Commentary

Toon family enjoys B1G night

Molly helps U-M volleyball reach sweet 16, brother Nick helps UW to football title

Updated: December 8, 2011, 11:41 AM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jane Toon sits down with a new event planner each fall and starts to outline. She grabs different colored pens -- one for each of her four children -- and maps out a season full of sporting events, work functions and multi-tasking to the max.

Despite pleas from her children to go digital, this has been her ritual.

With three daughters playing volleyball -- Kirby at Wisconsin, Molly at Michigan and Sydney for Middleton (Wis.) High School -- and her son, Nick, playing wide receiver for the Badgers, it is the only way to keep things straight.

[+] EnlargeMolly Toon
Eric Bronson/University of MichiganMolly Toon didn't realize she would miss the entire Big Ten championship football game while playing in Michigan's volleyball match against Stanford.
At least two Saturdays this fall, Jane and her husband, former New York Jets receiver Al Toon, sat at a Middleton volleyball match with phones and iPad loading game trackers for Wisconsin and Michigan volleyball matches, with Nick's game on the radio in their ears.

"We're kind of used to it now," Al said.

Saturday was different. Only two of the kids played, but the stakes were higher. Nick, a fifth-year senior, and the Badgers would be playing for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis. Simultaneously, Molly, a sophomore outside hitter, and the Wolverines would be trying to upset No. 6 Stanford to reach the Sweet 16.

Tracking was going to be easier, but emotions, combined with the Toons making a move from one home to another in Middleton, made things more hectic.

The Toons didn't leave their box-cluttered home until early Saturday morning in an SUV filled with five people, luggage and Rice Krispies treats Jane had made.

Al and Jane sat up front, alternating driving shifts to Indianapolis, with Kirby and Sydney in the middle row and a family friend in the back for the start of one of the most hectic day of their lives.

"There was so much going on," Kirby said, "that it didn't feel like it could have happened all in 24 hours."


Nick and Molly briefly texted each other "good luck" earlier in the day, a tradition between the siblings. Al and Jane sent both separate text messages, another family tradition. Al told Molly to savor the surroundings and appreciate where her team is. He texted Nick a similar message, telling him to enjoy himself.

The Toons arrived at the Carmel, Ind. home of one of Kirby's teammates with enough time for food and brief relaxation from their six-hour drive. Then it was on to Lucas Oil Stadium and Section 102, Row 8 -- Sydney wearing her brother's No. 1 jersey and the rest of the family in Badgers gear.

They settled in, the game started, and Al, Jane and Kirby's phones started buzzing. One of Jane's brothers watched Molly on television in Portland. Another brother was with her at Stanford. Kirby's friends and teammates were texting her with updates. So, too, was one of Al's business partners at Olson Toon Landscaping in Middleton.

This would be their information conduit as the Big Ten championship kicked off at 8:19 p.m. ET. The Michigan-Stanford volleyball match began at 10 p.m. ET.

Updates trickled in. Stanford won the first set. Michigan tied it up. In the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil, Jane and Kirby's attention switched to the fourth-set updates from Maples Pavilion. Michigan had taken a 2-1 set lead and led in the fourth.

"They're up. They're up,'" Jane leaned over to tell Kirby. "They're upsetting Stanford."

With less than two minutes left in Indianapolis and the Badgers clinging to a 42-39 lead over Michigan State, phones buzzed again. Michigan won. Molly reached the Sweet 16, meaning Kirby and Jane would be on a plane to Gainesville, Fla., for the NCAA regionals this weekend, while Al stayed behind to finish the move and go with Nick to his football banquet Friday.

The Badgers won the Big Ten title at 11:52 p.m. ET to advance to the Rose Bowl. Nick found Al in the stands, and as they celebrated, Dad told son something else.

[+] EnlargeNick Toon
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWisconsin WR Nick Toon will get at least one more chance to text his sister Molly before she plays a big volleyball match for Michigan.
"He told me that she won," Nick said. "I found out almost immediately after the game, which was pretty cool.

"I had a lot going on. Just won the game, going back to the Rose Bowl, and we were doing the postgame presentation and everyone was going wild. The fans were there. Still was kind of in-game mode and there was a lot going on. Didn't really register or hit me how big of an accomplishment that was for Molly."

Meanwhile, Molly was in the midst of her own celebration and had no idea her brother had won until she left the locker room and saw her uncle. She turned on her phone and saw a litany of text messages, including this one: "California and Florida, we get to go to both of them. Rose Bowl and Sweet 16, this is awesome."

The rest of the night was a blur for every Toon. Al and Jane tried calling Molly. She missed their calls, tried calling back and got nothing. Kirby and Molly started texting.

No one spoke to Molly until Sunday morning.

"I knew we were playing at the same time, because I was upset I couldn't watch the game," Molly said. "I never thought it would end that close to each other. I didn't calculate that in my head.

"Didn't find out until after when I was like, 'We just won.' They were like, 'So did we.' "

As Molly celebrated, Nick waited to see his family. Besides the quick postgame conversation with Al, the Toons didn't see Nick until they arrived at the team hotel.

They stayed there, enjoying the accomplishment of a season-long goal to return to the Rose Bowl. And almost three hours later, Jane leaned over to Kirby and repeated the same thing she'd been saying all night.

"I know I've said this a million times, but I am so excited," Kirby said Jane told her. "I can't believe they both won today."


The Toons connected on Sunday. They shared excitement and stories. The Toons who didn't play Saturday loaded up their car and drove home.

"It's kind of crazy," Molly said. "I haven't really thought about it, but it's pretty cool, a unique thing that happened."

Nick texted Molly pictures of the field after the game, of him with the Big Ten championship trophy and of him and quarterback Russell Wilson -- who has become like another family member to the Toons -- with the trophy.

"It was cool to see," Molly said. "I didn't really have any cool pictures to show him. We didn't quite get a trophy yet.

"So I was like, 'Those are really cool pictures, I don't have any [to send] back.' "

After her own whirlwind weekend, Molly boarded an American Airlines flight from San Jose through Dallas to Detroit Metro Airport.

As she settled into her aisle seat, she looked to her side. Sitting across from her were two children fighting over the middle arm rest. She couldn't help but laugh.

The two fighting children reminded Molly of her and Nick, how their parents had a rule when they were kids that they couldn't sit next to each other during meals or flights because they'd inevitably start arguing.

Among the four Toon children, Molly and Nick are the most similar. They are both stubborn, need to be right and know all too well how to agitate each other.

They added something else Saturday: Being part of the most successful night in Toon family history.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.

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