Every town or city can be associated with something that takes or has taken place there. Take Detroit, for example. It is remembered as the automobile capitol of the world and for its sports—especially the successful years of the Detroit Red Wings, Lions, and the World Series champions Detroit Tigers. With Sault Ste. Marie, one thinks of the Soo Locks. Associated with Ironwood, Bessemer, and Wakefield are the great ski slopes of the Midwest. Ishpeming had the Flying Bietila brothers, who are now in the Ski Hall of Fame. Sports are connected, in one way or another, with any city or town you speak of, whether basketball, baseball, football, etc.
Trout Creek is no exception. It has been noted for its great teams in basketball and baseball since way back in 1917-18. In those days there were no classes designated in high school (A-B-C-D). That year Trout Creek lost to Ishpeming in the U.P. Finals. The players were Wayne Gingrich; Duncan Cameron (member of the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame who coached at Marquette High School after he graduated from Western Michigan University); Paul Sliger (father of Bernard Sliger, the current President of Florida State University); Sherman Gingrich (brother of Wayne); Ed Cameron (brother of Duncan); Tom Bright; and Lea Phelps (the coach and also a superintendent of the Trout Creek School).
In the years following the 1917-18 team, the sports program was a little on the down side. Because there was no gym to practice and play in, the old Town Hall was used. It was small and cold with no showers; the players had to dress at school or at home. They were a hardy bunch of kids.
The sports program started to pick up in the 1930's. Due to the efforts of Superintendent Butterfield and Edward Cameron, Sr., with the help of W.P.A. Labor, a new school building addition, including a gym, was built. That was the year the little country schools consolidated into the Trout Creek School System (1930-31). Basketball and baseball teams in high school didn't come around until the year 1935. That year the baseball team had to play the larger schools like Bessemer, Wakefield, and Ironwood (who would not play Trout Creek—possibly too much to lose)!. They also played Watersmeet, Ontonagon, Bergland, and Ewen; holding their own against all comers. Coach George Kuhn was also the superintendent.
Basketball was the high note for 1935. Trout Creek won the District Tournament by beating Alpha in the first round and Marenisco in the finals. Moving on to the U.P. Finals, they won the championship by defeating Champion. Almost all the boys played on both the baseball and basketball teams. Al Kircher was the coach with starters Gilbert Coss, center; Elmer Knivila, Urho Heikkala, and Louis Bessen alternating at forward; and Rudy Saari and Benny Manning as the guards. Knivila was perhaps the captain.
Basketball in those days was a lot different than now. After every successful field goal and free throw, the ball came back to center court for a center jump. Also, there were no ten second line, three seconds in the free throw lane, or five seconds to get the ball out of bounds. The fast break and the one hand jump shot were never seen as they are today. The offense was a set type with screens and rolls, and a tight man-to-man defense was most frequently used. Only four fouls were allowed .
All that changed in 1936. The ten-second rule came into effect. It was called the Jack Kramer Rule after a football and basketball coach from Ironwood who was on the rule's committee. He later became a very proficient baseball commissioner in the Interstate Baseball League.
In 1936 Trout Creek lost to Bergland in the District Finals. Some excellent ball players were lost to graduation: Elmer Knivila, Gilbert Coss, Rudy Saari, Urho Heikkala, and George Porter. They were replaced by some excellent freshmen and sophomores: Jim Madden, Harris Warner, Bill Nelson, and Walter Nelson, who helped in the next year to win Trout Creek's second U.P. Championship. They were also on Trout Creek's very first football team, losing to Wakefield (73-0), Hurley (56-0), Marenisco (54-0) and Baraga (54-0). None of Trout Creek's players had ever seen a football game, let alone played in one. The next year, however, was very different in football.
By 1937 the Little Five Conference was formed, which is now the Porcupine Mountain Conference, and Trout Creek won the football and basketball championships. In 1937 Trout Creek's record was 12-3 during the basketball season. That year Trenary was supposed to have the power in Class D; Trout Creek had them scheduled for two games. In the first game, played in Trenary, Trout Creek won by 15 points. In the return game played in Trout Creek, the home team won by 10 points. The District Tournaments were held in Wakefield and Trout Creek beat Alpha, then Bergland in the finals. At half time of the final game, Trout Creek was leading 12-10; those 12 coming from one field goal and 10 free throws. The final score was 42-16.
The finals were played in Ironwood and Trout Creek had to play three games to get there. Trenary had to play Hermansville in the semifinals and Hermansville was undefeated by that time. Trenary beat them in overtime and then Trout Creek went on to beat Trenary for the third time that season by the score 42-20. The players on that team were starters Harris Warner and Don McDonald at guards; Louis Bessen and Bill Nelson at forwards, and Ben Manning at center. Others were Walt Nelson, Jim Madden, Roy Bessen, and Ernest Bessen, with Coach Al Kircher. Louis Bessen, Don McDonald, and Ben Manning made the All-Tournament Team that year. Louis Bessen was the captain.
