Page 6 - The Michigan Daily - Sports Monday - November 5, 1990
It was a hot July day in Detroit during the summer
of 1989 when the phone rang. Joel Blankenship had
dreams of college swirling in his head while he worked
as a supervisor for the city's police cadet program. He
heard 105,000 people chanting his name in the autumns
to come at the University of Michigan. Pizza and
professors. Girls and sorority date parties. Fun times.
Then the phone rang and the last cog of
Blankenship's college puzzle would be answered. The
admissions office from Michigan was on the other end
of the phone. They said, sorry, your ACT college exam
score came in and it wasn't quite up to snuff. Missed by
Thus, Joel Blankenship, a standout prep star from
Detroit Murray-Wright, who stood [Mike
6-foot-1 and weighed 185 pounds, G
would join the ranks of other
Michigan standout athletes such as
Rumeal Robinson, Terry Mills, and
Vada Murray. But in this case, he did
not want to be included in such an
elite circle. He would be hounded
with the title "Proposition 48
For the next year, Blankenship i4
would be the Hester Prynne of The
Scarlet Letter with a huge 'P'
emblazoned on his chest.4
The NCAA rule requires incoming freshman who do not
meet certain grade point requirements or standardized
test scores to sit out their first year. Blankenship had a
3.0 grade point on a 4.0 scale, but his test scores fell
short. Thus he would be forced to live differently than
the other members of the football team.
"When I first started it was the worst thing that ever
happened to me, I guess. At least when I started it felt
like that, but it turned out to be a real positive because I
really learned a lot as a person," Blankenship said. "I
grew up a lot. I matured as a person.
"It was real hard just being there by myself, just me
and a coach while (the team) was all outside practicing."
Last year, while the football team dug down and
prepared for their next Big Ten opponent, Blankenship
sweated away in a weight room, pumping iron, using
various machines and dreaming. To focus on an
opponent a week away is easy. To focus on an illusion
seemingly light years away is something else. Former
weight and conditioning coach Mike Gittleson spent
hours working with Blankenship in the weight room,
attempting to improve the defensive back's strength and
stamina, while keeping him focused.
"He was there everyday when I was really frustrated,"
Blankenship says. "There was many a day that I went
there and I didn't feel like doing it. We'd get into
arguments and he pushed me every time. He would
never let me quit. Never. There was no way. I felt like
'why am I doing this? I got a whole other year after
this.' Then he would say, 'Do you want to be fat and
then work it all off?' We'd have some good arguments
but always something positive came out of it. Always."
But there was always someone else around everyday
for Blankenship. Someone who wore the Wolverine
maize and blue and heard his name announced to those
large crowds. Someone who also remembered his first
year where he only attended one Michigan game and
found it hard to muster.
Murray became the first football player to ever attend
Michigan as a Prop 48 athlete. He knew the pain and
the frustration he had suffered through. He remembered
what it was like to sit in a classroom as a freshman and
"people would say, 'That Murray, he should never came
here, he's a prop 48.' They didn't know I was that
person sitting behind them."
So the day came when Murray heard that he would
be joined by another person who had experienced the
same problems with taking tests. He knew he would
experience the same tortures he discovered because of
that label. So he extended his hand. Everyday they
would talk. And everyday they would share experiences.
"I told him the ups and the downs," Murray recalls.
"I told him what to expect as far as people are going to
look at you. I told him that some people are going to
think that you shouldn't be here and that some people
think you have a right to be here. I said the main thing
is that you're going to have a lot of time on your hands
to do a lot of thinking and that's the one thing that's
going to drive you crazy. What you have to do is keep
yourself occupied and look at it as a building year."
Murray told him that he needed to jump ahead of his
incoming teammates in the only two areas he could: the
school books and the weight room. And Murray told
him what his biggest problem would be: "Just yourself.
That's the main thing. You hurt inside. It doesn't hit
you at first. It hit me for the first time when I was
coming up here for the first time to stay. I was like
'Wow. I'm not going to play this year. I'm going to sit
out for a whole year.' It hurts inside for the most part.
That's the biggest thing."
No coach ever whispered into Murray's ear to watch
out for the new kid. He took it upon himself. "When I
found out that there was going to be another kid being a
Prop 48," Murray says, "there was only one kid on that
team that could know what he was going through. And
that was me.
"Hopefully, I could be a role model for him to
succeed because if I fail, then chances are he'll think
that he isn't going to make it. I want to make an extra
effort to succeed to give him something to look up to."
Now, Murray is close to graduating. And his protegd
sports a healthy GPA.
"He was more like a big brother," Blankenship says
of Murray. "He was a whole lot of help. He was always
there, even when I never asked. He knew how
frustrating it is, not feeling like you belong when
you're on the team. He was always there for support. I
really appreciated it a lot. Truthfully, I think it really
made the difference from me just wanting to leave."
But times change. Blankenship considers himself
lucky. He thinks of his old friend, Chester Jackson,
who took a bullet at school one day, and never woke
up. He thinks of the honor it is to play football. Maybe
things aren't all that bad.
"I sat around and thought about that," Blankenship
says. "I said I'm sitting here and pouting about what
happened to me. People got it much worse than I do.
There's a lot of people out there that have many, many
more problems out there than I have with a test and
playing football. Football is fine and something I like
to do, but you have to put it in perspective."
Now, Blankenship can practice with the team
everyday. He can dig down on the turf, experience what
a full practice is all about. "It feels so good just to be
on a football field," he says. "I can't complain. I'm
doing fine. I'm learning a lot."
