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Tough questions for U.P. sports fans

December 31, 2011
By Dennis Grall - Sports Editor ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Who are the most outstanding athletes in Upper Peninsula history?

What are some of the most memorable moments in U.P. sports annals?

Northern Michigan University is trying to get a grip on that tremendous task in planning for a temporary exhibition at the Dr. John Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center.

Article Photos

Dennis Grall, sports editor

The 2012 fall display is not about NMU. It is about the Upper Peninsula, and a small advisory group met recently in Marquette to discuss numerous ideas for the showcase event.

Dan Truckey is serving as director of this ambitious project and realized fully the vast chore ahead during the discussion.

The idea is exemplary but the challenge to figure out the pecking order of athletes and events will be difficult to complete and likely will create considerable controversy over events and athletes that do not make the cut.

For instance, the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame has inducted 420 people since 1972. Truckey asked the advisory group to provide a list of their top 10 people, yet it would be virtually impossible to trim it to just 100.

The same is true among memorable U.P. events, from John Payment's all-time state best 7-foot-1 high jump in 1989 to Wayne Schwalbach's incredible double victory in the 100-yard dash (9.9) and shot put (58-feet-7) in 1974.

Consider a variety of impressive ski jumps at Pine Mountain, for instance. How do you pick one or two top state football championships among all the past titlists, let alone just getting the best one by multi-champion Crystal Falls Forest Park.

Ishpeming's stunning 1975 victory over Hudson may exceed all the state football titles by U.P. teams, but if you're from Escanaba, Munising, Iron Mountain, Menominee, etc., that may be argumentative.

How do those champions fit into a story like Baraga's 1981 football team that finished 9-0 and held a 379-42 point advantage yet did not even qualify for the limited postseason playoff field of that era?

How about the numerous state prep basketball champions? Fans from Mid Peninsula, Carney-Nadeau, Marquette, Menominee, Negaunee, et al, believe their title is tops, but it would be hard to argue with Chassell's three-peat and state record 65-game winning streak.

NMU has won national championships in football, volleyball and hockey, and many swimmers and skiers have taken individual titles. Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State have also captured national titles in hockey and Finlandia University won a national basketball crown. How do you pick one or two events from that prestigious group?

Also be to be considered is that many of the athletes who performed at the highest levels came here to groom their skills at U.P. colleges but otherwise were not U.P. residents. How do they fit into the discussion, and how should they be considered compared with accomplishments by U.P. natives?

Numerous U.P. athletes have performed in the Olympics and major league baseball, with Kevin Tapani the lone Yooper to be a winning pitcher in a World Series baseball game. How do you separate those accomplishments and try to squeeze them into a top 10?

Don't forget the numerous U.P. youth teams in national and world tournaments in baseball, softball and hockey. Where do they fit into the mix?

"We're not trying to create a new U.P. Hall of Fame," Truckey immediately told the advisory group, stressing the exhibit will only be on display the final four months of 2012.

He is hoping to receive stories and artifacts from U.P. residents, which would be returned when the exhibit closes. U.P. schools will be contacted in hopes of obtaining some artifacts for display in the 2,000-square foot building.

"We want the stories of U.P. athletes," Truckey said. "We want to focus on key teams, individuals and stories."

When you study Upper Peninsula athletic folklore, everyone has their magical moments and spectacular players. Truckey understands that remarkable challenge and is hoping U.P. residents can help determine what specific events and athletes should be recognized in what may be the first of several future exhibits.

"This will not be an exhaustive history of Upper Peninsula sports, but it will touch on some of the greatest feats and athletes," Truckey said.

Perhaps by using U.P. high schools as the foundation of where to start the selection process, it would be easier to decorate the tree on branches that go higher and higher.

To participate in this ambitious project, send nominations to Truckey at



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