Men's rowers defend their UM Mock Rock crown

James Hawkins
Special to The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Competing at athletic venues in front of raucous crowds across the country is the norm for many Michigan student-athletes.

But on Wednesday night, members of several UM athletic teams swapped their jerseys and uniforms for outlandish costumes and outfits to perform on the renowned Hill Auditorium stage at the 17th annual Mock Rock.

The yearly charity variety show, hosted by the Student-Athlete Advisory Council, featured student-athletes from 16 of the university's 27 varsity programs as well as members of the marching band, dance team and athletic training staff dancing, singing and acting their hearts out to win over the packed crowd and earn the night's best performance.

For the third year in a row, the men's rowing team bested the other 12 live acts to take home the Golden Mic trophy, this time with its musical reenactment of "The Little Mermaid." The men's and women's track and field team finished second and the women's field hockey placed third.

"By the beginning of January we realized we had to do Mock Rock again, so we started shooting around ideas after practice. It was between this and 'High School Musical,' " said senior Andrew Cronin, who spearheaded the idea.

When push came to shove, the men's rowing team decided to roll with the classic Disney film, especially after winning last year's event with its "Beauty and the Beast" performance.

The team used a vast cast of 55 people in its routine, highlighted by junior James Garay's lead role as Ariel and senior Danny Vitas' portrayal of Prince Eric.

"It's a role I've always dreamed of," Garay joked. "I feel that my hair and beard qualified me more. I hadn't seen the movie since I was 5 or 6, so I watched the movie like 10 times last week."

Cronin, who played the part of Ursula, said that the team spent more time making its elaborate aquatic costumes and cardboard props than actually rehearsing.

"You kind of give them a basic treasure plot and they take it from there," Cronin said. "Granted Ursula didn't look great but it took three hours to make."

Vitas added that the team didn't even rehearse its musical number for the first time until Monday, and he definitely didn't anticipate sharing a kiss with Garay to end their act.

Other highlights from the event included the women field hockey's stirring video montage to their heroes, which flashed photos of family members, war heroes and local heroes as two members sang Alesso's "Heroes (We Could Be)," and one of the dance team's performances with eight YMCA Rhythm Workers dancing to Taylor Swift's "Shake If Off."

Members from the baseball team, wrestling, men's soccer, men's lacrosse, women's soccer, men's ice hockey, women's rowing and men's and women's gymnastics also performed, using an array of hip-hop mixes to hits from the likes of Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.

The event was emceed by UM ice hockey alum and three-time Stanley Cup champion Aaron Ward, and the winner was determined by fan voting instead of a panel of celebrity judges as in recent years.

Mock Rock was started in 1999 to raise proceeds for the Jeff Reese Endowed Scholarship fund in memory of Reese, a former Michigan wrestler who passed away from kidney failure and heart malfunction while training for a meet in Dec. 1997. In the years since, the event has been used as a fundraiser for numerous beneficiaries in the Ann Arbor area.

This year, all proceeds will benefit the after-school programs at the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti YMCAs.

James Hawkins is a freelance writer.