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2B - April 22, 2013

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

2B - April 22, 2013 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

One last time, an overdue story for Papa

The other day, my father, a
French and Spanish teacher,
looked down at his precise cursive
scrawl, chuckled, and shook his
head. His pen still hovered above
a student's paper, above his signa-
ture: Stephen
J. Nesbitt.
Except, he
is Stephen M.
Nesbitt.
He later
admitted his
gaffe and
said it was a STEPHEN J
humiliating S
sign of being NESBITT
eclipsed by
his children.
I smiled. That couldn't be further
from the truth.
This was always Papa's dream,
this sportswriting.
A tall, lanky kid from Birming-
ham, Mich., he went to Michigan
State to be a sports reporter. He
had the know-how, he knew how
to crafta story, and he certainly
had the writing talent.
But there, in the shadows of
Spartan Stadium, he reversed
course. He'd say his motivation
was ill-founded. He'd say he was
in it for the wrong reasons. He'd
say his pursuit was only of the
opportunity to meet famous ath-
letes and to tell their stories.
So, he left East Lansing,
instead, with a French degree to
become a teacher. He met Brenda
Knopf, they married, and their
adventure quickly took them far,
far away from where either of
them had imagined.
In 1984, with 1-year-old Steph-
anie in tow, my parents moved
to France to become evangelical
Christian missionaries. Daniel
was born in 1987, followed two
years later byDavid, followed two
years later by Peter, who was fol-
lowed seven minutes later by me.
In total, my parents would
spend 13 years there in northern
France, working tirelessly to
spread a gospel of love and grace
and truth as they raised a family
thousands and thousands of miles
away from Michigan, from their

home.
Home for me was never Michi-
gan, though. Home wasn't any-
thing like Michigan.
My home was in northern
France, in the Somme region,
where fields and grasslands were
stitched together likea patchwork
quilt, where memorials and cem-
eteries and craters were everyday
reminders of the battles fought in
those same fields during World
War I.
Home was Lille, then Har-
gicourt, and then ipehy. Home
was ared-brick farmhouse that
somehow fit all of us and a golden
retriever under the same roof;
home was a wiffle-ball field,
bomb casings and bayonets in the
backyard, fool's gold rocks in the
driveway, and six acres of land
littered with sheep, chickens and
turkeys on the north end of town.
But that was simply the back-
drop. The life of this story was in
our home. There is nothing better
than growing up in a house brim-
ming with laughter and children.
But, in time, the novelty of a
large family began to fade for
some. After receiving some criti-
cism from a number of financial
supportersback in the United
States, my parents dropped the
official title of missionary soon
after their 10th anniversary, and
they severed all financial support.
Now, contrary to popular
belief, being "professional Chris-
tians" in the first place doesn't
exactly align with a life of riches.
Not at all, actually. Papa found
work teaching English courses
at the chamber of commerce in
nearby St. Quentin, then he start-
ed working as a sporting-goods
salesman.
Rachel was born in 1993, fol-
lowed two years later by Eliza-
beth, followed two years later by
Carol.
We lived meager paycheck to
meager paycheck. We first drove
a yellow Volkswagen van, then a
small, grey sedan, then no car at
all, and then my dad's white sales
truck. We faltered, but we never
fell.
Mama, our rock, never left
the table empty. When zucchini
from our garden was all we had to

COURTESY OF NESBITT FAMILY
Stephen J. Nesbitt with his father at the 2003 Bronco state title in Lansing, Mich.

eat, that's what we ate. Zucchini
bread for breakfast; zucchini and
squash salad for lunch; zucchini
pasta for dinner.
There wasn't always much, but
there was something on the table,
and there was family around it.
It was a happy and healthy and
bustling home. What more could a
kid ask for?
I learned faith. I learned work
ethic. I learned sacrifice.
And I learned sports, of course.
Even in a land where soccer
and soccer alone rules the sports
world, Papa's love for sports, espe-
cially for baseball, became his
sons' love.
Every night, we played wiffle
ball in the backyard. Every Sat-
urday duringthe baseball season,
we'd drive an hour northeast,
across the Belgian border, to the
city of Mons and its sprawling
NATO base - Supreme Head-
quarters Allied Powers Europe
(S.H.A.P.E.) - for baseball. We
played on the Belgian team
against all the Americans since
our dad wasn't in the military.
And, at long last, Papa tried
his hand again at sportswriting.
He began writing, designing and
producing The European Baseball
Report, a baseball magazine tar-

