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1972: A pivotal year for local sports/Paul Peterson

July 3, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

In gathering information this week for a story on the reunion of the 1972 state championship Butch's Standard women's softball team, it struck me that year was a very pivotal one for sports in the Copper Country.

Change was definitely in the air 40 years ago. I know it was for me after finishing a three-year hitch in the service, and not having been home for more than two years.

The Copper Country I returned to in 1972 was changing quickly.

Sure, the staples of the area were still there. The Lode in Houghton and the Pic in Hancock were still offering the latest in movies. There were still drive-in movies being shown at the Hiawatha in Chassell and the Lakes Drive-in in Lake Linden.

Ed Haas was still selling clothes in Houghton and Weber's Sporting Goods was the main place to find athletic equipment in Houghton County. And Bosch Beer was still being churned out at the Houghton Canal plant.

The stretch of M-26 from Houghton to South Range was devoid of any fast food places -- being just a narrow two-lane highway with trees on both sides.

Sports was being dominated by the usual powerhouses. The Bosch Beer fast-pitch softball team was in the final stages of a long domination of the then-popular sport as stalwarts like John "Topper" Ricci, John Vencato and Bill Dix showed the way.

And slow-pitch softball, a variation of fast-pitch, was just emerging. There was no league then, just a few teams playing in a Community Schools program. That would change a year later as the sport began exploding.

The C.C. Twilight League had eight teams in it, with Bancroft the team usually to beat. Manager Merv Klemett relied on a solid squad of seasoned veterans.

But a young and upcoming Superior National Bank squad, led by Rick Miller, Doug Larson and Dennis Raasio, was on the verge of taking over.

Michigan Tech was still fielding strong hockey and football teams in 1972. John MacInnes had a brand new rink for his teams to play on as the MTU Student Ice Arena had opened in December of 1971.

The Tech football team was also on the cusp of some very good seasons as a talented tailback by the name of Jim VanWagner would arrive soon.

Local prep basketball was still strong and Ewen-Trout Creek had just won a Class D state championship -- the last for a western U.P. school.

The fledgling Lake Superior Hockey Conference was finding its way on the local scene under coaches like Don Miller of Houghton. The league, formed a couple of years before, would soon be a major player locally.

With the passage of the federally mandated legislation Title IX that year, girls sports had also just entered the fray. No one could predict the huge impact that girls basketball and track would have.

The Butch's Standard team had been formed a couple of years before, but was the class of the local league. Women's softball, once popular in the 1950s, was just regaining its stature.

The Chassell team was strong up the middle with pitcher Lois Larson a stellar hurler. Millie Pyorala, Joyce Hietala and and Chris Larson provided the offense.

Butch's went to downstate Coldwater and dominated the field. That triumph would set up three decades of dominance for the team. Between 1972-78, the team won a remarkable 73 league games in a row.

As noted baladeer Bob Dylan had noted a few years before, the times they were a-changing ...



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