The Wolverine

April 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2020 H elen loved NCAA Tour- nament time. More than that, she loved Michigan. At 96 years of age, a 10:10 p.m. tip time wouldn't have daunted her one bit. She'd have caught a nap early, arrayed her snacks, and rooted well past midnight for Zavier Simpson's hooks and Isaiah Livers' deep threes. She'd have scrutinized the celebrity crowd shots on TV, hoping John Beilein showed up. He was her all-time favorite — "Such a gentleman!" She would have greeted the cancellation of the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments with huge disappointment … and ulti- mately a genial acceptance. It's what she did. When you grow up in The Great Depres- sion, faithfully guide a husband through 10 years of Alzheimer's Disease and nearly lose a son via a devastating auto accident, losing some basketball games — even these basketball games — doesn't knock you off your pegs. The words "would have" don't come easily, in this situation. Helen's earthly Michigan fan- dom ended when she gently passed into the next life on Jan. 3. Her de- parture came three days after she played in a New Year's Eve euchre tournament until midnight, and two days after she cheered until the clock hit 00:00 for her favorite football team to come back against Alabama. Helen Borton is/was my mom. I take this rare detour — pulling back the curtain on the personal — because these are strange times. My U-M-enchanted mother (proud owner of every issue of The Wol- verine ever printed) is precisely the kind of individual the NCAA, Big Ten and so many other institutions are trying to safeguard through seemingly draconian cancellations. Seriously? No NCAA Tournament? No spring football game? Come on. If you're sick, stay home. The problem is, it's not that simple. The COVID-19 scourge can be trans- mitted from those upon whom it will have little effect to those it can kill. It's a shame the careers of seniors Simpson and Jon Teske ended with a walk-off stroll from an empty Banker's Life Fieldhouse Thursday, barring an NCAA intervention to extend seniors' eligibility. It would be more of a shame if their grandparents or older, health- compromised relatives left the planet prematurely because we all can't endure a basketball-free spring. What's too much? What consti- tutes an overreach of caution? The problem is, we really don't know. The arguments over this aren't go- ing away any time soon, just like the virus itself. I do know this. The definition of "acceptable risk" changes, depend- ing on where you stand. My mother didn't die because of COVID-19. She suffered from conges- tive heart failure, although it didn't slow her down until the very end. In fact, when a U-M Hospital surgeon inserted a defibrillator into her a little more than a year ago, he com- mented: "We don't do this for 95-year-olds. But you're not the typical 95-year-old." She wasn't. She celebrated her 80th birthday by parasailing in Florida. She lived independently until the last two winters. In her late 80s and 90s, she traveled to Hawai'i, Nova Scotia and all over the continental U.S., includ- ing a trip last fall to Sedona, Ariz., to see her older sister. A few seasons ago, she bun- dled up in blankets and sat with my siblings on the handicapped platform at Michigan Stadium, rooting on the Wolverines in bone-chilling cold. So when someone dismis- sively says the greatest risk in- volves "only" those 80 and over with underlying health issues, I push back a bit. Motives regarding actions taken in the current crisis can be legitimately questioned. The media should always be ques- tioned, because elements of their reporting contain bias in both directions. But it's tough to find fault with those looking to protect people and contain this as best possible. If it means March Madness takes on a very different connotation for a spring, so be it. We'll survive — at least the vast majority of us. The games will come again, and maybe we'll view even them a little differently. I sat with Livers for the cover story in this issue, and he explained how he didn't fully appreciate Michigan's run to the national championship game while he was experiencing it as a freshman. He understands much better now … and discovered you might not get as many chances as you think. Michigan fans should buckle up and ride this one out, looking out for their neighbors in the process. My mom would have. We can too. ❑ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON This Time Around, It's Personal The late Helen Borton celebrated her 80th birthday by parasailing, and continued to travel extensively into her late 80s and 90s. PHOTO COURTESY JOHN BORTON

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