geted at spreading the popularity
of baseball in the region.
My first venture into journal-
ism, I suppose, was at the dining-
room table, as I helped fold the
magazines, slide them into their
envelopes and lick the envelopes
closed.
But Papa's sportswriting career
finished almost before it started.
We movedback "home."
We moved to Marlette, Mich.
in Oct. 1998 to help my grandfa-
ther take care of my ailing grand-
mother as she reached the final
stages of her battle with Alzheim-
er's. We moved home for exactly
the right reason, but it wasn't easy
to accept. Gone was the pastoral
French countryside. Gone were
the sheep and the chickens. Gone
was home as I knew it.
But Papa couldn't find a teach-
ing job nearby, so he did what he'd
always done - he found a way
to make it work. Despite owning
a Masters degree in curriculum
development, he worked for a
full year at two milking parlors.
Twelve-hour shifts, minimum
wage, and he'd never even get so
much asa hug afterward - but
not because we didn't miss him.
It was because he'd come home,
exhausted, with his black jacket

splattered with manure.
Still, he found time to ferry us
to baseball games, near and far,
and to coach from the third-base
box whenever he could.
Bethany was born in 2000.
That year, the Nesbitts, a family of
11, survived on $10,000, faith, and
a lot of prayers.
This sportswriting was always
his dream. I've just been fortu-
nate enough to have lived it out
these lastcfour years.
A tall, lanky kid from Grand
Ledge, Mich., I went to Michi-
gan to bea news reporter, to do
something vigilant and important
and different, but I couldn't steer
myself away from the sports sec-
tion. I was told that I had the
know-how, that I knew how to
craft a story, and that I had the
writingltalent.
But there in the shadows of
Michigan Stadium, I nearly
reversed course. I worried my
motivation was misguided. I
worried I was in it for the wrong
reasons. I worried my pursuit was
only of the opportunity to meet
famous athletes and to tell their
stories.
But as I watched Denard Rob-
inson fumble, recover, then gallop
for a touchdown in my first game
at the Big House, I knew I was
in the right place. I stayed the
course.
I found The Michigan Daily,
and 420 Maynard became my
home. I found my best friends
here. I found an education and a
career here. I found my passion
here.
Here, I learned that everyone
has a story, a beautifullyunique
storyto tell. Sometimes, though,
people don't understand the
weight and gravity oftheir story
until they finally tell it, until they
chip away the layers bitby bit,
until they see it spelled out in
front of them.
I've told Maureen Moody's
story. Her father never missed a
moment as Maureen grew up, but
terminal metastatic pancreatic
cancer stole him awayat the start
of her senior season.

I've told Dave Molk's story. He
cried in Schembechler Hall as he
told me memories of his mother
who died a decade earlier. It was
a story he'd never told before,
something he never liked to think
about, but he let me in. The story
almostnever ran. It was sensi-
tive; it was personal. But, in the
end, it went to print. "I'm glad I
agreed to this story," he wrote in
an email. "More importantly, I
waited for the right reporter."
And I've told Denard Rob-
inson's story. The soft-spoken
quarterback told of his journey to
escape the danger of the streets in
his hometown of Deerfield Beach,
Fla. He told of his humiliation
when college coaches came on in-
home visits. He told of his brother
Timothy's death and of his own
dream to become the first college
graduate in his family.
If I getto tell people's stories
for the rest of my life, I'll be a
happy man.
But there was one story I
wanted to tell while I still had
the chance. It's the story of an
aspiring journalist, someone
who wanted to meet the rich and
famous, who wanted, to some
extent, to be known. It's the story
of a man who always did things
the right way, who always fought
to keep his family together. It's
the story of a teacher, an expert
in a selfless field. It's the story of
the man whose youthful dreamI
am living.
He wanted to tell people's sto-
ries. He wanted this life, but he
gave itup. He never accomplished
his dream, but he was a better
father than he ever could have
been a sportswriter.
And he gave me the opportu-
nity to come here to Michigan, to
the Daily, to this farewell column,
to tell this story today.
Papa, after four years, Stephen
J., your son, salutes and thanks
you. I wish it could have come
sooner, but here's your story.
- Nesbitt can be reached
at stnesbit@umich.edu and on
Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt. He will
be interning at The Indianapolis
Star this summer and at The
Miami Herald this fall.

