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Ask Fox2’s M.L. Elrick who won last year’s Clark Park Hockey Classic and he’ll tell you, “The children.”

In other words, his team didn’t.

The kids of Southwest Detroit truly did do nicely, though, and in perhaps the most important development, Elrick and Detroit-based attorney Michael Rataj continued a three-year tradition of not actually punching each other.

They’ll get another chance – which they almost surely won’t take – when the second annual Hockey Classic wraps up the Clark Park Winter Carnival Saturday at, not surprisingly, Clark Park.

At least as a twosome, Elrick and Rataj are best known for a dust-up during the corruption trial of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his sweet dad Bernard and contractor Bobby Ferguson in March 2013.

In his closing argument on behalf of Ferguson, Rataj’s co-counsel had invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for civil rights. Elrick, on the case for WJBK-TV (Channel 2), asked Rataj if he thought the government was racist.

The resulting calm, measured discussion included Rataj asking, “You want to go right now?” and Elrick suggesting, “Take the first shot then if you want it, counselor.”

While the confrontation lingers in memory and, of course, on YouTube, “Mike and I made our peace quickly. That same night,” Elrick says.

They were friends before, they’re friends now, and they’ll each lead a team onto the outdoor rink at Clark Park as part of a noon-to-4 p.m. celebration that also includes carriage rides, face painting, marshmallow roasting and at least one llama.

Skating, and raising money

As much fun as it would be to watch them skate, any llamas on hand will simply be part of a petting zoo.

The actual players will be associates of captains Elrick and Rataj, whose name is pronounced RAT-tie. The 12 additional competitors on each side were chosen for their skill, pluck, charisma, and the fact that most of them were willing to donate $200 apiece.

The exceptions are a few alumni of the park’s youth hockey program, and the Classic is still looking for sponsors to cover their fees.

Otherwise the rosters are etched in stone, Elrick says – “unless Bill Ford Jr. wants to play and be the 27th guy and brings a check for $50,000. Then he can have my spot.”

Confidentially, you can probably buy Elrick out for less than that. Despite the absence of an admission fee, the game raised $12,000 last year, and he’d like to aim higher.

For non-playing contribution, feel free to connect with the Clark Park Classic page at gofundme.com.

Bigger than geography

Elrick lives in East English Village and Rataj lives in Wyandotte, so neither has a direct connection to the park where a youngster named Jack Gillis was a pretty good left-hand-hitting baseball player before he grew up to become Jack White.

White, the noted singer and right-handed guitarist, donated $170,000 late last decade to restore the Clark Park ballfield.

That was a massive bonus for the Clark Park Coalition, which cleaned up a once-raggedy piece of the Hubbard Farms neighborhood and continues to provide multiple programs throughout the year.

Elrick became involved with the group after meeting some park boosters, including executive director Anthony Benavides.

“Only in Detroit,” Benavides told him, “could a Mexican man teach black kids to play hockey.”

Rataj, a former Marine, had wanted to do something for the sport, and as he pointed out on WJR-AM (760) when Elrick guest-hosted Friday, children are more important than geography.

“You can put up all the big buildings in the world and hockey arenas and everything like that,” he said, “but what goes on in the neighborhoods really defines the city.”

Rataj specializes in criminal defense, and as Elrick notes, every kid who skates the straight-and-narrow deprives him of a potential future client. For that matter, it might cost Elrick a juicy story.

But they already have plenty of battles to fight – or, when it makes sense, to skip.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

@nealrubin_dn

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