with video: Ypsilanti football team manager rewarded for his dedication, and more Friday night notes
For the past four years, there’s been nothing more synonymous with Ypsilanti High School football than James Kleimola.
Games. Practices. Summer passing camps. Team functions. You name it, Kleimola has been there. Phoenix coach Jason Malloy figures Kleimola has missed two days of football-related activity in his four seasons.
On Friday night, before Ypsilanti’s homecoming game against Saline, Kleimola put on a purple-and-gold jersey and helmet for the first time. On the night’s first snap from center, he took a handoff from quarterback Aaerion Allen and scored a touchdown.
“He’s a constant positive for our program every single day, dedicating his time and efforts to our program,” Malloy said. “The way I wanted to reward him was by suiting him up and getting him an opportunity to get on the football field, at home, in his last year here at Ypsilanti High School.”
It seemed irrelevant that the whole scenario was manufactured just for Kleimola, the Phoenix’s senior team manager who is afflicted with cerebral palsy. It happened after the national anthem and before kickoff, with the Saline defense applauding him as he hit the gap between the center and right guard and raced untouched for a score on his first career carry.
Allen -- who had helped Kleimola snap his chinstrap before the play -- raced into the end zone right behind him to be among the first to congratulate him, before the entire Phoenix offense carried him off the field.
After accepting more congratulations on the sideline, Kleimola removed his helmet to reveal a huge smile. He went back to his team manager duties after kickoff, but kept his pads and No. 99 jersey on for the remainder of the night.
FIELD OF DREAMS
Not far from the shores of Lake Erie sits Navarre Field, home to the Monroe St. Mary’s football team, as well as the semi-pro Southern Michigan Timberwolves. It is not usually a favorite travelling destination for opposing teams, but that was Milan’s assignment for Friday night.
The lighting on one half of the field is so bad that Milan fans joked they would need a flashlight to navigate through it. And with two teams playing home games on it all year, the natural grass field gets pretty torn up by season’s end. And, for those who believe in such things, there have even been suspicions that the place is haunted. But for all the complaints, Milan coach Steve Robb has only one explanation for the Navarre Field’s bad reputation.
“(St. Mary’s) seems to play pretty good here,” Robb said after his teams 63-21 loss. “But they seem to play well everywhere. “I like the old-school atmosphere, I think it’s a good place to play.”
WIN OR GO HOME
With Pioneer’s playoff hopes and its game against Chelsea on the line, there was some personnel confusion for the Pioneer offense. Trailing 21-20 late in the fourth after just having scored a touchdown, it wasn’t clear if Pioneer would go for the win with a two-point conversion or kick an extra point to try and force overtime.
As the kicking team rushed on the field along with the offense, it didn’t appear the Pioneers had made up their minds, either. Even after calling a timeout, players motioned toward the sideline, appearing to be confused by the play call.
“Our game plan was when we scored we were going to go for two, but for whatever reason our field goal unit sprinted out there on the field,” said Pioneer coach Jeremy Gold.
The two-point conversion was a success, and Pioneer held on for the win, which made Gold much less incensed about having to burn a timeout to eliminate the confusion.
“We didn’t want to, but you gotta do what you gotta do to correct the mistake. We got the right personnel and grouping on the field so we could go out there and get the two-point and take the lead,” Gold said.
Bison Collins Messink and Pete Cunningham contributed to this report.