4

4

STREAKING
From Page l B

Sampson captures title, team places fourth

streak to 16 games with a
single. With the bases loaded,
Lawrence punched a single
through the middle to tie the
game.
Hutchins went with Susalla
in the pressure situation, call-
ing on the freshman to pinch
hit for senior third baseman
Knapp. Just as she had in the
final game against Michigan
State last weekend, Susalla
delivered on the first pitch she
saw, drilling a single up the
middle to take the lead and
secure a victory. A sacrifice fly
from Sweet gave the Wolver-
ines their fifth and final run of
the game.
"I kept the same one-pitch
mentality, worked on fol-
lowing the pitcher's tenden-
cies and adjusting to them,"
Susalla said. "I knew she was
throwing a certain pitch that
I wanted to look for. Waiting
for that pitch helped a lot, and
that's what I went for."
Two Wolverines extended
streaks of their own this week-
end.
Romero has reached base in
25 straight games. Blanchard
holds an 18-game hitting
streak, improving her batting
average to just under .500 on
the season.
"The coaches have taught
me how to finish my swing,"
Blanchard said. "The hitting
streak isjust an outcome of the
process of getting better."
During the Big Ten tirade,
Michigan is outscoring oppo-
nents 157-56.
With the majority of con-
ference play in the rearview
mirror, Michigan has a shot to
go undefeated in the Big Ten
for the first time in program
history. But for this team, the
most important game is on
Tuesday.
"People ask me about the
winningstreak, and I tell them
I don't care," Hutchins said.
"You can't control what you've
done in the past, you just play
one game."

By CINDY YU
Daily Sports Writer
Despite falling one spot short
of advancing to the NCAA Super
Six, the most prestigious meet in
collegiate gymnastics, the cap-
tains - senior Katie Zurales and
junior Joanna Sampson - led the
No. 7 Michigan women's gymnas-
tics team to the second-highest
NCAA Championships team score
in program history. Maintain-
ing composure throughout the
NCAA Semifinals at Pauley Pavil-
ionin Los Angeles, the Wolverines
scored a 196.850 in the evening
session on Friday night.
Based on top-four finishes in
individual events at the NCAA
Semifinals, Zorales and Sampson
were named first-team All-Amer-
icans and qualified to Sunday's
NCAA Event Finals on balance
beam and floor exercise, respec-
tively. Additionally, Sampson
qualified to the vault finals, and
both gymnasts were named first-
team All-Americans in the all-
around after tying for first with
scores of 39.525 in the second ses-
sion.
"Those two absolutely had a
great competition," said Michigan
coach Bev Plocki. "It was down
to the wire whether Katie would
be in the bar lineup. She had her
elbow tweaked at Big Tens and
didn't train or compete there at
Regionals. She potentially wasn't
even going to be an all-arounder
tonight and look what she did. I'm
very excited for them both.
"Joanna is a very powerful
athlete and Katie is an artistic
athlete... I don't think either one
of them could have done a better
job."
Only four teams have ever took
home an NCAA Championship
title, and three of them - Ala-
bama, UCLA and Utah - were in
the same subdivision as Michigan.
Though Michigan (17-2 Big Ten,
31-5 overall) competed in a tough
session, the team made quite an
entrance on bars, scoring a 49.400
- the school's highest team total
on that event at the NCAA Cham-

Junior Joanna Sampson won the national championship in the floor exercise.

pionships since 1998 - to lead
after the first rotation. Stuck land-
ings punctuated the team's per-
formance, as Zurales and senior
Brittnee Martinez led the team
on that rotation. The two seniors
scored matching 9.900s to earn
them second-team All-American
honors, but not enough to qualify
them to bars finals.
"(Brittnee's) the one right now
that's hurting the most," Plocki
said. "Katie gets to delay her end
of gymnastics emotion until after
event finals and Natalie is com-
ing back next year. Brittnee felt
that brunt of that tonight, but she
certainly had a phenomenal year,
probably her best season at Michi-
gan.
"I don't want her to remember
this last competition. I want her to
remember the fabulous season she
had and how valuable she has been
to this team all year long."
On the second rotation, Michi-
gan struggled on beam, totaling
a 48.775 on the event, its worst
team score of the season. While
no one in the lineup fell, the Wol-

