Three area men inducted

Hongisto, Root and Pistulka inducted into UPSHF

Dennis Grall photo The 50th class of the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame was inducted Saturday night at Island Resort & Casino in Harris. The inductees include: front row from left, Tom Russo of Marquette, Jerry Root of Escanaba, Jake Dellangelo, representing his COVID-19 quarantined father Mike, of Ishpeming, and Bruce Coppo of Calumet; standing, Mark Jewell, representing his late father John Jewell of Laurium, Rob Kokko, representing his late great uncle Sam Kokko of Sault Ste. Marie, Chris Nance of Newberry, John Pistulka of Manistique, Dale Hongisto of Wakefield/Gladstone and Rick Johnson, representing his late great uncle Vernon “Socko” Johnson of Crystal Falls.

HARRIS — Three men with area ties were among those inducted into this year’s class of the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame here Saturday night.

Among them are Gladstone athletic director Dale Hongisto, sportscaster Jerry Root of Escanaba and 1978 Manistique High School graduate John Pistulka.

Root began his 48th year as play-by-play sports broadcaster last fall and coached girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ cross country and boys’ track at North Central.

His cross country teams were crowned U.P. Class D champions four times and coached the Jets to two U.P. track titles.

He also coached at Cedarville, was a sportswriter at the Cedarville Weekly Wave and St. Ignace News, hosted coaches radio shows in Sault Ste. Marie and Escanaba and established the North Central Sports Hall of Fame.

“It’s a blessing to be here,” said Root, who was a two-year starter in baseball at Whitehall High School. “I enjoyed 48 years of teaching, most of those coaching. With the help of my coach Jerry Jacobson, I went from being a C student to the honor roll in two years. It was great to see people from North Central here, plus I had family here from Lower Michigan.”

Hongisto was a four-sport star at Wakefield where he earned 17 varsity letters.

He earned five gold medals in the U.P. Class D Track Finals and was Offensive Player of the Year in the Gogebic Range Conference in football in 1984.

In basketball, he stands fourth at Wakefield in career scoring with 1,064 points,

Hongisto played college baseball at Western Michigan University where he was a Mid-American Conference all-star as a catcher-designated hitter.

“First of all, when (former Daily Press sports editor) Dennis Grall called to tell me I was being inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame, I was very excited,” said Hongisto, who was nominated by former AD and basketball coach Karl Dollhopf. “I was excited to get in front of the people and proud of the achievement. Cathy Shamion (UPSHF executive director) told me ‘you don’t get up there by yourself,’ and I had a lot of great members on my team, which includes family friends and coaches and teammates, to help me get up there. This brings back a lot of memories for sure.”

Hongisto spent 15 years coaching basketball at Gladstone, including seven years as boys’ varsity mentor and two as girls’ assistant.

“Just to be nominated was quite an honor,” he said. “It’s certainly not something I’m going to think about that often, but I’m proud to be a member of such a prestigious group. I think it’s pretty cool my high school football and basketball coaches (Duane Lane and Jim Daniels) are also in the U.P. Hall of Fame. It was a great night, and I’m certainly honored.”

Pistulka was a Class C all-state football and basketball selection in 1977, receiving U.P. Lineman of the Year honors that year. He was recruited as a tight end by more than 50 schools and played basketball at Lake Superior State University where he set the school’s single-season rebounding record in 1982-83. He finished fifth in Division II rebounding and was selected All-GLIAC and the team’s Most Valuable Player.

After graduating from LSSU, Pistulka signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings and played in the Global Cup, the first NFL game in Europe in ’83, then became a professional wrestler.

Also inducted was Mike Dellangelo, who led Ishpeming to the Class C state football title while ending Hudson’s state-record 73-game winning steak in 1975.

He played football at Northern Michigan University where he ran for 1,093 yards and caught 82 passes for 762, then served as varsity assistant coach for 30 years at Ishpeming.

Tom Russo coached basketball for 24 years at four schools and led the Negaunee boys to the Class C state title in 2000, finishing with a 319-210 career record. His teams took six regional championships and seven Mid-Peninsula Conference titles.

Chris Nance was a three-sport athlete at Newberry where she set 20 school records, including 1,277 career points before playing at LSSU. She was part of Newberry’s three U.P. Class C championship track teams and earned all-state laurels in three events.

Vernon “Moose” Johnson of Crystal Falls played minor league and independent baseball for many years.

He batted .469 in a lengthy stretch while playing with Baseball Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Ted Radcliffe.

Johnson, who passed away in 1965, played on the national semi-pro championship team, now known as the National Baseball Congress Championship.

Bruce Coppo of Calumet spent eight decades on U.P. hockey rinks as a player, coach and official and became the only person to officiate high school hockey for at least 40 years. He earned 13 Gibson Cup titles as a player and coach and guided the Calumet Wolverines to the national championship in 2003.

John Jewell of Laurium was a co-captain with past UPSHF inductee John Sherf on the University of Michigan hockey team.

Jewell posted a 28-12-4 record as Wolverines’ goaltender with seven shutouts and 1.84 goals against average. He played every minute of every game until late in his senior year when an operation sidelined him for one game.

Sam Kokko of Sault Ste. Marie tried out for the U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1932 and coached teams with Taffy Abel of Sault. He played and coached for various teams for 42 years prior to his death in 1992 at age 93.

He helped Ironwood take the senior hockey McNaughton Cup in 1929, then helped Hancock win it the next three years.


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