KIlpatrick's almost made me miss a date with the 'Dark Knights' - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

KIlpatrick's Day almost made me miss a date with the 'Dark Knights'

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M.L. Elrick snapped this photo just before Kilpatrick was led to jail. He was the reporter closest to the door on the former mayor made his way out of the courtroom M.L. Elrick snapped this photo just before Kilpatrick was led to jail. He was the reporter closest to the door on the former mayor made his way out of the courtroom

But, in the end, he went to jail -- and I went to practice

(WJBK-Fox 2) Kwame Kilpatrick and I don't have much in common these days, but I bet we share a mutual distaste for room G-1 in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.

Kilpatrick was taken out of it by deputies on Oct. 28, 2008, leaving his family and political career behind for a VIP cell across the street in the Wayne County Jail.

For me, it's the place where Hizzoner's fruitless last-minute bid to keep his law license almost made me miss running practice.

Kilpatrick and I returned to the basement courtroom Wednesday for a scheduling hearing related to what happened – and, more importantly, what should happen -- to the proceeds of the former mayor's memoir.

If Kilpatrick felt any heebie-jeebies, he didn't let on, waving and saying "hey" to folks on his way in. I, on the other hand, had flashbacks to 2008.

While the text message scandal was the dominant thing in my life that year, I put almost as much time and effort into coaching the Dark Knights.

About a dozen 9- and 10-year-olds made up the Dark Knights, a squirt house team in the Grosse Pointe Hockey Association. For the uninitiated, house teams are more recreationally-oriented than the travel teams comprised of players whose parents are convinced Gretzky Jr. is college scholarship or NHL material. And while I live in Detroit, GPHA's home rink is just a few minutes from my house.

Like the other teams I'd coached, the Dark Knights were a great group of kids. We adhered to the "fair play" rule -- meaning every kid got equal time and got to try every position -- even though this likely cost us some games we should have won.

As head coach, I spent several hours a week at the rink with the kids and their parents, the occasional evening at the bar coordinating game and practice time with opposing coaches, and more time than I like to think on team e-mails and administrative matters.

If it sometimes felt like time I couldn't spare, it also provided a safe harbor from the storm Jim Schaefer and I unleashed when we revealed on Jan. 23, 2008 that Kilpatrick and his chief of staff and lover Christine Beatty lied under oath during a whistleblower lawsuit. We spent many long days unearthing new revelations. Those days often dragged into the night. No Saturday was safe.

Jennifer Dixon and I spent weeks in the Detroit Public Library's main branch, going through scores of boxes loaded with city records, looking for the missing pieces that would complete the puzzles many of the text messages presented.

Many of my days began early with radio interviews. Virtually every day would have ended in the office after midnight -- if not for Dark Knight practices and games.

In between calls with sources, most of the time I spent on the phone was with Pat Carron, Kurt Strehlke and Matt Brauer, my assistant coaches and manager, trying to figure out what we could do to eek out a victory, scheduling our next game and picking out Christmas gifts for the kids.

While our schedule came together pretty well, the track suits I ordered for the kids were all a size too big (damn you, CCM!), and despite the tremendous effort and heart our kids routinely displayed, the best we could muster over the long season was a tie.

If you think taking on a sitting mayor desperate to discredit you as part of his furious attempt to maintain power is stressful, try coaching a team that comes close, but never quite gets the win!

I often referred to myself in team e-mails as "Coach Marinelli," the head coach of the winless Detroit Lions whose refusal to give up famously led him to proclaim: "My shovel is sharp, and my pick is sharp, and my will is outstanding."

I don't know how Coach Rod coped, but I had trouble sleeping. I worried constantly about what the parents thought of me and my coaching ability. I knew I wasn't a great coach, and the thought that someone with more savvy could have put us over the top tortured me. Most of all, I agonized over how our players -- who almost never missed a practice or game, were almost always at a disadvantage against larger, older teams, and who showed tremendous heart and character -- gave their all without ever reaping the reward of a win.

Neverthless, talking with the kids, getting out on the ice with them, taking road trips with them and their families and spending time together as a team turned the rink into a sanctuary. The tensions of my day job ran through me and out my skate blades into the ice. Pre-game soccer and our postgame awarding of captain's Cs to our bravest defensive and offensive performers rejuvenated me.

Parents and opposing coaches would occasionally talk about Kilpatrick. But we were more concerned about who would play which position, whether today would be the day we pull one out, and whether everyone would make it through the latest massive dumping of snow before puck drop.

Yet if there was one thing that gnawed at me more than my failure to lead the Dark Knights to victory, it was Kilpatrick's regular allegations that Schaefer and I had broken the law to get his incriminating text messages.

Kilpatrick, who had passed the bar, never said WHAT law we broke. But he was pretty adamant that we had broken SOME law.

He maintained this canard right up to Oct. 28, 2008 -- the day he was to be sentenced in G-1 for pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice for lying under oath and pleading no contest to one count of assaulting a sheriff's detective who sought to serve papers at his sister's house.

When I was asked that morning on WJR 760 AM how I felt about Kilpatrick's fall, I said his sentencing seemed to resolve which one of us had done something wrong.

"At the end of the day, he's going to jail," I said, "And I'm going to run a hockey practice."

A drawn out afternoon of legal maneuvering almost made me eat my words, but as the clock creeped closer to 5, Kilpatrick finally ran out of running room. Shortly after he slunk past me in the custody of deputies, I called in to the office and hustled off to City Sports arena on Lafayette and Mt. Elliott.

I suspect that even before Kilpatrick had his jail sandals on, I was lacing up my players' skates and getting ready to strap on my own blades.

I don't know whether coaching or Kilpatrick were responsible for my first gray hairs that year, but despite our horrible record, I'm grateful to the Dark Knights for brightening my days.

 

Follow M.L. Elrick's coverage of the Kilpatrick & Co. trial daily on FOX 2 and at www.myfoxdetroit.com. Contact him at ml.elrick@foxtv.com or via Twitter (@elrick) or Facebook. And catch him every Friday morning around 7:15 a.m. on Drew & Mike on WRIF, 101.1 FM. He is co-author of "The Kwame Sutra: Musings on Lust, Life and Leadership from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick," available at www.kwamesutra.com. A portion of sales benefit the Eagle Sports Club and Soar Tutoring. Learn more at www.eaglesports.com.

 

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