. They finished the season 8-1 and began the playoffs with an easy victory over Romulus at home. The next week, they traveled to Trenton High School and beat them. The following week, they went to Allen Park High School and won Chelsea’s first-ever regional championship and earned a trip to the state semi-finals against Coldwater High. After the game in Allen Park, we parents wandered on the field and celebrated with our boys. They posed with the regional championship trophy and it was truly amazing. But the best was yet to come.
The following week, the state semi final was played at neutral site of Jackson High School. The game was delayed a day due to a huge blizzard that hit the area on Saturday. Our game was the only one delayed. So, we went to Jackson on Sunday to watch our boys play for the right to play a game at Ford Field for the State Division 3 Championship. The game was a blowout from the start. Coldwater could not run the ball against our stout defense and they simply could not stop our offense from throwing over the top of their defenders. Final score: Chelsea 28, Coldwater 7.
After the game, we got to go celebrate with our kids again as we had the prior weeks. Christopher and Nick were both so excited. WE ARE GOING TO FORD FIELD!!! The dream was realized. It was truly mind blowing and I was so happy and so proud of these boys. Here is a picture of us on the field that day.
The state final was an amazing experience. The whole day, the lead-up, the bus ride, watching the kids warm up. The whole deal was fantastic. They lost the game. They could have won if every single thing had gone their way and it most clearly did not. They made some mistakes and had some bad calls go against them, but that’s life. That’s sports. That’s football. They made it to the state finals from the little community west of Ann Arbor. It was an absolutely fantastic ride.
Here is the patch that the boys earned. The patch is awesome, but the memories are better!
Another Great Moment
This one truly was a moment in time. It was a quick 10 seconds out of a season of games and times. It was Nick’s sophomore year and was playing on the JV Lacrosse team. He plays defense and was still learning his stick work. He was improving and he would become pretty darned good by his senior year. But in this moment, he was learning. The moment began when our goalie threw an outlet pass to Nick. The pass was behind him, but he turned and made a pretty good catch. He quickly made a nice pass to another teammate who was running into the offensive zone. That player made another pass and perhaps there was one more before a shot and a goal. The entire sequence was perhaps 5 seconds. After the goal our JV coach screamed loudly enough for us to hear in the stands this sentence: “CHILDRESS, THAT IS YOUR GOAL AS MUCH AS ANYONE ELSE! GREAT PLAY!!”. It almost brought me to tears, I was so happy for Nick and so proud of him. He worked hard and the hard work was paying off. Great, great moment. 2 seconds of the coaches time to acknowledge one kid on his team made a huge impression. Coaches, please note this!!
The very first sports team that Chris played on was a rec baseball team in the summer of 2009. He had never played baseball and didn’t seem too excited, but he played because I agreed to sign up as an assistant coach.
We hit the jackpot with our placement as the kids and parents on this team would become friends for many years to come.
Looking at how small the boys were in that picture is pretty cute. A bunch of these kids ended up being on that Chelsea football team that played at Ford Field. The other coaches are guys I have shared many, many beers and laughs with along with their wives. We had a lot of fun with this team over the better part of 4 summers. We won a lot of games, had a lot of fun and watched the kids grow before our eyes.
When Tiffany entered high school, she informed us that she wanted to play field hockey. Our response of course was “field hockey!?!?!?!?!?!”. Why on earth do you want to play that sport? She wanted to play it because her friends Kayla and Taylor were going to play and the three of them were inseparable. They were also loud, funny, cute and kind of annoying at times 🙂
Anyway, Tiffany ended up playing field hockey for the community team, The Washtenaw Whippets, for her entire 4 years in high school. Chelsea High didn’t get their own field hockey team until after Tiffany had graduated.
Her freshman year was a lesson in patience for the kids, coaches and parents. They did not win a game and only scored maybe 10 goals all year…probably 7 of the goals was scored by their best player, a senior that ended up playing at MSU.
By the time her junior year rolled around, they won their division by beating Dexter late in the year. They played Dexter again the next week in the playoffs and lost. But, they won their division, got a patch and trophy. Very cool.
Her senior year, they won a playoff game and were one additional win away from playing for a state championship. They played Ann Arbor Huron High School and lost 1-0 in overtime. It was a huge, painful gut punch. Her career ended with a loss. Seeing the kids upset after a loss is tough, seeing a season end is even tougher, seeing your senior season end was very, very tough. Watching the girls come off the field in tears, collapsing into their parents arms was especially hard. We tried to stress the positives and the strides they had made, but it was very, very tough. This game would be one that, if I could, I would wave my magic wand to change. Even if they came up short in the state final, just to make it there would have been beyond amazing.
Nick’s senior year football team was good. This was the team that had to follow-up the class in front of them leading the way to Ford Field. It was a tough position for the class of 2017 to be in, even though most were on the team the prior year, they still felt tremendous pressure. They handled it like pros and had lots of success that year.
