Saturday prep hoops games a natural fit/Paul Peterson

The late and great Ed Helakoski was a coach who was light years ahead of his time.

The Chassell High skipper is noted mostly for the three state championships his teams won in the late 1950s as well as a state-record 65-game win streak.

But Helakoski was also among the first local coaches to set up structured practices, meaning every minute was accounted for. He and Houghton High coach John Gaffney were also the first mentors to employ a full-court press.

Recognizing the “star power” of his great CHS teams, Helakoski also scheduled several games on occasional Saturday nights during a season.

The games took place at Michigan Tech’s Sherman Gym and never failed to fill the house as rival coaches, players and fans from all over the area came to see the show.

In order for this concept to work, a suitably strong opponent had to be lined up. In Chassell’s case, that usually meant then-very good L’Anse, Baraga and Negaunee St. Paul teams.

As the years have passed, Saturday night basketball has more or less disappeared. There was a prevailing feeling among the powers that be that holding a basketball game on what was a traditional hockey night would hurt the gate.

Let’s be totally honest. Basketball fans are, with just a few exceptions, not going to pass up a good game to see a hockey game. And vice-versa for hockey backers.

This past Saturday night, Ewen-Trout Creek played Lake Linden-Hubbell in a game rescheduled because of bad weather.

With the Lakes being undefeated and the Panthers their usual strong selves, the matchup was a natural. An overflow crowd showed up in Lake Linden and wasn’t disappointed as the two teams played a very intense, high-quality game.

I believe a still young LL-H team is going to be very good for at least a few years down the road. Scheduling a couple of Saturday night specials per season would benefit coach Jack Kumpula and his team.

Set the game up on a night when MTU basketball isn’t in town.

Use either the Student Development Complex Gym or even Finlandia University’s Paavo Nurmi Gym as the site.

Bring in opponents like E-TC, Forest Park or Superior Central – perennially strong teams that aren’t afraid to answer a challenge.

The better the competition, the more a team benefits. Just ask Houghton girls’ basketball coach Julie Filpus.

The Lakes’ always-loyal following isn’t going to mind driving an extra 10 miles to see their favorites. I can almost guarantee that you’ll put 1,500 or more fans in the seats.

The Calumet High hockey team already does a similar thing by scheduling powerhouses like Cranbrook, Brighton and University of Detroit-Jesuit for weekend series. The result is usually a big crowd at the Calumet Colosseum.

It’s just an idea, but I think Saturday night hoops would be just as popular and successful as it was for Chassell a half-century ago.