OK, I bet I know what you're thinking: "When did Ride Along become a sports blog ...?"
I'm happy to report it has not. Trust me. I took a sports reporting class in college and my instructor, a wise, awesome guy (Michael Perry!) said I only did well in class because I was a good writer.
He's not exaggerating. I was miserable at sports reporting. Whatever. Crime reporting is more of my thing anyway.
So, yeah, the blog title makes this sound all sports-y. And it kind of is. But give it a chance, because it's about a lot more than that ....
Running would be his ticket out of Toledo.
Strong legs would carry him from competing at the high school level to college and, maybe someday, to the Olympics.
A clear head would keep him out of trouble, away from gangs, guns, and violence, and keep him on track to finish his high school career at Rogers High School on a high note.
Last October, those were Michael Lipkins' goals.
Today, Michael, his mother, younger brother, aunt, and two cousins piled into a family vehicle and started a 14-hour drive from Toledo to Muskogee, Okla., home of Bacone College, where the 18 year old will run track.
“I'm ready,” Michael said Tuesday. “I can't wait. I really can't wait.”
He will sit out the indoor season this year, conditioning and training so he's ready for the outdoor track season, he said.
Last October, Michael was at home, in his inner-city neighborhood, when he heard the gunshots that killed Deonta Allen and wounded Limmie Reynolds III.
Shortly after learning that another Toledo teen was dead, Michael posted on Twitter: “I take this Track life Serious. My Legs are my Ticket out of Toledo.”
Michael, and his journey to that point, were the subject of a story I wrote last year after a colleague spotted his Tweet.
On Saturday, Michael committed to Bacone College, a private four-year school with a student population of only a little more than 1,100 students in a city seven times smaller than Toledo (Muskogee's population is about 39,231, according to 2011 Census data).
Michael was awarded a full scholarship to be a student-athlete, he said.
“It's a real big deal,” Michael said. “I want to make my mom proud of course. She's been there since day one so I go to college for her and run track hoping to be successful on the next level.”
Michael's mother, Yvette Lipkins, started her son in sports, football, when he was 6. It wasn't until he was a student at Robinson Junior High School that he started to run track, which has become the love of his young life.
At first, Michael was set to attend a school closer to home, where he planned to run track, but issues with housing made it impossible.
At one point, he resigned that he wouldn't be able to compete at the collegiate level and he would focus on academics and a degree in graphic design.
On a whim, he found videos of himself running in meets and uploaded several of them to a YouTube channel.
Soon after, he received an e-mail from a Bacone College recruiter who saw the videos.
They were interested in bringing Michael to Oklahoma to compete on Bacone's track team.
“It's going to be serious business from the day I get down there until the day I leave,” he said. “I've been working hard all year.”
His new head coach, Darrin Prince, said Michael will be in good company on an accomplished team, with athletes from cities all over the country -- New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, to name a few.
"The track team is a family oriented team," the coach, in his second year as Bacone's head coach, said. " … I'm big on family. I have six kids of my own and one who showed up two days ago. … Mr. Lipkins is coming into a strong family oriented program."
Earlier this summer, Michael was one of eight men from the Toledo Alive Track Club who competed in a national track competition in Greensboro, North Carolina.
His relay teams finished 31st and 28th out of 60 teams.
“It was amazing,” Michael said. “I felt good because it was so many track people and I love track so I was like, 'I'm in heaven.' ”
Michael has lived his entire life in Toledo. The move to Oklahoma – in a much smaller city with much hotter weather – will take some adjusting.
It's the first time he will be away from his family in a place where, for now, he doesn't know anyone.
“I feel like I will get home sick but it won't happen right away,” he said. “I'll wake up and be like, 'I'm really not in Toledo no more.' ”
But he's prepared.
He knows his mom will cry – probably a lot – when it's time to leave.
His 12-year-old brother, Marcus, will become the man of the house, Michael said. He's prepared him for that, too.
And for a life on the track.
“I'm working with him to get him where I was,” Michael said. “I want him to be better than me.”
His hometown will be in his thoughts while he's away.
He's still hoping that the young people in Toledo who have chosen gangs, guns, and violence will find something else – something positive – to occupy their time.
His brother needs a safe city to grow up in.
“I hope Toledo calms down,” he said. “I hope everything gets better. My family is here and nobody wants to get that call saying somebody in their family is hurt. I hope Toledo gets better and they have more positive people like me and put Toledo on the map in a positive way.”
Aside from the necessities, Michael said he's taking three important things with him to Bacone:
The Blade article about himself;
his Erik Kynard poster “because that's going to keep me motivated”;
One of the most recent shooting victims, Bennie Johnson, is Michael's sister's brother. He doesn't know Bennie well, he said, but the violence was a little too close to home. Again.
Police have said that Bennie, 18, will likely be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Michael has an older cousin who associates with gangs.
“I try to talk to him about it,” Michael said. “He thinks gang life is sweet and I'm like, 'Taht's not the route you want to go. I try to help him out as much as I can because he's my family.”
At Bacone, Michael said he will likely compete in the 100, 200, and 400 meter dashes as well as on relay teams.
All summer Michael has trained. Today he woke up at 7:30 a.m. for a quick 2-mile run, trying to condition himself in the same way he will while at Bacone (which also means running while it's really hot outside).