One word keeps coming to mind

Full disclosure from the outset: I did not sit and watch the NHL’s reveal of “Hockeyville USA.” I fully admit that I was enjoying a quiet Sunday of trying to find a goaltender for my hockey rental in the evening and playing a computer game about taming dinosaurs.

When my phone buzzed, I looked down and saw that I had a call coming in from our managing editor. Upon answering, I discovered why he was calling me on a Sunday afternoon, but the reality of it had not set in. After I got off the phone with him, I immediately put a call in to the guy who had been texting me on Saturday to vote, Michael Babcock of Finlandia University and the Calumet Wolverines.

As we talked our way through the shock, a reason why this had all happened starting bouncing around my head. However, I was not ready to embrace that reason just yet.

Then I stepped into Dollar Bay-Tamarack City High School Monday evening and was hit with it again. I ran into Dollar Bay athletic director Ted Holmstrom (I seem to be running into him a lot lately) and we got to talking. By the time I finally got into the gym, there were screams of delight coming from the gym floor. The screams were of joy as the Blue Bolts’ varsity and junior varsity teams were on the floor playing a loose form of basketball with kids of all ages and sizes.

Along the bleachers were a large group of parents, some watching their kids play, others talking amongst themselves. Over the course of the hour I was there, I talked with senior Brendan LeClaire and coach Jesse Kentala.

As I was driving home later, I was struck again in the back of my mind by that reason that the Colosseum was named “Hockeyville.” Again, I was not ready to embrace it.

As I sat down to write up a story on the Dollar Bay thank you story that we ran last week, I was finally ready to embrace what had been bouncing around in my head for months, actually. The concept I was wrestling with was community.

I’ve written all of this down in order to get to the heart of exactly what community means, at least locally, when it comes to sports.

As Houghton hockey, Dollar Bay boys basketball and Baraga girls basketball were making their lengthy postseason trips, I started to really think about what community means and how each of those three teams embraced it.

I was struck first by the picture of the Vikings after they won the district title. Normally, teams pose with the trophy, and that tradition has become the gold standard after title games. The Vikings, however, chose to pose with fans, friends and family. It breathed life into what Baraga had just accomplished.

After they won the regional title, the photo was more rehearsed, yet also more chaotic, again bringing life to this special group of young women who were thriving under the direction of Co-Coach of the Year Tom Goodreau. I was mesmerized by the photo.

Goodreau talked this season about rebuilding a sense of respect for the program. It seemed, the longer the season went on, other Vikings, old and young, who lived in the area were taking notice and supporting the team through the playoffs.

Thinking about that drew me back to a photo David Archambeau took at a Finlandia men’s hockey game this season. The picture was one of a celebration after a Lions’ goal. There was a normal giant hockey hug in which all five guys on the ice came together to celebrate, with the last one clearly jumping in the air as he reached his teammates.

What makes that photo special was not the hockey hug, but rather, what was happening behind it, on the other side of the glass. The Lions’ baseball team, in full uniform, including a catcher in full padding, were jumping and screaming as they were celebrating with the hockey guys.

What baseball coach Evan Brandt has started with his team at other teams’ games, should be commended, as they are beginning to build up a sense of community at the university.

Monday’s event in Dollar Bay was a way for the Blue Bolts to give back to the community that has supported them through building up over Kentala’s 12 seasons at the helm, including two very long playoff runs over the past two seasons.

The “Hockeyville” announcement is another feather in the community cap for the area. I fully admit to voting as often as I could for it, and I don’t even live in Calumet. I love that barn, probably not as much as the kids who have grown up there themselves, but I have always enjoyed being there.

One last thought on community that has been fascinating to me is one that was actually brought to my attention by Isaac Avery, another Wolverines player and one who skates on my rental on Sunday evenings during the hockey season, community is actually bigger than just the town where the team is located.

Most of the schools in the area are very competitive every year in most sports, making a district title very hard to earn. Once a team does get out of the area, the entire area rallies around that team as they move on to regional play. From there, they rally more support if they win the region. By the time a team moves on to a quarterfinal or a semifinal, they have the whole U.P. behind them.

This phenomenon also rang true for the “Hockeyville” voting as people across the U.P. were voting for the Colosseum. Of course, we also saw the entire area, really the entire U.P. come together after the devastating flooding last Summer.

Community is something very special.