Local sports landscape has changed/Paul Peterson

The question was posed to me at a long-forgotten basketball game in Chassell what now seems like a lifetime or two ago.

“How many games like this have you reported on?”

I answered that if I had a quarter for every one of them, I would likely be lounging on some beach in south Florida at that very moment.

Now, it’s 2013. That 25 cents I referred to? It would only have to be a nickel for me be in warmer climes for the winter.

And as the oldtimers who used to gather at the old Tapiola ball diamond used to say to the younger generation: Time does indeed fly the older you get.

The changes I’ve seen in Copper Country sports since I first was assigned to cover a Mackinac College-Suomi College basketball game in November of 1965 have been many.

For one thing, the number of sports available has multiplied.

Back in 1965, boys’ basketball and Michigan Tech hockey were the main venues.

MTU and Suomi (now Finlandia University) had men’s basketball, but they were minor sports as compared to the other two. Track fell into the same category.

John MacInnes had built a perennial powerhouse at Tech and was coming off a NCAA championship the previous season with such stalwarts as goalie Tony Esposito and All-American defenseman Bruce Riutta, the late Hancock native.

Watching Tech hockey at archaic Dee Stadium was as Copper Country as sipping a Bosch Beer at your favorite watering hole or enjoying a pasty at Nelson’s (now Armando’s) Restaurant.

Boys’ prep basketball here was unrivaled in the Upper Peninsula. Between 1955 and 1966, local teams won no less than eight state championships.

The Copper Country Conference, composed then of all the larger schools in the area, always produced teams that won regional titles and advanced well into the state tournament.

And smaller schools like Chassell, Trout Creek, Mass and John A. Doelle consistently came up with strong outfits.

The arrival of high school hockey in the 1969-70 season signaled the start of big changes on the sports scene.

And when women’s sports were introduced in 1973 under Title IX legislation, the changes were immediate on the prep and college scene.

Under coach Bill Gappy, Michigan Tech became a major player in men’s basketball. Under Kevin Luke, that trend has continued to this day.

The MTU women’s hoops program also found its niche under coach Kevin Borseth, and later John Barnes and Kim Cameron. The Huskies are now one of the premier NCAA programs in the country.

Finlandia, after dropping basketball in 1986, brought back the program in 2001. Now, the Lions sponsor sports for men and women in eight different sports. And if athletic director Chris Salani gets his wish, the school will sponsor football at its brand new McAfee Field in a few years.

I’ve had the distinct privilege to report on the exploits of countless athletes over the years. Not to mention the stellar work of so many fine coaches.

But as I trudged from my car to a local gym on a recent bone-chilling evening, I couldn’t help but think about a warm beach in south Florida.

And I wondered just how different things might have been if I had saved some of those quarters and nickels …