MARQUETTE - Many high school graduates look forward to infrequent reunions held on special milestone anniversaries.
But for those from Negaunee, Ishpeming and Westwood high schools, all they have to do every July is yell two words:
Westwood alumnus Jerry Pope gives retired teacher Kitty Kososki a kiss on the noggin in appreciation of her work as longtime announcer at the Westwood High School Alumni Tournament at Sunnyside Field in Ishpeming Township on July 5. Kososki adds a personal touch to the introduction of every player who comes to bat, usually with a humorous and sometimes slightly embarrassing story. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
From left, Negaunee residents Rhonda (True) Williams of the Class of 1993, Janice (Molise) Kantola of the Class of 1984, Lori (Heikkila) Cizek of the Class of 1984 and her husband John Cizek cheer for the Class of 1984 during a Negaunee High School Alumni Tournament softball game at LaCombe Field in Negaunee on July 9. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
With umpire Gregg Nelson looking on, Class of 1985 catcher Angela Gravedoni of Green Bay, Wis., waits for a high-arcing pitch to reach her during a Negaunee High School Alumni Tournament softball game at LaCombe Field in Negaunee on July 9. Gravedoni joins numerous other graduates from west-end high schools for their annual softball tourneys in early July. But the former Angela Airaudi also met her future husband, Michael Gravedoni of the Class of 1981, during the weeklong Pioneer Days celebration in 1994. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
Alumni softball tournaments have become annual built-in reunions for classes from these western Marquette County schools, drawing many locally based grads but also those who come from all over the country for that one time a year they get to renew acquaintances with recent or long ago schoolmates.
Ishpeming and Westwood hold their tourneys right around the Fourth of July holiday, a time when many people get time off anyway.
In Negaunee, it's a week later for that town's unique Pioneer Days, a weeklong celebration that includes numerous events, with softball just a small part of it.
For one couple that comes from Green Bay, Wis., to play softball in Negaunee, Pioneer Days is more than a reunion.
"It's our 19th anniversary of when we met," said class of 1985 member Angela (Airaudi) Gravedoni, who is married to 1981's Michael Gravedoni.
"We met at the old 'Warehouse Dance' they used to have at the (Negaunee) Ice Arena during Pioneer Days."
Watching his wife play for the '85 team against the class of 1984, Michael Gravedoni filled out the explanation.
"Me and her brother were friends, so I've known who she was since she was in pigtails," Michael said. "I was living in Norfolk, Va., and she was living in Minneapolis.
"But we really met 19 years ago during Pioneer Days, and we got married in 1998."
Angela Gravedoni couldn't be happier with the result.
"Basically, this is the best time of the year to be here," she said. "If you're going to be in Negaunee, it's nice to be here and see everybody again."
Over in Ishpeming Township, most of the fans create a tailgate-party atmosphere under the large shade trees that line the third-base side of the field at Sunnyside Field near the township fire department.
"You see all the grandmas and grandpas come to watch," said one of the WHS tourney organizers, Jeff Ogea, spreading his arms out to all the pickup trucks backed up to create an upper spectator tier behind the lawn chairs on the grass.
"We want this to be a fun tournament, so we make sure to nip all the 'incidents' in the bud, those who are getting a little too competitive and out for blood."
To that extent, the tourney requires at least three women on the field at all times.
Adding to the event's flavor is the irrepressible Kitty Kososki, who handles announcing chores with her own unique flair. She's a retired Westwood teacher who still volunteers in the school, so she knows virtually every player from youngest to oldest.
"She makes the tournament," said Carrie Dobson, class of 1979, and married to Terry Dobson, class of 1978. "She remembers everybody and has a story to tell about them.
"She even calls all the girls by their maiden names."
Kososki's response to that last bit: "Well, that's what I always knew them by."
Her typical announcing style goes a little bit like this:
"That's three down, so it brings up the second inning and it's a tie score. Matt Annala, you're leadoff," Kososki says.
A few minutes later:
"Matt Annala did not run quite fast enough to avoid Eli Wolf's toss" following a infield groundout to first base.
"It's all in fun," she said. "Call it equal opportunity harassment."
Daniel King of Houston, class of 1979, was watching several younger classes playing in the shade. He sees the tournament as the perfect excuse to come home.
"We're up here every year," he said. "I teach school, so I'm off then. I get to visit my dad, Owen King, and coming this time of the year is great because we get out of the Houston heat.
"I miss playing, but we still get to see all the other classes. Everyone knows somebody here."
Ishpeming has the oldest running tournament, now in its 34th year, and uses three fields as classes even dating back to the early 1960s remain involved in playing. The classes of 1962 and 1966 squared off in one game to decide the Classic Division on the event's first day.
"It's all blood and guts!" said Norm "No Neck" Carlson in the class of 1966's dugout, then immediately laughed to indicate he was kidding.
"You don't even play!" said his brother, John "Yogi" Carlson.
"It's a tradition," said '66er Bob Merrill, "Most of us see each other around town. We've never won it, but mainly we're here to have fun."
One of the players' wives had to be convinced that it's OK for these guys to still take the field.
"We've only been married for seven years," said Linda Chapman, wife of '62er Mike Chapman. She herself is a 1969 graduate of Gwinn High School.
"When he first told me he was going to play ball, I told him, 'You're crazy!'
"But then I watched just one game and I knew why they keep playing. It's a chance to renew acquaintances. They didn't lose a beat from the old days."
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.