The team lost the opening game of the year in blow-out fashion to River Rouge. The game was later declared a forfeit and victory by Chelsea, but we know what we saw and Chelsea was out-classed that day. During the game and for the next week, I wasn’t sure how this team would do, but luckily the kids didn’t seem to have the same doubts. The team won every other game the entire regular season.
They then won the first two playoff games to win the schools’ 3rd straight district championship. The following game, for a regional championship and chance to play in the state semi-final was at stake. The game against Edwardsburg was an epic affair that also ended up going to overtime.
In the 2nd overtime, Edwardsburg scored a TD and got the 2 point conversion. Chelsea scored a TD on an amazing catch in the back of the endzone. The two point conversion is a play that I will remember for a long time. Chelsea’s QB scrambled in the backfield to keep the play alive and threw the ball to what must have been his 3rd option, to the far left side of the field. It landed incomplete at the feet of a covered receiver. The game ended. The season ended. The senior’s career’s ended at that moment. We sat in the stands stunned for a few minutes until the gravity of the situation washed over us. Very tough moment and probably another game that I would love to change. But, just to have gotten to this game was amazing and this senior class had more wins in the past two years and most classes in the school’s history.
One of the best wins of any team was the game in 2016 Football playoffs that immediately preceded the loss to Edwardsburg just described. We were scheduled to play Coldwater High School in a rematch of the previous years state semi-final game. Coldwater wanted revenge and very nearly got it.
The game had tons of back and forth moments. Coldwater was a very good team and showed it. They played well and it was a close game from start to finish.
Chelsea led 20-14 with around 2 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Coldwater had the ball just past midfield, when they ran a screen pass play that they had run 5 or more times throughout the course of the game. This time, the player that caught the pass, made a couple guys miss and went the length of the field to tie the score at 20 with an extra point pending. As Coldwater attempted the XP, one of Chelsea’s great defensive lineman got a little push and timed his jump perfectly to block the kick. The game remained tied, but it was a huge momentum swing. Chelsea had led and had the momentum, then Coldwater had the long TD play and their kids rightfully were going nuts and the tide had seemingly turned, then the XP was blocked and our kids went crazy as Uncle Mo changed sides for the 2nd time inside of 60 seconds. That was all exciting, heart-stopping stuff, but it was just the warmup to what was yet to come.
Chelsea received the kickoff and started their drive on their own 25 or 30 yard line with under 2 minutes left. They made some nice plays, had some nice time out usages, conserved the clock and marched, marched, marched down the field. When one of the best players on the field alluded two defenders and lurched into the endzone, the time on the clock showed 0:03. Three seconds remained when Chelsea scored the winning touchdown. It was an amazing end to an amazing game. Felt bad for the Coldwater seniors, but felt fantastic for our kids. They won and they deserved to win.
Tiffany did track and field in middle school and when she told us that she wanted to try the pole vault her freshman year, it was not a surprise. She sees something that she wants to do, sets her goal and she goes and achieves it. She wanted to learn to play field hockey, so she did it. She wanted to learn the pole vault, so she did it. She wanted to get accepted to the University of Michigan, so she did it. She wants to go to dental school, so she is going to do it (pending). Her goal was to get her pole vault patch for her lettermen jacket. This is only issued if you clear a vault of a certain height (forgive me for not remembering the height). This height seemed impossible to her at the beginning, but she worked at it…and worked at it and did finally achieve the desired height and got the desired patch and had the patch added to her lettermen jacked. See goal, set goal, achieve goal.
I had wavered on whether to include this part. I’m still not convinced if I should remove it or leave it. But, I’m going to write it and decide later.
The singular worst moment of the entire period came at Tiffany’s field hockey banquet her senior year. This was immediately after the team had accomplished so much, they had made the state semi-finals, they had won their division the prior year. This senior class had not won a single game their freshman year and had transformed the program into a power, into a program that moved up a division, into a program that would make it to a state final game 2 years later. This senior class had set the standard for success for all classes to follow. They had left a lasting legacy. No matter what happened to their athletic success for the rest of their lives, they could always look to this team and the success that they had blazed, and whatever successes the program celebrated in the future could be traced to the class of 2014.
The points in the preceding paragraph are what should have been said at the banquet. The coaches should have absolutely let these girls enjoy their success and understand their place in history and the legacy that they left. Maybe the coaches do not agree with me, maybe they don’t care or maybe they just aren’t smart enough to understand or see the big picture even after a season. I’m not sure, but when the coaches called up each senior to talk about their accomplishments, there was precious little of this said. In fact, there was nothing to that effect. Nothing about where the program had been when these girls started and where it was presently as they exit. To me, this was the single biggest point to be made and it was not made.
