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The charm of sports

Sports Den

January 21, 2012
Dennis Grall - Sports Editor ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - One of the charms of athletic competition is the expected becomes the unexpected.

I had the fortune of witnessing that first-hand three times this week, underlining why I have the best job possible even if the unexpected isn't always pleasant.

The Escanaba girls and Mid Peninsula boys staged upsets in high school basketball Wednesday and Thursday, bringing a smile back to faces of those fans who endured Green Bay's stunning dismissal from the NFL playoffs Sunday.

Article Photos

Dennis Grall
Sports Editor

Escanaba snapped a 20-game losing streak to vaunted Marquette in a game where senior Mallory Zimmerman played an integral role despite battling the ravages of the flu bug earlier in the day.

Coach Kelly O'Connell did not expect to see her that night, but she showed remarkable recovery, or just a high pain tolerance, to help notch the 52-30 victory.

He presented her the game ball in the locker room after the game, prompting a round of cheers from her exuberant teammates, and led a spirited celebration was drastically different from how they reacted after the game. When the game ended, they simply slapped hands and backs of each other, shook hands of the Marquette players and left the floor.

They didn't go wild, like you see on television when prima donna athletes pound their chests and point to the sky as they bathe in the adoration of their fans. Like Barry Sanders scoring a touchdown and giving the ball to the official, the Eskymos accepted the win like it was expected and rejoiced in the sanctity of their locker room.

"A lot of neat things happen in sports. We went from being very down Friday (a last-second loss to Kingsford) to having a big high like that," said O'Connell. "You keep it in perspective. We celebrated as a family. That is what high school sports is all about, give your best, compete and shake hands."

Mid Pen surprised Superior Central 58-51, knocking the Cougars out of a share of the Central U.P. Conference lead. The Wolverines displayed confidence that had been missing in earlier games and received a solid contribution from everyone who played.

Junior Brett Branstrom has been the prime player for the Wolverines, and he played a key role Thursday as he joined the school's 1,000-point club, but this time Ty Barron, Evan Winkelbauer, Cody Stone, Ryan Lehtikangas and Chad Branstrom also had major contributions.

There was a two-fold role there. The Cougars, like all Mid Pen opponents, were focused heavily on Brett Branstrom and basically dared his teammates to play above the level they had shown. This time those players met the challenge head on, which should give them confidence they can do that again.

"Our expectations were high this year because of what they showed me at team camps downstate this summer," said coach Mark Branstrom. "Now they are starting to come around. It is nice when you see that."

Far more fans were on hand at Lambeau Field Sunday as they endured a rare bad game by the Packers, who went 15-1 in the regular season and were ousted 37-20 by the New York Giants.

The Packers simply did not play up to their standard, disappointing their legion of fans who can now throw their support on high school athletes who may not have that kind of talent but give an excellent effort and display class and charm in the process.



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