Softball straight ahead: Esky to host U.P. senior games, alumni game
ESCANABA — Seniors throughout the U.P. will have the opportunity to play some softball in their high school uniform for the last time after all.
After the coronavirus pandemic wiped out spring sports among many other things in recent months, Escanaba softball coach Gary Salo put together the idea to host a U.P. senior softball game. His idea was widely accepted, and players from 13 different schools throughout the U.P. will be represented in a doubleheader Friday night at Lemerand Park beginning at 4 p.m.
“When the season got canceled, I just started texting some other U.P. coaches to see if we could put this together and give the seniors some closure,” Salo said in a phone interview Tuesday. “They pretty much all agreed to it and the feedback has been great. We have players from 13 schools from across the U.P. coming to Escanaba for a fun day of softball.”
Twenty-eight players from various schools will be attending, including 11 from Delta County. Gabi Salo, Dakota Cloutier, Maddy Block and Rylee Kuehl will represent two-time defending state champion Escanaba, Taelor Zeise, Andie Balenger and Jenna Tardiff will represent Gladstone, Riley Arndt, Hailey Boucher and Bonnie Cortinas will represent Bark River, and Kristin Goodacre will represent Rapid River.
Other schools with players attending include Marquette, Kingsford, Norway, Menominee, Negaunee, Sault Ste. Marie, Hancock, Ishpeming and Houghton. Salo will coach one team and Negaunee head coach Randy Carlson will coach the other.
Coach Salo also noted all CDC guidelines and safety measures will be in place.
“We’re going to make sure the girls are safe. They’re going to be temperature screened when they get there, we’ll go through their normal questionnaires and we’re going to provide hand sanitizer,” he said. “I’ve traveled enough this summer with softball where I’ve picked up a lot of the different ideas that tournaments have done … the home team has their own game balls and the visiting team has their own game balls. You eliminate the high-fives and the hugs and the different things like that, but we’re still going to have a lot of smiles on the kids faces.”
In between games, local band Sit Down Francis will be playing. Coach Salo said the idea dates back to something his team wanted to do last spring.
“At the start of the year, I was talking with the girls and we wanted to show other schools how much fun we have and why we work so hard,” he said. “We thought it would be a cool idea to have a little concert between our games. They’re probably going to play for a little while in between our doubleheader, and they might even play a song between innings.”
After Friday’s senior games, Esky will host its first-ever alumni game Saturday at noon with the varsity Eskymos taking on the alumni team. The 10 alumni currently committed to playing include Lexi Chaillier, Heidi Charon, Taylor Gauthier, Bri Grimm, Madison Griffin, Lesley Delvaux, Katie Ross, Michelle Carne, Kelly Brajak and Heather Bergstrom, but that number could rise by Saturday.
“The alumni game is something we’ve wanted to get started here,” coach Salo said. “I talked to (Bay College softball coach) Heidi Charon earlier this week, and it sounds like we’re going to have a pretty good group of alumni coming to play. Lesley Delvaux and Katie Ross are going to do the pitching, so we’re going to have our hands full.”
Coach Salo noted all but three of his varsity players should be able to make it.
“It’s just a great way to hopefully let those kids leave the year on the softball field instead of thinking, ‘Man, I never got the chance to play,'” he said. “It’s going to be a good day. Both days are going to be a lot of fun.”