Hall of Famers all: 3 with area ties among 10 inducted into U.P. Sports Hall of Fame
By ADAM HINCH
Escanaba Daily Press
HARRIS — The Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame inducted 10 people as its Class of 2023 members on Saturday evening at the Island Resort and Casino in Harris.
In addition, the UPSHF committee awarded scholarships to four U.P. student-athletes, including Kane Nebel of Munising and Philip Nelson of Negaunee.
Nebel helped lead the Mustangs to an MHSAA state championship in Division 4 boys basketball in March, while Nelson helped lead the Miners to the state finals game in Division 6 11-player football last fall.
The other also receiving scholarships were Leah French of Engadine and Carney Salo of Escanaba.
Here’s a brief sketch of each of the hall of famers inducted on Saturday:
≤ The late Jim Mattson of L’Anse — He spent many years in education and athletics and as a coach and official, including three U.P. track titles as a coach at L’Anse High School.
He also played basketball and football at Baraga High School and Northern Michigan University. He was MVP of his Suomi College basketball team for the 1955-56 season.
“He would not say anything about himself; he was always the most humble person,” said his son, Mark Mattson. “Family always came first and foremost to my dad, U.P. sports were his passion, he always said do what’s best for the kids, the rest will work itself out.”
≤ Katie Hoy Batten of Newberry — She was a four-sport letterwinner at Newberry High School, scoring more than a 1,000 points in her basketball career. She was All-U.P. in the sport for two years and was a member of the U.P. Dream Team as a senior. She also was MVP of her Indians’ golf and volleyball teams.
Batten attended Lake Superior State University, where she was the Lakers’ Defensive Player of the Year for the 1995-96 season and Lake State’s Female Athlete of the Year in the GLIAC.
“I use the word ‘Yooper’ to describe how it means to be an athlete, by saying thank you to the people who supported me and my ability to overcome obstacles to take the opportunity, to share with people the energy and enthusiasm, to remember where you came from,” Batten said.
≤ John Koskinen of Baraga — He won the 2002 U.P. Golf Association men’s golf title with a record 209 total, topping a record field of more than 400 golfers.
He was a four-time all-conference golfer at Baraga High School and won every tournament as a senior he had a nine-hole average of 35.0.
As a golfer at Michigan State University, he earned All-Big Ten and All-Midwest honors before becoming a golf aide for the Spartans, playing in the 2006 and 2007 U.S. Open and becoming a touring professional.
“There is no individual like a Yooper,” he said.
He also spent 12 years as associate women’s head coach for the University of Miami’s golf team in Florida, including when the Hurricanes won the 2016 NCAA Division I national championship, then in 2022, he became the head coach of Division ll Barry University in Miami.
≤ Jeff Blashill of Sault Ste. Marie — Unable to attend Saturday’s event, he served as head coach of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings from 2015-22, and has since joined the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning as an assistant coach.
Prior to joining the Red Wings, he was the head hockey coach at Western Michigan University, leading the Broncos to the NCAA tournament.
He also coached the pro minor-league Grand Rapids Griffins to the AHL’s Calder Cup in 2014 and the youth Indiana Ice of the USHL to the Clark Cup in 2009.
He compiled a 204-261-72 record with the rebuilding Red Wings, where he was also an assistant coach along with assistantships with college programs at Miami (Ohio) and Ferris State.
As a youngster, he played goalie and helped the Sault Auto Parts team win the 1987 U.S. Hockey Tier II national championship before playing the position with FSU from 1994-98.
≤ Joe Casagranda of Crystal Falls — He won an astounding 1,123 harness races and earned about $3.2 million in his horse racing career, finishing in the top three in more than 40% of his races in a sport where 30% is considered outstanding.
He also built a reputation a horse trainer in addition to his racing, as his elite record was based on running in nearly 9,000 races despite often taking older, unsung horses and correcting their ailments and issues, turning them into top horses.
In 2017, his horse PV Miracle Mary broke a 12-year-old track record in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, and became the fastest horse in that state’s history.
He received the peer-chosen Dan Rathka Award as top horseman of the year, and in 2015 he was Michigan’s headliner of the year and Michigan Pacer of the Year.
“The U.P. followed me everywhere I went,” Casagranda said, “one of my best friends always called me Yoop, and Yoopers are the finest people to be around.”
≤ David Cvengros of Wakefield — A five-sport athlete at Wakefield High School, he earned 17 letters and teamed with UPSHF inductee Rom Gilbert to win two U.P. doubles titles in tennis. He played for three UPSHF coaches at Wakefield, then four seasons of basketball and tennis at Michigan Tech, where he became the first Huskies basketball player to reach 1,000 career points. He played for UPSHF inductee Verdie Cox in both sports at MTU.
“It’s an honor to be inducted, I owe my success to Bernie Cox,” Cvengros said. “I would also like to thank my family who is here to share this honor with me.”
≤ Chris Lett of Houghton — He was a two-time U.P. cross country champion at Houghton High School and twice named U.P. Runner of the Year, then won every mile and two-mile race in his final three years in track and field, claiming seven U.P. track championships.
After receiving a scholarship to run at Michigan State, he earned All-Big Ten and All-NCAA regional honors in both track and cross country.
During his collegiate career, he qualified for the 1996 Olympic Trials, and after graduating, won a pair of 10-mile Canal Run titles in Hancock, the 1997 Copperman Triathlon and has run in the Boston and Chicago marathons.
“It’s great to be home in the U.P., and also great to be a member of the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame,” Lett said.
≤ The late Don McDonald of Iron River — He compiled a 29-10-3 record coaching football at Stambaugh High School from 1962-67, then spent three years in the same position at West Iron County with a 17-6-1 mark and was U.P. football Coach of the Year in 1963. He helped steer the consolidation of Iron County schools into WIC and even came up with the school’s nickname, the Wykons.
And he also directed Bates High School to a Class E district basketball title in 1953.
After a two-year career as a starting point guard in high school basketball, he played baseball at Western Michigan University before joining the U.S. Navy.
“The team was always the theme for dad; he never ran up the score because sportsmanship was absolute to dad,” said his son, Kevin Mattson.
≤ Ginger Polich of Ironwood — She earned eight letters in track and field at Luther L. Wright High School in Ironwood, then won a dozen letters as a star runner at Amherst College in Massachusetts, twice winning All-America relay team honors.
She helped her Red Devils high school team win seven relay titles, and in 2002, won the U.P. title at 800 meters.
At Amherst, she set school 600 and 800 indoor track records and was part of its 4-by-800 relay school record setter. She also qualified to race in several events in the NCAA nationals.
“Growing up in the U.P. what a beautiful place to run; I’m thankful to my coaches and family members that supported me over the years,” Polich said.
≤ Lisa Twardzik of DeTour and Calumet — She earned 11 varsity letters at DeTour High School before spending two decades from 1997-2016 as volleyball coach at Calumet High School.
Posting a career record of 656-152-50, her Copper Kings’ teams won 10 conference titles, 11 district championships, 10 regional championships and three state semifinals appearances.
Her 2008 team was MHSAA Class C state runner-up.
“There are so many wonderful memories, to the athletic directors I worked with in Calumet thank you,” Twardzik said. “Coaching in the U.P. is special to me and ‘U.P. Power’ will always be my favorite chant.”