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Upper Peninsula great for sports

It’s summertime and that can be a time for mixed feelings for sports writers.

On the plus side, the weather is nice and you have more free time to relax. The negative side is that there’s not a lot going on in the world of sports and you can get stuck coming up with topics for feature stories and columns.

I felt the same way earlier this week as I struggled to come up with an idea that not only would readers find interesting, but also something that I’d enjoy writing about.

Then some guy from downstate decided to say something stupid.

In case you didn’t hear, Jim Costa from ESPN 96.1, which is based in Grand Rapids, decided on his podcast to go on a rant about how much he dislikes the Upper Peninsula. According to him, he went on a trip to Mackinaw City and then decided to venture over the Mackinac Bridge and into the U.P. Based on what he said next, you’d think he spent five minutes here.

Costa called the U.P. a “barren wasteland” and that it’s full of “desolation.” He also asked why do we have a U.P. and said that Michigan only has it because we can’t have Toledo. Costa also tried to regale us with his trip where he spent a brief time in Paradise and Tahquamenon Falls, which he wasn’t impressed with.

Are those comments starting to rile you up? Well, wait till you hear what he said next. He said after seeing Tahquamenon, he couldn’t “leave soon enough” and he hit the “eject button” on the trip. He was planning to check out Pictured Rocks, but he couldn’t bring himself to drive out there to see it at that point. If that wasn’t enough, he called the U.P. the “lesser peninsula,” and wondered if there’s running water, electricity or heating and cooling.

As his co-host pointed out, Costa has the fact that he is a Central Michigan graduate in his Twitter profile and that he will defend Mount Pleasant. His co-host also adds that Mount Pleasant is neither mountainous or pleasant, which was pretty funny.

I’ve listened to that radio segment twice now and I can’t figure out if Costa’s trying to trigger people into calling into the show on purpose, or if he genuinely feels this way. Either way, it’s kind of pathetic. First, if you have to say wild things on the air to get attention, that means your show isn’t worth listening to. Secondly, what kind of person assesses an entire area of the state after spending very little time in it? That’s like going to Chicago for a day and not going downtown to see the sights. Or it’s like flying to Los Angeles or San Francisco and only staying in the airport. Or going to New York City and turning around after getting to Long Island. It doesn’t make any sense and it makes your argument fall flat.

So hearing that Costa spent as little time as he possibly could up here in the U.P., let me enlighten him on what makes this place special. At least in terms of sports. First off, the beauty up here is hard to top and people love to experience it. You can’t walk down the street or drive through the peninsula without seeing someone riding their bike, or jogging along Lake Superior or Lake Michigan. I’ve seen people jumping off the Black Rocks in Marquette, kayaking around Presque Isle or hiking through the many forests up here. Even when winter rolls around about late October, or if we’re lucky mid-November, there’s still people out and about. Whether they’re cross country skiing, snow biking, snowmobiling, downhill skiing or simply just walking around and taking in the scenery, people love recreational sports up here.

Secondly, there’s hockey. There’s three Division I hockey programs up here and all three have passionate fanbases. Trust me, I’m well aware of it as the Northern Michigan University beat writer. Residents up here get behind their teams and will defend them to the death against outsiders or rival fanbases. Seeing the WCHA Championship game in person two years ago between NMU and Michigan Tech was something special. The Berry Events Center was packed with fans waving towels and both sides were cheering wildly. Kraft Hockeyville USA came up to Marquette in 2016 and the whole town got into the festivities. People loved watching Carolina and Buffalo do battle in Lakeview Arena and even though the game was kind of a dud, it was a great opportunity for the U.P. to show off its love for the sport. Now Hockeyville is coming back up here in a couple months to Calumet and I’m sure the passion will be just as high up in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The final thing that makes the U.P. special for sports is pride. Town pride up here is unmatched and it puts other states to shame. My high school couldn’t sell out its football games, but here the stadiums and gymnasiums are full each season. I’ll never forget watching Munising bring just about the entire town and probably another few towns with it down to Ford Field in Detroit back in 2014 for the MHSAA Division 8 state championship. The Mustang faithful and other Yooper fans took up four or five sections of the lower bowl, dwarfing Muskegon Catholic Central’s contingent of fans. It was the same for Ishpeming when the Hematites came down to Detroit in 2014 and 2015. They were loud both games and I remember writing stories for the front page of the Mining Journal the day after Ishpeming won the Division 7 title in 2015 where fans called the Hematites “their kids.” These people didn’t have teenagers on the team, but they saw them as their own kids, the town’s kids, and they wanted to provide their support. It’s hard to find a place where townspeople would say something like that.

Also, the U.P. is unique when it comes to pride. By that I mean, they share it with other towns. Fans up here love their local teams, but if their team gets eliminated in the playoffs, they rally behind the U.P. squads that are still alive.

When the Negaunee boys, Westwood boys, or Westwood girls basketball teams made it down to the state quarterfinals in the last three years, other fanbases got behind them.

When the Gwinn football team made the playoffs for the first time in years a couple of seasons ago, people were happy. I was at a football game in Negaunee and when the PA announced the Modeltowners had made the playoffs, people clapped loudly.

The Munising volleyball team made it down to Battle Creek two seasons ago for the state semifinals and people were backing the Mustangs to bring a title back above the bridge.

Back in March, when the Iron Mountain boys were robbed of a state title, just about the entire peninsula was upset over it. If the U.P. gets screwed over, you’re going to hear about it from a lot of people. The NFL, and now Mountain Dew, have found that out the hard way on Twitter with the former being unable to tell the difference between the U.P. and Lake Superior, and the latter thinking that we’re part of Wisconsin. I know the majority of football fans up here are Green Bay Packers fans, but c’mon now Mountain Dew.

Is the U.P. perfect? Of course not. Last winter when it was -30 degrees outside with the wind chill and I was digging my car out of a 2 foot drift of snow, I’ll admit I asked myself “Why am I living here?” and at that time, I don’t think anyone would blame me. I’m a big city kid and everybody up here who knows me is aware of that. I’m from the Twin Cities and I’m proud of that.

However, I am also proud that I live here. It’s gorgeous, the people are friendly and they’re just as passionate about sports as anywhere else in this country.

This is a fantastic place Jim Costa. There is cell phone service up here as well as running water, electricity and even this fancy new invention called air conditioning. It’s also a place that loves sports and recreation as much as anyone and there’s a lot of fun places to go. That is if you’re willing to look.

I invite you Jim to come up here and actually experience the U.P. for all it has to offer. I guarantee that if you spend more than a couple of hours up here, you’ll enjoy yourself, and if not, you can always stay below the bridge with the other trolls.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.