Even though his year in exile has expired, it doesn't
mean Blankenship can just forget about the past.
Sitting idle for a year does something to the body - if
not the mind. And when Tony, as he likes to be called,
took to the field, he wondered if he could still play. "I
was concerned that I lost so much of my ability," he
says. "I was not at the same level. I felt that I couldn't
play - that I had no talent or no natural ability."
It is also reflected in his playing time. When
Blankenship came out of high school he was an all-
everything and rated the second best player in the
midwest. He has yet to see game action. He believes if
he was red-shirted, yet practiced with the team, he might
be on the special teams. The year layoff has hurt.
But he has grown. More mature. A better person.
And he has a true friend in Murray. "We still talk," he
says, "but not on the same subjects. Now it's a more
mature conversation. It's not like I'm his little brother.
We talk about what to expect from the coaches, what's
going on socially. He's not so easy on me either. He
just looks at me sometimes. He knows I can do better.
He knows when I'm not giving 110 percent."
And things also have come full circle.
There's a new face on the team this year named
Shonte Peoples. He also received the label "Prop 48
athlete." Through Murray's lessons last year,
Michigan defensive back Joel Blankenship and free
safety Vada Murray are two Wolverines who have
grown together off the field.
Blankenship knew exactly what to do.
"I see myself in Shonte Peoples," he says. And now
it is Joel Blankenship's turn to take a protegd under his
wings. He knows how the new athlete feels:,
Blankenship is asking the questions he was asked a year.
ago. Now, it's him that provides the push, the@
encouragement, the pat on the back.
Sure, 1989 may have been The Lost Year.
But that's okay with Tony. He'll keep smiling.
Keep trying. And hold no bitter feelings.
"Hey, everything happens for a reason in life. It's,
made me a stronger person."
Now, he imparts the advice he learned to the nextt
M' tennis finishes 1-2 in state tourney ::.s o
by Becky Weiss
Number one and two ranked
tennis players from all over
Michigan competed in yesterday's
tournament. But, in the end, the
finals of the No. 1 flight pitted
Wolverine against Wolverine as
junior Lindsay Aland defeated Kalei
Beamon to win the day-long
"Lindsay had a great tournament.
She won the No.1 flight, and when
Christine (Schmeidel) is healthy,
Lindsay would normally play No 2."
said Michigan coach Elizabeth Ritt.
"It's outstanding for our No. 2 and
No. 3 players to win in this draw."
The draw included players from
Michigan State, Eastern, and West-
ern Michigan. Western's strength in
doubles was immediately felt as the
Wolverine No. 2 doubles team of
captain Stacy Berg and Beamon lost
to the Western team of Meyer and
McClure 6-2, 6-3 in the second
Michigan's No. 1 team of junior
Freddy Adam and junior Kim Pratt
didn't fare quite as well as they were
defeated in the first round by
Hurrelbrink and Hilbert from
Michigan State, 7-6, 6-3.
Said Ritt: "We did not play well
in doubles. We lost several close
matches we should have won." One
of these matches was the Berg-
Beamon second round match, of
which Ritt commented, "the score
wasn't close, but in terms of ability,
it shouldn't have been like that."
The Wolverines' failure to reach
the finals in the doubles flights
could have been partially due to
Schmeidel's absence, but, according
to Ritt, "I think the people who
played this weekend should have
been able to do it."
As the Wolverines prepare for
this weekend's ITCA tournament,
Ritt feels "we have to continue to
work hard on doubles in order to
improve and do well as a team."
Vaughn rushed for 139 'yards on 25
carries lowering his average to 6.6 yards
Vaughn vaulted six spots on the list for
most yards gained on a season, moving up
from 15th to 9th. The 8th spot on the list, set
in 1971, belongs to Bill Taylor with 1297
Good to see tradition at Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE - The "All American Marching Band"-
otherwise known as the Purdue Marching Band - has enough
novelties for a vaudeville sideshow act.
There's the world's largest bass drum, standing more than 10 felt,
tall, as well as various baton twirlers: the Golden Girl, the Girl in Black,
the illustrious Silver Twins and the "All American" Twirling Line.
It is an esteemed band with a list of firsts:
First to break ranks and form letters, (1907).
First to carry the Big Ten colors, (1919).
First to play the opponent's school song, (1920).
First to use a giant bass drum, (1921).
First to use fanfare trumpets on the field (1930).
First to use lightened night formations (1935).
First to be called the "All American" Band (1935).
First to use a precision line of majorettes (1954).
First to play in Radio City Music Hall (1963).
And even the first to have a bandsman on the moon (Neil
Armstrong in 1969).
It's nice to see that the band has a sense of history - and does
not try to erase its tradition - as Michigan currently is attempting to
slowly rid itself of the high step.
The performance of Purdue's band though, was lukewarm. Whe
the band marched, the choreography was excellent and difficult.
However, they stood still a large amount of the time during a halftime:
salute to Leonard Bernstein. And despite the fact that they didn't
have to march, the sound quality was not good.
But the sad story is that the Michigan Marching Band did not make,
the trip. It is expensive to send a band on a trip - thus the band has
only travelled to Notre Dame this year. This is sad. Last year, Purdue
made the trip to Michigan. It's nice to travel to, as well as perform in
front of, opposing schools.
Here's hoping the band gets some financial help to allow them a
more vigorous travel schedule.
- MIKE GILL
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