Negaunee Invitational Tournament completes re-emergence this weekend

Negaunee native Roland “Foo” Koski poses between games during the Negaunee Invitational Tournament held at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium last weekend. Koski was credited with 48 years of refereeing in the event on Facebook. (Photo courtesy NIT via Facebook)

NEGAUNEE — The Negaunee Invitational Tournament is back in full swing after the Class D and women’s divisions played their games last weekend with Classes B and C starting this evening and running through Sunday.

It’s the 51st annual edition of the tournament, after being discontinued in 2014 due to dwindling volunteer support.

The Negaunee High School varsity softball team with head coach Randy Carlson decided to bring back the popular event as a way to raise funds for their program.

The original format of the tournament was to have all games played over one weekend, but Carlson and other tournament organizers felt it best to split it into two weekends to make schedules more accommodating for all involved.

Despite conflicting area events such as the Upper Peninsula Builders Show and Northern Michigan University hockey playoffs, Carlson said the first weekend went smoothly and all of his logistical concerns were quickly erased.

“It went pretty well,” he said. “We had some pretty competitive games. Saturday was good, Sunday wasn’t as good but we were expecting that with the builders show and a youth basketball tournament happening at the other gym.

“There’s always a couple of things you worry about. Our volunteers sign up for different positions and you always worry that some might not show up for what they’re supposed to do.

“That all worked out well, the referees were all good.”

Carlson and the softball program weren’t alone, either, with a bit of help from some former tournament organizers.

“We primarily have softball parents and people associated with our softball program helping out,” he said. “John Basolo was the former tournament director for a long time and he’s been very cooperative. We got some advice from him.

Jackson's Pit plays Dressler's Mechanical during a Class D game at the NIT on Saturday. (Photo courtesy NIT via Facebook)

“Kyle Wills and Bill Hill are a couple of guys who also helped out and had been involved quite a bit with the previous tournaments. Kyle came to all of our meetings and Bill was really good about recruiting teams.

“It’s been helpful to have some of that advice and ins and outs, some of the things we maybe wouldn’t have thought about.”

How much money the team raised won’t be tabulated until after the tournament concludes, but Carlson said sponsors are a big part in helping offset costs.

“We’ll tabulate all of that after this weekend,” he said. “We have an idea of some of our revenues, but there’s also expenses.”

As a non-school-funded sport, the Miners softball team hopes the tournament will help eliminate other ways it needs to raise funds.

A referee makes a call during a women's division game at the NIT last weekend. (Photo courtesy NIT via Facebook)

“All in all I expect we’ll do pretty well with it,” Carlson said. “It’ll ease the burden on our softball program.

“We’re hoping that this will eliminate the need for other smaller fundraisers.”

Carlson hopes this is something the team can do again and that the NIT is here to stay for good, while possibly getting other teams or organizations who need to raise money involved, too.

“That’s the goal — to stick around — and I think that’s going to happen,” he said. “With softball being a non-funded sport, we were always looking for things to do and this is a win-win. It’s a way for us to raise funds without directly asking people for money and it’s something we can kind of give back to the community. A lot of people are happy that it’s back.”

As far as the basketball itself, Carlson said the tournament has some strong teams in Class B and Class C that are worth watching this weekend, with several NMU, Michigan Tech and area high school players forming teams.

“This weekend we’re going to have some really good players and really good teams,” he said. “We encourage anybody who’s a basketball fan to come and check it out. It’s very entertaining basketball and it’s something that’s hopefully just at the beginning and we can keep growing it from here on out.”

Smarty’s Saloon took the women’s division championship last weekend while The Finns claimed the Class D crown.

This weekend kick offs at 6 p.m. today and goes through Sunday at Lakeview Memorial Gym with the Class C championship set for 1:45 p.m. Sunday and Class B to follow at 3 p.m.

For more information, visit the Negaunee Invitational Tournament Facebook page.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.