ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh is a tough critic.
Not just of his football team at Michigan, but also of Michigan’s athletes. But not when they’re on the field or on the court. Instead, Harbaugh took aim at their dancing and musical talents.
Tuesday night at the University of Michigan’s Power Center for the Performing Arts, Michigan’s third-year football coach and his wife, Sarah, were judges for Michigan’s Mock Rock, an annual performance event featuring Michigan athletes that’s part lip-sync, part talent contest and part dance-off.
And the Harbaughs got interactive. They judged the Michigan hockey team’s performance, complete with glittery tights and a choreographed dance routine to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Harbaugh gave the hockey team an eight out of maximum 10 points.
“Their precision was off,” Harbaugh quipped.
At one point in the night, Harbaugh got up from the judges’ table and pumped his fists to One Direction’s 2011 hit song “What Makes You Beautiful,” at the urging of a member of the Michigan women’s rowing team.
“I loved it when she came out here and danced with Jim,” Sarah Harbaugh said after the performance. “That was embarrassing.”
But Mock Rock didn’t just showcase Harbaugh. Mock Rock showcases Michigan’s athletes in an artistic realm — hockey player Cooper Marody serenaded an audience member to an acoustic ballad, while Michigan’s women’s lacrosse team performed a choreographed dance routine to a hip-hop mix that included music by Bruno Mars, DMX and House of Pain.
Furthermore, Mock Rock has a charitable impact in the Ann Arbor community. Michigan’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has hosted Mock Rock since 1999, and this year, Mock Rock addressed the topic of mental health. The beneficiary of this year’s event, Fresh Start Clubhouse, is an Ann Arbor-area organization that focuses on wellness recovery within a community structure, for adults who have mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
“We help people get back to work, go to school and live meaningful lives,” Fresh Start director Summer Berman told the audience. “To do the things that everybody here wants to be able to do. We believe in the philosophy that everybody needs to belong.
“The sense of mattering, and that you are a part of something bigger than yourself, is what we’re really about.”
Drake Johnson, who plays football and runs track at Michigan, co-hosted Mock Rock with Emily Klueh, a clinical athletic counselor and a program coordinator for Athletes Connected, a mental-health initiative involving Michigan’s student-athletes. Johnson saw a value addressing mental health during an otherwise relaxed event.
“Any time you have a platform in which you can really portray a message (of) importance, it’s good,” Johnson said. “In the 21st century, this is one of the biggest issues out there, especially in college life. A lot of mental health issues have their prominence in the 18-to-24 year-old range. That’s your time in college. There’s no better time to talk about it than now. And no better time to talk about it than in a public event.”
Cam Wysocki, a pitcher on the Michigan baseball team — and the lead singer during the baseball team’s Mock Rock performance — also took the topic of the night to heart. During his student-teaching placements, he’s seen the prevalence of mental health issues.
“It’s more alarming than I thought,” Wysocki said. “The idea of bringing this to light and putting mental health issues out front, and letting people know that there’s a lot of people to help and a lot of resources, it can really help alleviate some of the problems I see, especially in students, for the rest of their lives.”
Fresh Start Clubhouse was more than just a beneficiary of Tuesday night’s event. Men and women who are part of the organization — and some of its clients — took to the stage for their own presentation.
It provided Mock Rock’s attendees a human perspective.
“Centering the entire Mock Rock performance and show around the issue of mental health, it really is about as good a move as you can make,” Johnson said. “It’s a way of making the topic accessible. A lot of times, you see jargon and words about mental health, but this way, you can perform it. You can show it. You can put it in ways that people can grasp it and the issue of it. That makes it accessible to people on a scale that it might not be accessible at most times.”
“Adam,” who spoke on behalf of Fresh Start Clubhouse, told of his own journey and his struggles with mental health issues, from being a college graduate, a husband and a military serviceman to living under a bridge in Chicago and attempting suicide three times.
“I held a loaded 40-caliber pistol to my temple, and tried as hard as I could to pull the trigger,” he said, as the strains of One Republic’s “Good Life” played in the background. “No matter how hard I tried, I simply could not do it. It was at this point that part of me decided I wanted to live, and I needed to seek professional help.
“I wanted to share my story, because I want you to know how important Fresh Start is to me.”
While Mock Rock organizers had not released the amount on the money they raised Tuesday night, the Harbaughs made a philanthropic pledge following Fresh Start Clubhouse’s presentation.
“Sarah and I would like to match what is raised here tonight for Fresh Start,” Jim Harbaugh told the audience of about 600 people, which drew a rousing round of applause.
Then, the Harbaughs took to the stage for one final slow dance at the end of the evening, at the urging of Wysocki, who sang the Frank Sinatra classic “The Way You Look Tonight” with his teammates as backup singers and dancers.
Sarah Harbaugh concluded the final number on a light-hearted note.
“I have Spanx on under my dress that are shorts,” she told the audience, laughing. “I was not ready for that dip at the end!”