A look back: Local prep football award recipients from 1949-79
IRON MOUNTAIN — Each fall since 1949, after the high school football sea- son, the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscast- ers meet to select an All-UP football team.
Though the format has changed over the years, the group of media members also gives out various special awards each year.
A series of articles will focus on area teams, players and coaches, as well as area natives, recognized for their accomplishments.
The first segment will highlight from 1949-1979; for the majority of this era, there was no postseason. The MHSAA football playoffs started in 1975 with only 16 total teams making the play- offs, four teams per class: A, B,C,D.
Starting off in 1949, the Player of the Year selection was Melvin Holmes of Stam- baugh. The Hilltoppers were also named Team of the Year in ’49 with a 7-0-1 record.
In 1950, the Player of the Year award stayed in Iron County; Mickey McMahon of Iron River was the selec- tion. The Redskins’ head coach Harry Monson was namedCoachoftheYear, also winning the same award in 1952 and 1953.
Beginning with the 1951 season, the U.P.S.S.A began selecting an overall U.P. Lineman of the Year and an overall Back of the Year; using the same selection for- mat through 1970.
John Ganga of Iron Mountain was the area’s first ever Lineman of the Year selection, in 1952. In 1953, Stambaugh’s Tom Shepich was tabbed as a the U.P’s best lineman.
In 1954, an 8-0 Iron Riv- er squad received the Team of the Year selection, Eddie Verga received the Back of the Year nod, and Gene Tomasucci was selected as Lineman of the Year. It was a clean sweep for the undefeat- ed Redskins.
The 7-1 Kingsford Flivvers were the Team of the Year selection in 1955, while crosstown rival Iron Mountain had the Back of the Year in Ron Steiner. Flivvers’ head coach Rae Drake brought the Coach of the Year award back to the area in 1956, after a brief absence.
Staying on the Maize and Blue side of Woodward Avenue,1957sawKings- ford’s Paul Dee Arras named as Back of the Year. Also in 1957, Kingsford’s Dave Manders was named the Lineman of the Year.
Manders went on to play college football at Michigan State, playing both ways as a
center and linebacker. He went on to play 12 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, earning a Pro Bowl selection as a center 1966 and was a member of Dallas’ Super Bowl VI winning team.
Iron Mountain’s Pete Wonders was the Lineman of the Year selection in 1959, while Mountaineer head coach Russell Bruce was tabbed Coach of the Year.
Skipping ahead to 1962, long-time future Kingsford head coach in various sports, Don Edens Jr., was named Back of the Year.
The following two sea- sons, 1963 and 1964, Kings- ford earned the Team of the Year award, with an 8-0 record in ’63, while finishing 7-1 in 1964. The Flivvers’ only loss was to arch rival Iron Mountain in the infa- mous 6-0 upset of 1964. Some consider it one of the biggest upsets in Upper Peninsula history, although it’s been said that Iron Moun- tain was highly underrated. Kingsford was ranked No. 1 in the state at the time.
The aforementioned 1964 upset contributed to Moun- taineers’ head coach George Gusick being named Coach of the Year that season.
Also in ’63 and ’64, Kingsford running back Dick BerlinskiwasnamedBackof the Year. Berlinski was named as a national All- American running back in 1964, moving on to play football at Michigan State as well.
In 1965, Kingsford’s Jeff Gill was the Lineman of the Year selection; an undefeated 8-0seasonearnedtheCrystal Falls Trojans the Team of the Year award.
Rudy Steiner of Iron Mountain was the 1967 Back of the Year selection.
Moving ahead to 1971, the 8-0 Norway Knights, led by Coach of the Year Gene Melchori, were named as Class C-D Team of the Year. The Knights who outscored opponents 235-20, were led up front by Class C-D Line- man of the Year Steve Mel- chori.
Crystal Falls-Forest Park took home both of the Class CD special player awards in 1972. Mike Flood was named Back of the Year, whileteammateNormJohn- son was the Lineman of the Year selection.
Iron Mountain’s Gene Carollo Jr. was named the Class AB Lineman of the Year in 1973. Forest Park’s Paul Danielson was the Class CDLinemanoftheYear selection the same season.
In 1974, most of UPSSA’s special awards went to Iron County. The Class AB Team of the Year selection was the 8-1 West Iron County Wykons, with Class AB Coach of the Year
Chuck Greenlund at the helm.
