×

Rite of summer gone: After initially postponed, Upper Peninsula Football All-Star Game now canceled

The Black team’s Gavin Sundberg of Ishpeming, center, finds space as he runs up the middle in the first quarter of the 12th annual Upper Peninsula Football All-Star Game played at the Superior Dome in Marquette on June 29, 2019. Preparing to make the tackle is the Red team’s Travis Ojala of Calumet, front left. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“Each group of all-star players has spent their entire high school careers working hard to earn the awards and honors that will get them a chance to participate in this event.” — Todd Goldbeck, executive director of Xcel Foundation, which conducts the U.P. Football All-Star Game

—————-

MARQUETTE — Organizers of the Upper Peninsula Football All-Star Game recently felt forced to cancel this summer’s game after initially delaying its start until early August at the Superior Dome in Marquette.

That includes the events held with the players and coaches that lead up to the game, which was to be its 13th annual event this year on the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 1.

“The U.P. Football All-Star Game has been held annually in Marquette since 2008,” said executive director Todd Goldbeck of the Xcel Foundation, which conducts the game, in a Saturday sports news release.

“In past years, All-Star week has taken place the last week of June, but like most events, it was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of canceling, it was initially decided to postpone the (events leading up to the) game until the last week in July, which would give the best chance of being able to play.”

Those events include a visit to the Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay, a skills competition and a banquet on the evening before the game. Throughout the week before the game, players — many of whom they haven’t met before — stay in dorms at nearby Northern Michigan University and eat their meals there as well.

“The U.P. had been one of only a couple regions in Michigan which showed very low case numbers … but, like many other areas of the country, the cases began to rise recently with the increase in tourism, and with those increased cases, came greater restrictions,” Goldbeck said.

“At the time of the game’s postponement, the U.P. was one phase away from being completely open, which would have allowed the game to take place. However, with the recent reversal, it is not possible, and certainly not advisable, to have that many players, coaches and fans in one place.”

“It saddens me that this year’s seniors will not be able to experience all of the different events that take place throughout All-Star Week. Each group of all-star players has spent their entire high school careers working hard to earn the awards and honors that will get them a chance to participate in this event.

“Unfortunately, for these seniors, it is yet another rite of passage that they will not get to take part in.”

Goldbeck also noted that with this year scheduled as the 13th annual event, this group of players had had the game take place every year of their schooling in K-12, and some players had been to every all-star game since they were in kindergarten.

“Even though we held out hope as long as possible, canceling was the right decision at this time,” Goldbeck said. “The safety and health of the players and coaches is always the highest priority, and when the number of cases started to rise recently, it became impossible to overcome.”

Despite the actual event not taking place, players will still receive their game-related gear, which includes a custom game jersey and other All-Star-branded apparel and memorabilia. They also will be get several game programs, which contain the player profiles and ads from the various sponsors who make the game possible. Each year, the players are encouraged to take the programs back to their sponsors to show their appreciation. A schedule is being worked out with high school coaches to get the players their gear as soon as possible.

One of the game’s missions each year is to give back to U.P. communities. A full set of 40 new practice jerseys will be donated to the L’Anse and Superior Central football programs. In addition, 20 new footballs will be given to Lake Linden-Hubbell and St. Ignace.

Monetary donations are made to Bay Cliff Health Camp, the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame, as well as two U.P. high school football programs. Each high school recipient receives $1,000, which can be used at their discretion to improve their programs. The uses have included equipment, uniforms, facility improvement and youth programs.

In the past dozen years, 24 schools have received the donation. Once a school is chosen, they are removed from the random drawing until all other U.P. football schools have been chosen to receive an equal amount.

“There are many different costs involved with an event such as this, and the money raised through sponsor donations makes this event possible every year,” Goldbeck said in his release. “Players are chosen in November and need to fund-raise in order to cover some of those costs. All of the gear that the players and coaches receive is customized with the U.P. Football All-Star Game logo, so it is ordered months in advance. I am very happy that we are in a position where we can still get all of those items to the players.

“Every year, when the event is over, it gives me great pleasure to reflect upon the process and know that we gave back. Not having the event means lost revenue in ticket sales for the game and banquet, as well as the sale of game programs and apparel. However, we do not have the expenses of dorms and food.

“In the end, when all of the bills have been paid this year, we will be in a position to make donations to several more schools, instead of the typical two.

“This fall is going to be a greater challenge to high school football in the U.P. than ever before, so hopefully the fund-raising efforts of this year’s players and supporting communities will help alleviate some of that stress. The U.P. Football All-Star Game is unlike any other in the country, just like the U.P. is unlike any other region. The U.P. looks after and takes care of each other, and that’s what this event is all about.”

Goldbeck noted that this year’s all-star roster of players and coaches included seven father-son combinations, the most in any year.

From the area, that included Negaunee player Jason Waterman and his father, Dan Waterman, a Miners assistant varsity coach.

They also included the all-star Black and Red team’s head coaches — Black head coach Andy Crouch of Lake Linden-Hubbell and his son Carter Crouch of the Lakes, and Red head coach Iffer Marshall of St. Ignace and his son Reid Marshall of the Saints.

The others are player Marcus Johnson of Iron Mountain and his father, Harvey “Bucky” Johnson of the Mountaineers; player Colton Salani of Hancock and his father, Chris Salani of the Bulldogs; Noah Thomson of West Iron County and his father, Chris Thomson of the Wykons; and Tommy Lundin of Gogebic and his father, Dave Lundin of the Miners.

“Every year, we talk about the U.P. football brotherhood and what that means,” Goldbeck said. “It means using your talents to give back, building something for others, and maintaining the high standards of being a U.P. Football All-Star so that future groups may benefit from what you have done and others before you.

“Even though this year’s players did not get to actually play, I have enjoyed working with them greatly throughout the process and am proud of the way they have soldiered on through these troubled times. Future U.P. Football All-Star games will be played on the foundation that they have helped maintain with their efforts, and for that, I am grateful.”

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

Newsletter

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)