When the coach called up Tiffany, her summary went something like this: “Oh Tiffany, I remember how we yelled at you during your freshman and sophomore years. Folks, you don’t understand how hard it is to tell an athlete to just stand there and do nothing during a game. And she really stood around and did nothing. But, hey, geez, we are really going to miss you.” Tiffany came over to us in tears. It was the single worst speech by a coach I have ever heard. That woman was an embarrassment many times during the 4 years we dealt with her, but this was the last time I ever saw her or had to enduring hearing her voice. I will always support Chelsea High students and athletes, but that woman…ugh. I am not a fan. What she should have said to Tiffany: “Tiffany, we had our differences at times, but you have matured so much during the last 4 years. Your play has improved from year, to year, to year. You were a huge asset for us this year especially and the goal you scored against Dexter was one we’ll all remember for a long time. I am so proud of your personal and athletic accomplishments and and so happy you were accepted to the University of Michigan. You are going to do great things in this world. Congratulations and good luck in all future endeavors.” You know, talk about the positives and gloss over any negatives. It is what all coaches do in all banquets all the time. Except for her, this one time. I’m still kinda angry about it. What an embarrassment.
Chelsea is a tiny town about 15 miles west of Ann Arbor. When I say tiny, I mean it. Enrollment for 2017-18 is 840. That is about 210 per class. Other schools in their division (SEC White) are:
Ypsilanti – 1254
Lincoln – 1222
Dexter – 1149
Adrian – 865
Tecumseh – 850
Adrian and Tecumseh are pretty close, but Chelsea is the smallest in the division and considerably smaller than Ypsi, Lincoln and Dexter. But, they compete in football at the highest level. They win year in and year out. They have beaten Dexter 20 straight years. They beat these schools often. They compete successfully with the larger schools in the SEC Red like Pioneer, Huron and Monroe. Why is this? How do they do it?
It is my opinion, from watching this program from the inside the past 7 years that the success largely stems from the way the entire program is run from the middle school 7th and 8th grade teams to the freshman team and to the JV team. They all funnel the kids for success at the varsity level. Winning on Friday’s is what ultimately matters most. It is the singular goal of the entire program. Not to say the kids, coaches and parents do not want to win middle school games or freshman games or JV games. They do. We did. But, learning the game and cultivating a love and commitment for the game is more important at the lower levels. I remember when Christopher was playing a 7th grade game against Tecumseh. They had one kid that played middle linebacker, running back, punter and did kickoffs. He was a beast and Tecumseh won easily because of this one kid. Not sure if that Tecumseh kid played on the varsity team 4 and 5 years later, but Christopher’s junior and senior years included comfortable victories over Tecumseh both years. Each year, there are two 7th grade and two 8th grade teams. They are evenly divided in terms of talent. There is not an A team and a B team as some schools have. Every kid plays at every level (other than varsity) in every game. It is my belief that these concepts are the reason that Chelsea has the highest participation of all schools in the division despite being the smallest school. It is my further belief that this is one huge reason for the success they have at the varsity level. The coaches also stress that the varsity team will be led by seniors and if a position battle is close, the senior will win almost always. I’m not sure this is always the best way to go, but the fact that the coaches are vocal about this, makes it less objectionable. Another concept that I absolutely love is that lack of individual awards. There is no MVP award at any level, including varsity. It is a team game and there is generally no singling out of individual kids.
Not everyone in Chelsea will agree with all that. There are personal stories of kids not being treated the way they would like. I have heard stories and I generally believe them. I personally witnessed some decisions that I questioned with regard to playing time and first v second string. This is always going to be the case, regardless of how you run your program. Ask other coaches that do not run the program like this. Parents are equally unhappy with the coaching decisions. There are only 11 kids on the field at a time and parents of the rest are generally not going to be happy.
I was once at Ypsilanti Community High School for a basketball game. I think it was Christopher’s junior year. Ypsi was winning pretty comfortably most of the game. Chelsea made a little run to cut it close, but Ypsi got things back under control and led by around 20 with a couple minutes to go in the 4th quarter.
“OK. Y’all can go back to the farm now.”
That is the quote that I heard with my own ears from someone on the home side of the court. I do not know if it was a student or an adult. But, it was uncomfortable. It seemed racial to me. Luckily nobody of note heard it and I have never heard anyone else mention it. It could have been a big deal if our kids had heard it. It was not not wise and was pretty ignorant and offensive comment.
I could go on and on and on. I could have written stories about each team, each year, each kid. I could have written this much just about the baseball teams. I could have just written about the baseball teams that I coached and I could have written more than this. But, these are the highlights.
There are other sports that I didn’t mention. Christopher played baseball for Chelsea High his freshman and sophomore years. Nick played lacrosse from 8th grade through his senior year. Nick also bowled on the Chelsea High team from his sophomore year through his senior year. Christopher played basketball from 7th grade through his junior year. Tiffany ran track in 7th, 8th and 9th grade and ran cross country one year. Plus, Nick played soccer one year and both boys played flag football prior to 7th grade. There were a lot of sports, lots of games, lots of yelling, a whole lot of fun.
Best part of all, is that they are all graduates of Chelsea High School. They are all good kids and I’m proud to be their stepfather. I hope they appreciate that their time as high school athletes are part of who they are and part of the reason that they can handle successes and failures as they proceed in life.
Here they are on their graduation days.