The thrill and agony of March/Paul Peterson

It’s been called March Madness for as long as I can remember.

And that’s an apt term to describe this time of the year when high school basketball and hockey teams start postseason play.

It’s a time when many towns are taken over by the frenzy caused by the excitement coming from these games.

My first recollection of March Madness came in 1956. The Chassell Panthers of that era were just starting what would be – and still is – a state-record streak of 65 straight victories.

Panthers’ guard Don Mattson, the first Upper Peninsula player to be chosen as an All-American, was the centerpiece of those teams.

I watched from the stands as Mattson and teammates Terry Pokela and Tom Peters dominated the field at Sherman Gym. Mattson had the strength and confidence to fire shots from near half-court (something later confirmed watching old game tapes) and he usually made them.

Chassell would win the first of three straight Class D state championships that long ago March.

There’s been plenty of tourney memories for me since then. Many were provided by boys hoops as prep hockey hockey didn’t start up until the 1969-70 season.

And girls basketball, which also began in the early 1970s, held its postseason in the fall until just a few years ago when they began playing in the winter.

The one thing I’ve learned over the years is never assume that you have seen it all.

I’ve seen games decided by heroic late game rallies like the one in 1986 when Dollar Bay came back from an eight-point deficit versus Ewen-Trout Creek with 38 seconds to play and won in overtime.

And instant classic games like the 1976 Calumet-Houghton hockey regional contest that went six overtimes before the Copper Kings finally won. Both teams literally collapsed in exhaustion afterward.

There have been more than a few very good players who closed their prep careers on a down note. And this list included players who scored more than 1,000 points in their careers and went out with sub-par showings. I won’t get into names because I don’t believe in rubbing it in.

Then, there are players who reached the pinnacle in their final high school game. Current Jeffers High coach Duane Snell is a good example of that, scoring 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a loss to heavily favored Dollar Bay in 1977.

In a twist of irony, Snell’s son and daughter had similar performances in their final prep games for Jeffers, totaling 20 or more points in tourney defeats.

But for all the thrills of victory, there’s always been an equal amount of agony at this time of the year.

As the coach in the classic sports movie “Rudy” said: “This is the most important game you’ll ever play. And for you seniors, it will be your last one.”

Seeing a senior end their career on a losing note is a tough sight.

Take this past Monday for example when Ontonagon senior Tony Soumis returned to the lineup against Dollar Bay after suffering a broken ankle early in the season.

His play, including a game-high 13 points, had the Gladiators leading by six with under two minutes to play.

But in true March Madness form, the underdog Bays rallied to tie the game and then won in overtime.

As the long ago Wide World of Sports program always began, it was the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat once again …