I was warned many times about taking a job in the Upper Peninsula, especially since I had never even been there before.
“Do you know how cold it is up there?”
“They get so much snow up there!”
“Summer lasts about a month up there! What are you going to do?”
People tried to scare me about coming to the UP, but obviously those people have never spent much time here. The picture they painted was bleak: Marquette would be a one-stoplight town, they might have to fly in groceries until the ice roads form, you’ll have to use sled dogs to get to work. Surprisingly, none of that turned out to be true.
Even once I got to the UP, people tried to scare me.
“Oh, just wait until the real snow comes.”
“This is a piece of cake compared to what I’m used to.”
It turned out to be a piece of cake for me, too. Never needed sled dogs to get to work, never got stuck in a snowdrift, didn’t hit any deer and I didn’t get frostbite. I actually enjoyed my first winter up here in the UP. Most of that was due to basketball, of course.
I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the level of play in high school basketball in the UP. There is a general bias downstate that UP basketball players can’t compete with players below the bridge, they were all slow and nonathletic and overall the games would be boring. Those people obviously haven’t heard of that unbeaten North Central team. They obviously haven’t seen Carson Wonders or Trent Bell play. Those sentiments couldn’t be further from the truth.
The intensity level of every game far surpassed most of the high school basketball I watched back home. My first game behind the mic turned out to be one of the most exciting: an overtime thriller between Westwood and Gwinn, complete with a buzzer-beater, plenty of lead changes and bruising inside play. It only took that one game to get me excited for UP basketball.
The excitement in the stands at every game and in the cities around high school basketball was something I wasn’t used to. Just about every team has a commercial radio station covering their games, unheard of in metro Detroit. If there was a close game, it made the front page of the sports section the next day, unheard of in metro Detroit. High school games dominated the sports segments of news shows, something that also took me by surprise. People talked about games all over the UP, told me about all these great players I had to go see from all over the UP. All of this made my job a whole lot easier and much more enjoyable.
Every coach I’ve met so far was genuinely excited about their team and it showed in every interview. Westwood fans fondly remember Kurt Corcoran’s emotional post-game speech after his Patriots beat undefeated Norway on the road (they still won’t let him forget that he cried on the radio). You don’t see that kind of passion and genuine love for the game in many places, but I definitely saw it here. The Gwinn girls started the season 0-12, but you’d never know it listening to coach Ben Olsen talk about his players every week on the Coaches Show. He gave one of the most heartfelt, honest and inspiring senior night speeches I could remember.
That kind of passion is what makes me excited to cover all these basketball games and to call the UP my new home. You can try to scare me all you want about how brutal next winter will be, but it’s not going to work. Those hours in the gym will keep me warm through whatever impending blizzard you predict will hit Marquette.