The 1938-39-40 basketball and football teams were good, but played into some bad luck in the tournaments. Trout Creek lost in the Districts in 1938 and 1939 and lost in the first round in Marquette to Hermansville in 1940. The war years were pretty lean for sports in all schools. With the gasoline rationing, the schools only played the teams in their own area, like Ewen, Bergland, Ontonagon, Mass City, and Watersmeet. After the war, the basketball and baseball programs did not do so well.
It wasn't until the late 40's and into the middle 50's when the program started picking up. Those were the years of Ronnie Manning, Bernhart Carlisle, Norman Johnson, Don Mackey, Ronnie Sloma, and Joe McLaughlin. A record was set when Mackey, Sloma, and McLaughlin, playing on the same team, each scored 1,000 points in four years. Other players included Allan and Bruce Knivila, Vernon Almquist, John and Jim Vlahos, Arnie Besonen, Jim and Bob Manning, Fred Nardi, Bruce Cameron, and Don Tahtinen. Basketball really started to come around in the 1960's with others like Eugene DeVowe, George Cottenham, and Bob Gale. The 1966-67 team, which was the last before consolidation with Ewen, had players Don Besonen, Richard Pole, Dan Perttula, Jerry Leaf, Phillip Maki, Bruce Hautamaki, and Wayne and William Hiitola. In the 1970's local boys playing on Ewen-Trout Creek varsity teams included Alan Bessen, Bryan and Paul Besonen, Jim Leaf, John Hardes, and Michael Carlisle.
Trout Creek always enthusiastically supported its athletes when they played for the Trout Creek Anglers and the Ewen Trout Creek Panthers. Some of the more recent players to be remembered include: Bruce Knivila played high school basketball in 1956-59 and then graduated from Michigan Tech in 1963. He was the captain for the Tech Huskies basketball team in 1962-63, when they won their first championship of the North State College Conference.
Jim Manning had a notable basketball career in high school. He was held under 10 points in only one game. He scored 27 points against Pierce of Marquette, which was his 42nd game in a row that he scored 20 or more; his high school total was 2,137. In a game against Mass City, he and Almquist totaled 92 points in defeating them 112-91. After graduation he became the property of the Minnesota Twins and played in the minor leagues before playing major league baseball for Minnesota.
The Trout Creek Anglers lost to Covert (74-62) in the State Class D Finals in 1966. Bob Gale scored 40 points in the game, the fourth highest point total in a championship game in Michigan basketball history. After high school, he played basketball at Michigan State University.
Donald Besonen averaged over 30 points a game as a senior in 1967 and at Winona State University he was a four-year starter and captain in 1970-71. He was listed among the 1971 "Outstanding Athletes of America."
Dick Pole played basketball at Trout Creek and played major league baseball with the Boston Red Sox. He pitched in the 1975 World Series and then went to the Seattle Mariners. He is a pitching coach with the Chicago Cubs and was inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame in March 1988.
In 1972 there were many Trout Creek boys on the Ewen-Trout Creek Panthers Class D State Championship team, coached by Tom Caudill. The team defeated Flint Holy Rosary at Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena by a 74-62 score. Team members were Bryan and Carl Besonen, Michael Carlisle, George Hardes, and Mike McLaughlin.
David Besonen played four years for Ewen-Trout Creek, leading the Panthers to the State Championship final game where they lost to Covert, 105-94. He scored 884 points during the 1982 season, an all-time high for U.P. cagers. He was an All-State, finishing his career with 1,924 points. He was a starter for the Michigan Tech Huskies, graduating in 1986. Other Trout Creek players on the 1982 team were Derrick Stenson and John Cottenham.
Trout Creek was also noted for very fine baseball teams during the fifties and sixties. They entered the Interstate League and won two championships and five Eastern Division Championships, playing teams from Montreal, Gile, and Hurley, Wisconsin, and Ironwood, Bergland, Marenisco, Watersmeet, Ontonagon, Mass City, Greenland, Bruce Crossing, and Covington.
This sports section was compiled, in part, by Ben Manning with the hope the readers will find it interesting. Your forbearance will be appreciated if names have been omitted unintentionally or if the dates and statistics are not accurate. However, credit is due all the young men and women who participated and left these wonderful memories of the past for our History Book 1988 in our Centennial Year.
In 1973, Sandy Manning, a very talented player, was an All Conference member of the first Class D State Championship team. Laura and Lina Kariainen were also chosen to the All Conference team. Mary Bessen played girls varsity basketball from 1974-77, earning All-Conference honors for three years, scoring 306 points in her senior year.
Dena Stenson had 927 career points and had many honors in 1983-84, such as All-U.P. first team and All-State honorable mention.
