Kentala: Good coverage matters, and Upbeat has it

11/14/2018 | Column | By Jesse Kentala

I remember it vividly, as if it just happened yesterday. I remember walking out of the men’s locker room at Michigan Tech and overhearing players from the MTU women’s team saying, “I wish we got crowds like this.” And I remember walking to the concession stand to buy a water (part of my traditional pregame ritual) and seeing a line so long I didn’t dare wait. And I remember making my way back to the Dollar Bay side and seeing the SDC gymnasium at near capacity for a JV game and thinking to myself that this must be the most well-attended JV game in the history of JV games. And the people — spilling out everywhere — even sitting on the hardwood just to get a seat. And I remember the game: fast-paced, skilled and fun. I remember both teams playing with class and pride, just so thankful to be on that stage creating memories that would last a lifetime.

What an indescribable feeling it was. And then I remember thinking, ‘We sold out Michigan Tech.’ Hell, even Michigan Tech doesn’t sell out Michigan Tech. The number we received for attendance was 3,276, but MTU had to revamp its ticketing policies after our game, so I assume it was more. And lastly, after the pictures and hugs and congratulations, I remember the interview with Eden Laase from the Daily Mining Gazette. I remember Eden asking me questions about our junior point guard Brendan LeClaire and what made him such a dynamic leader and thinking to myself, ‘Finally, we have reporters who see what I see. We have reporters who understand sports — reporters who truly care about the story.’ 

And now, as the Blue Bolts and I prepare for another season of high school basketball, I often think of that game and ask the question ‘Why?’ Why did 3,500 people come out on a cold Wednesday in February to see two class D high school basketball teams? Here’s the best answer(s) I can come up with:

  1. The most obvious reason is there were two terrific teams playing, both ranked No. 1 in the Upper Peninsula and highly ranked in the state polls as well.
  2. Jake Witt. It has been a long time since the Upper Peninsula has seen the size, strength and ability of a player of Jake’s caliber. And he dunks. And he’s probably the nicest kid on the planet. 
  3. As far as Upper Peninsula basketball is concerned, Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay have a history of being premier basketball schools, so I felt it was great to have these two programs square off on the big stage, which I think brought out the crowd. 
  4. I know I’m biased here, but Dollar Bay had some fantastic players: Devin Schmitz, Jaden Janke and Jacob Iacono to name a few, who are all playing college basketball currently. The skill on the floor that night was high.

But the biggest reason why this game, and Upper Peninsula sports in general, received this kind of attention was the reporting that was done by Bryce Derouin and Eden while working for the Daily Mining Gazette. It is said that every writer needs a story. And for the Dollar Bay Blue Bolts, our season was a bit of a perfect storm. We were coming off of a one-point loss to the greatest team in the history of the Upper Peninsula: the three-time defending state champion North Central Jets. We had our entire starting lineup returning, we had worked hard all offseason, and we had Bryce and Eden writing for the DMG. 

And let’s be honest, athletes in the UP, particularly the Copper Country, just don’t receive the kind of recognition that players from other areas of the state and country receive. We are just too small and we don’t play the level of competition that other schools do. Our players have to travel three hours to Gladstone 2-3 times a week just to participate in AAU basketball. 

But this doesn’t mean our athletes can’t compete. I believe last season proved that UP boys basketball is alive and well, as are other sports (Calumet football, Chassell girls basketball, etc). But I firmly believe that much of the success we had last year and the scholarships our players received and attention our team garnered was due to the reporting done by Bryce and Eden. People still talk with me about how much attention was paid to our season. I’m the counselor at Dollar Bay Schools, and my office is filled with full-page cutouts and articles from last season’s Gazette. Coaches from all over the Midwest contacted me about Jaden and Devin, recruiting them based on articles they’ve read and stories they’ve heard.

And it was the tireless dedication and attention to detail that I admired most from last season’s sports section. I don’t think people outside the sporting world understand just how much time and passion and effort that coaches and players put into each season. And Bryce and Eden were special. They understood this, and they also understood the importance of how each sport and each season positively impacted these players and community. Their dedication to local sports coverage is simply the GOAT — greatest of all time. 

And in closing, the game at Michigan Tech wouldn’t have happened without Bryce and Eden. I’ll go as far as to even say that I’m not sure we go undefeated without the support and writing of Bryce and Eden. Last season our players felt how important each game was simply by reading the sports section.  And for last season, that glorious season, everyone talked about high school basketball. It was truly the perfect storm.