EAST LANSING - Negaunee fans moved heaven and earth - in a sense - to get to Michigan State University to watch their beloved Miners boys basketball team play in the Class C state semifinals on Thursday afternoon.
Disappointed, maybe, that their favorite team lost on a last-second shot by Laingsburg, they were still a proud group of Yoopers who crashed a mostly "troll" party at the Breslin Center.
The heaven that was moved came in the form of Negaunee Middle School seventh-grader Alexis Hill, who made sure her family was represented this year in East Lansing after unwittingly costing her father a chance to watch the Miners during their state championship run in 2000.
From left, Negaunee seniors Ely Goupille, Alex Dempsey and Cody Tossava are among the most prominent Miners leading cheers during game. (Journal photos by Steve Brownlee)
"My dad was going to come in 2000, but I was being born then," Hill said.
And the earth would be represented by Pat DeWitt of Negaunee, who makes his living helping others dig. Not with a little garden spade, though. Think of something bigger ... much bigger.
"I own my own business, OME Training and Consulting," DeWitt said. "I teach people how to operate the world's biggest shovels."
He showed off a few photos on his cell phone of him standing in a mine shovel's bucket that was at least three times as tall as him, the kind used in places like the Empire and Tilden mines in Marquette County.
"I can make my own hours, well, up to a point," said the father of NHS junior cheerleader Taylor DeWitt.
Pat DeWitt explained he had just recently completed working five months straight, so he had a month off. But only until Saturday, when he was going to fly out before dawn to take care of another project.
Another proud family had a team scout with them. Jim and Connie Lori were there to watch their son, junior starting guard Eric Lori.
Also attending was Eric's "little" brother, freshman Jay Lori, who happens to tower over his older brother when they stand side by side. Jay Lori had more plans than just rooting for the Miners. This Negaunee JV player also wanted to see what the atmosphere was like at MSU.
"It's pretty cool," Jay Lori said. "I hope some day I get a chance to play here, too.
"These guys (on the current team) have played together forever. And they have a Jandron (junior point guard Tyler) and that helps, too."
Jim Lori says he knows how special the finals are.
"I came when they had the finals in Ann Arbor and I saw Magic Johnson win a championship in 1977," he said. "I don't remember much from back then, but I definitely have always remembered that."
Connie Lori was thrilled the team made it this far.
"This is so exciting and fun," she said. "If anyone deserves it, they do. They have that passion. It makes them fun to watch.
"It was surreal when they won the quarterfinals (on Tuesday in Gaylord)."
Another set of proud Negaunee parents didn't have a son playing or daughter cheerleading Thursday. No, Sean and Kathy O'Donnell were intently watching the Miners coach, Mike O'Donnell, who just happens to be their son.
Sean is something of an institution at Negaunee, having lent his rich bass voice as the public address announcer at numerous events at the school for the past 15 years.
"Some people from Negaunee asked if Sean could be the public address announcer for the district championship game in Gwinn," Kathy O'Donnell said of the game that pitted the Miners against the home-team Modeltowners. "But they wouldn't let him. They thought we'd have home-court advantage then."
Alexis Hill and a gaggle of her friends had a quick answer when asked what the best part was about coming downstate to watch Thursday's game.
"All the cheering for the Miners," said several, led by seventh-grader Caylee Dempsey.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.