Also in Class AB, the Back of the Year award went to WIC’s Bobby Tomasoski, while his teammate Ricky Erickson was named Line- man of the Year. The Class D Lineman of the Year selec- tion in ’74 was Russell John- son of Forest Park.
The first year of the MHSAA state football play- offs arrived in 1975, with two U.P. teams capturing state championships — Ish- peming in Class C and Forest Park in Class D. The Trojans cruised past Flint Holy Rosary 50-0 at Western Michigan University in Kala- mazoo.
The unique thing about the ’75 season was that two U.P teams completed unde- feated 9-0 seasons, and did not qualify for the playoffs — Norway and Marquette.
Norway, selected as Class C Team of the Year, defeated eventual Class D state cham- pion Forest Park 14-13 at Crystal Falls in Week 3 of the regular season. That defeat was the only blemish on the Trojans’ 10-1 record. They were selected as Class D Team of the Year.
Also in 1975, Norway head coach Bob Giannunzio was named Class C Coach of theYear,whileLoren Danielson of the Knights was named Class C Lineman of the Year.
Dick Mettlach of Forest Park was named Class D Coach of the Year, with For- est Park sweeping the Class D special awards. Eventual Forest Park head coach Bill SantilliwasnamedBackof the Year, while Bryan LaChapelle was named Line- man of the Year.
In 1976, Forest Park repeated as Class D state champions, defeating Flint Holy Rosary 14-6 at the Pon- tiac Silverdome. The Trojans also repeated as Class D Team of the Year with a 10- 1 record. Charles Davis of FP was named Class D Lineman of the Year.
The Trojans lone loss in the ’76 season was at unde- feated 9-0 Norway in Week 3 of the regular season. Nor- way once again missed mak- ing the Class C playoffs, though Giannunzio repeated asClassCU.P.Coachofthe Year.
The ’76 Knights were named Class C State Team of the Year, while Giannunzio was named State Coach of the Year.
In 1977, the area was well representedwithUPSSAspe- cial awards, sweeping the three Team of the Year awards. AB accolades went to the 7-2 Kingsford Flivvers; the Class C selec- tion was 8-1 West Iron County and undefeated 9-0 Forest Park snared their third
consecutive Class D team honors.
Glen Dobson of West Iron was named as Class C Line- man of the Year in ’77, while the Class D lineman selection was also in Iron County, with the Trojans’ Charles Corbett being the pick. Forest Park junior Dan Lato was named Class D Back of the Year for two consecutive seasons in ’77 and ’78.
Also in 1977, Forest Park’s Mettlach was named Class D Coach of the Year, while also being selected as State Coach of the Year in the same season. The Trojans and the Wykons both lost in state championship games at the Silverdome.
WIC lost to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 48-12, while For- est Park played Flint Holy Rosary for the third consecu- tive season; though the third time was unfortunately a charm for the Flint team, slip- ping past FP 21-20.
For the fourth straight sea- son in 1978, the Trojans were named Class D Team of the Year, finishing the regular season 9-0.
They once again advanced to the Class D championship game at the Silverdome, falling 38-14 to Detroit DePorres. John Casanova of the Trojans was named LinemanoftheYearin Class D.
Norway native Ron Warn- er was named as 1978 Class D Coach of the Year, leading the Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes to an undefeated 9-0 record, outscoring opponents 232-26, and clinching the Lakes’ first ever playoff birth. TheyweredefeatedbyForest Park in the first round of the playoffs.
For the fifth straight sea- son in 1979, a U.P. team reached the state champi- onship game in Class D. This time it was Norway, whose enrollment dropped for a handful of years, beginning with the ’79-’80 school year. It was also Norway’s first ever playoff appearance.
The Knights reached the Silverdome and captured the state championship defeating Schoolcraft 21-6. Finishing with a 11-1 record, they were named Class D Team of the Year. Norway’s lone loss was a Week 5 home setback to eventualClassCstatecham- pion Ishpeming.
The Class D Back of the Year in ’79 was Gerard Vale- sano of Forest Park, and the Lineman of the Year in Class D was John Hogberg of Nor- way. Also in 1979, Nor- way’sGiannunziowas named State Coach of the Year for the second time in four years, while the Knights were named U.P Class D Team of the Year.
The next segment will highlight 1980-1999.