verines were unusually shaky all-
around, especially after nailing
routine after routine in the two
weeks of practice leading up to
NCAA Championships. Balance
checks and steps on landings cost
them valuable tenths that could
have been the difference between
competing in the Super Six on
Saturday and missing out. Zura-
les kept the fire alive by scoring a
9.875 for her near flawless routine
that landed hera spot in the beam
finals.
The Wolverines had a bye after
beam, slowing their momentum
and affecting them negatively, as
their mentality switched from a
time to relax to panic mode.
"It's very hard to come off an
event you're a little disappointed
with and go to a bye," Plocki said.
"We had an empty rotation to sit
around and think about (beam).
During the year when you don't
have byes, you can move onto
something else and your mind
changes. We came out, picked
ourselves up and performed, but
it wasn't with the same exuber-
j

ance that we started the meet out
on bars."
Added Sampson: "I think we
just went in with a different mind-
set than we normally do... We
had talked about controlling our
energy and using it in a good way
but I think we controlled ita little
bit too much, which made us ten-
tative versus going out there and
being aggressive like we are in
practice."
At the halfway point, Michi-
gan sat in fifth ahead of Arkan-
sas, trailing Alabama, Oklahoma,
UCLA and Utah by over three
tenths.
The Wolverines narrowed the
gap on floor after scoring a 49.400
for their efforts. Their floor total
ties for a school-best at the NCAA
Championships. Sampson led
her team on the rotation, scoring
a 9.925 for her explosive routine
highlighted by arguably her best
tumbling of the season. Not only
did she stick all of her passes with
ease, but her body also opened out
on her double layout and double
pike, a rare technique to master on
such difficult skills.
"I tried to have as much fun as
I could, especially because when
we're having fun - myself includ-
ing everyone else on the team -
we usually do our best routines,"
Sampson said.
Zurales showcased power-
ful tumbling, as well, to receive
second-team All-American hon-
ors for her routine that scored a
9.900. Zurales was in the race for
the coveted all-around title, as she
needed a 9.925 to tie Florida fresh-
man Bridget Sloan.
Finishing the meet up on vault,
Zurales scored a 9.850 for her
stuck, yet slightly piked down,
Yurchenko full. Freshman Austin
Sheppard had only a tiny step on
her landing to score a 9.875 for her
vault, while Sampson carried over
her explosiveness on the floor to
this rotation. She scored a session-
high 9.950 for her Yurchenko full
that featured a huge block, great
height and a perfect landing.
Michigan's comeback from
beam was not enough to surpass

Alabama, UCLA and Oklahoma
after their second bye. Even so, the
Wolverines have much to be proud
of, as they finished their season
with the most wins ina single sea-
son since 2005.
"We fought until the very end,"
Zuralessaid."Myheartjustbreaks
for this teambecause we're so spe-
cial. I don't think anyone under-
stands just how much work we put
into this coming from where we
were last year to this year."
Reflecting and ready to prove
that they belong in that group of
six next year, they told Plocki,
"Next year starts Monday."
Although the team competi-
tion was over for the Wolverines,
the Block 'M' would still be repre-
sented at Sunday's event finals by
the captains.
Eighth up in a group of twelve,
Sampson delivered her usual pow-
erful floor routine, displaying her
clean dance and monstrous tum-
bling. She scored a 9.9375, enough
to take home the NCAA floor title.
Having been ranked No. 1 for
the majority of the season on
floor, Sampson emphasizes the
added pressure of hitting that one
routine in NCAA Semifinals and
NCAA Event Finals, as the quali-
fiers and winners are based solely
on those routines, not the past
meet history.
Additionally, Sampson compet-
ed a clean Yurchenko full with a
small step back in the vault finals,
scoring a 9.8583 to tie for 14th
place on the event.
Zurales, competing the last
routine of her career in the beam
-finals, executed a wobble-free
performance to finish runner-up
by 0.0025 to Sloan. She scored
a 9.8875 for her routine that
featured sticks on an aerial to
backhandspring flight series, con-
nected beat to sheep jump and
roundoff double twist dismount.
Speechless and in tears, Zurales
said: "From being able to repre-
sent my team to just going out on
astrongnote, I don'tevenhave the
words to describe what it meant to
me and how honored I was to be
out there."

i 4

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