Pleasant surprise in U.P. Hall of Fame

I have to admit that I really wasn’t expecting it.

But when the news of Don Michaelson of L’Anse being selected for the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame came out last Saturday morning, I was pleasantly surprised.

I had been advocating Michaelson’s induction for a number of years, just as I had for such recent HOF picks as Wayne Sickler of Calumet and Rich Salani of Hancock.

The selection of Michaelson, known as “Dynamo Don” back in the day for his gridiron exploits, completes a clean sweep for a group of athletes who competed in what I consider the Golden Age of local sports.

Between 1969 and 1972, the Copper Country produced a superior group of athletes at many schools.

For one, you had Mike Usitalo of Calumet, who possessed what was arguably the hardest slap-shot ever seen in local hockey ranks, went straight from the CLK Wolverines to Michigan Tech.

Usitalo was an immediate star for the Huskies and even made Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd section after he scored three hat tricks in a row. Only a serious knee injury kept him from succeeding at a higher level.

Salani was an all-around athlete at Hancock High, starring in football, basketball and track. He and teammate, Bill Tarbox, excelled in the high hurdles at the U.P. Finals.

An elusive quarterback in his prep days, he was offered a scholarship at Michigan State as a punter.

Michaelson’s teammate at L’Anse, Fred Teddy, was so accomplished a distance runner that he gained a scholarship offer at MSU.

Teddy said he used to run from his home in Alberta to L’Anse (about 10 miles one way) a couple of times a day just to prepare for his track and cross country days.

Then you had Gary Lange at Houghton High, who led the Gremlins to great success on the basketball court for two seasons.

Lange had the ability to race to a spot on the floor and elevate suddenly for his shot. He averaged 31 points a game in his senior season.

Recruited to play at Michigan Tech, Lange went on to score more than 1,000 points in his career.

Just down the road at Ewen-Trout Creek, there was a great group of athletes who went undefeated in winning a state basketball championship in 1972.

The star of the team was a skilled 6-foot-4 center named Gary Fors. Fors would go on to set records at Lake Superior State.

It’s very comforting to see our local standouts gain the recognition they richly deserve.

The hard work of such local Hall of Fame representatives as Bob Erkkila of Calumet, Suzanne Sanreget of Houghton and Ted Kearly of Hancock almost certainly played a major role.

Hopefully, the trend in HOF voting will continue because there are such deserving people as Roland Antila of White Pine, Fritz Wilson of Houghton and Leo Durocher of Stanton still unrecognized.