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Some legends get overlooked/Paul Peterson

June 12, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

While doing some recent research in the dusty files on former Houghton High athlete Ron Nettell, I realized that some sports legends sometimes fall through the cracks.

By that, I mean that these standouts have been missed for one reason or another.

The case of Nettell is a good example. A standout in football, track and hockey at Houghton - and later at Michigan Tech - in the late 1940s, he played in an era when media coverage was somewhat spotty.

By spotty, I mean there was no radio or television coverage back then. And newspaper coverage, while adequate, was not even close to what you have today.

So, it was not completely a surprise to me that I hadn't heard a great deal about Nettell.

Sure, former Gazette sportswriter Dick Loranger often told me that Nettell was as fine an athlete as he ever saw. And whenever I did updates on the Houghton-Hancock football rivalry, his name popped up for doing something spectacular.

After all, I was all of 1 year old when Nettell led the Gremlins to a 7-1 football record in 1947.

That led me to recall some other sports standouts that have been overlooked over the years.

Roger Ryynanen of Jeffers played basketball in the early 1950s and was the first of the really "big scorers."

It was said that Ryynanen could shoot and make shots from halfcourt with relative ease. He scored 50 points on at least three occasions in an era when teams were lucky to score that many in a game.

Ryynanen went on to play hoops at Suomi College and helped the Lions score one of the largest upsets in local sports history in a startling win over Northern Michigan in 1957.

Bill Fish of L'Anse played baseball for the town team in the 1930s and 1940s in the old Northern Michigan-Wisconsin League. It is said that Fish walloped some of the longest home runs ever seen in the region.

The late John 'No-Hit' Wiitanen of Houghton had the opportunity to pitch against the tall and lanky Fish. He often said the longest homer he ever allowed was hit by Fish in an All-Star game in Crystal Falls.

"The ball started climbing around second base and hit a water tower about 420 feet away," Wiitanen once told me. "I was happy that it wasn't hit on a lower trajectory."

The late Bob Borsum of Dollar Bay was an outstanding basketball player in the 1940s. But he was also a superb fast-pitch softball player who played for several different teams.

In 1948 exhibition game in Lake Linden against the famed "King and His Court," Borsum had the chance to face Eddie Feigner in his prime.

"He (Feigner) was throwing bullets that night," Borsum recalled. "I got a foul ball off him ... and felt pretty darn good about it."

As far as hockey players go, the late Rudy "Weiner" Zunich of Calumet is another player who has been overlooked.

Zunich was good enough to play in a few games with the Detroit Red Wings and played in the tough Detroit Industrial League in the 1930s.

Zunich was a regular on northend teams that featured the more well-known Johnny Whittaker and Frank "Puppy" Gresnick. But he was a steady hockey player who did all the little things on the ice.

The above four are just a few of the local athletes who have somehow escaped much notice.

 
 

 

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