Jane Bessen had 387 career points; as a senior in 1982, she was selected to the All-Conference team in both the Great Western Conference and the Porcupine Mountain Conference.
Melanie (Metas) Gerber, having roots in Interior Township, had a memorable sports career in high school. She was selected All-Conference in the GWC and PMC for three years; All-U.P. two years. Her records include most points in a game (44), most rebounds in a game (37), and she scored 1,017 points in three years.
Brenda Miller played basketball from 1981-83, scoring a total of 407 points. In 1983, she was chosen as All-Conference in both conferences, and was chosen as the winner of the James Fleming Award, given annually to the outstanding senior female basketball player.
Theresa Pelkola was on the PMC and GWC All-Conference teams for three years; two years on the District All Tournament team; an All-State selection, and the U.P. Class D Player of the Year in 1986. As a senior she broke Sandy Manning's career scoring record at E-TC, having amassed a total of 1,324 points. She is currently a freshman at Northern Michigan University, where she continues to play basketball, and is a member of the U.S. Olympic Handball Team.
Back in the 1930's families were large and lived close together so
fielding a baseball team was not difficult. Each section of Interior
Township had its own team.
Any man on any of these six teams will tell you his team was a "Champ."
The Finland-Russia war was going on, so it was decided to hold a ski jumping event for the benefit of Finland. A local ski club was organized and "pros" from Ironwood, Ishpeming, Iron Mountain, and Marquette were invited to the meet, where 75 riders performed before a thousand spectators. Such demanding performances were exhibited as the "Diamond Ride," which formed a diamond in the air by four skiers, and the "Shooting Star," which was five riders following each other. White uniforms were worn by the local club, depicting those worn by the Finnish ski troops.
Participants in construction work came from families of Lakanen, Juhola, Ed Besonen, Nuutinen, Perttula, Helsius, Kantola, Hattula, and Heitala. Mr. Hale and John Dishau of Weidman Lumber Company assisted there.
There was a ski tournament held at the Besonen Ski Slide on February 15, 1944, at which other riders participated from various ski clubs. The ski scaffold was built by the four Besonen brothers on their home property. Jumps generally about 90 feet to 115 feet were made. Andy Besonen and Weikko Lakanen were the judges of this event. Arvid and Alvar Besonen were already in the service but continued ski jumping after the war. Jumpers came from National Mine, Ishpeming, and Alston. The Red Cross and the Trout Creek Ski Club shared the profits.
The State Highway Department (now the Department of Transportation) built a roadside park with picnic and rest room facilities as well as a water pump. It is located where M-28 crosses the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River and was built in 1972. The park was named after a State Highway retiree, Joseph F. Oravec, from the Copper Country. It is the practice of the Department to name parks after retirees who have lived in the vicinity.
In the 1940's there were wooden steps on the trail down to Agate Falls. Over the years the steep trail has become hazardous but it is still worth the trip to see the beautiful waterfalls.
The original Agate Falls Resort is no longer standing; Darrell and Mickie Lee Malnar own a part of the land and operate the tavern business in this area. Records show the principal landowner in the area is the U.P. Power Company.
The Show Hall was located north of the current Township building and
operated around the early 1900's. The Hardes family owned the building.
Mr. and Mrs. David Kooker of Ewen operated the show hall where one could
see a movie on Saturday or Sunday for a dime if they weren't lucky enough
to sneak in! Mrs. Kooker, who had one arm, operated the player piano
during the silent movies. The building was also used for school and
community activities such as graduation ceremonies, basketball games;
local groups and traveling troupes presented plays; and in its later years
was used as an ice skating rink. During its prime, the upper floor housed
the lodges of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Rebekah's. The
total building was dismantled in 1977.
A plat of land adjacent to the mill pond was donated to Interior Township by the Abbott Fox Lumber Company for a park. In 1978 the steam engine and big wheel that provided the power to the sawmill between the years of 1921 and 1968 were moved to the park. The engine has a piston of 28 inches and a stroke of 48 inches. Its flywheel is 16 by 48 inches and it was of 500 horsepower. The operating press was 90 pounds. The engine and wheel were painted by Bruno Helsius and Harold Anderson and rest upon a foun dation built by Toivo Kariainen. They are an outstanding reminder of Trout Creek's past.
The Civic Improvement Committee obtained a large flag with the help of Congressman Davis which had flown over the Capitol. The flagpole was donated by Ed Tibbits. A shelter, picnic tables, the foot bridges to the engine and by the dam, a covering for the well, rest rooms, and a monument honoring soldiers in all wars were made by Green Thumb and township workers. In 1987 a log pavilion was erected to enhance the grounds. The structure was hand built by a Porcupine Mountain Community Schools class.
The park was dedicated, with celebration, on Labor Day, 1978. Many tourists have used the park as an overnight campsite.
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