ESCANABA - Softball may become a championship sport in the Mid-Peninsula Conference this spring.
Manistique High School manager Dave McNeil has been busy laying the foundation for the sport's addition in the conference. In the process, he is looking into the prospects of selecting an M-PC all-star softball team.
The Emeralds, Norway, Gwinn and Negaunee sponsor softball and McNeil said Iron Mountain will start the sport in 2013. IM had hoped to start softball in 2012 but was unable to clear some hurdles in time.
Munising, which also sponsors softball, is in the M-PC for basketball but will be leaving the league entirely in 2012. The Mustangs could be an M-PC softball member this spring and IM would replace them the following year.
McNeil said determining a league champion and all-star players is an important step for all the programs.
"I want to give the girls something to play for," he said, noting it could install some pride in the sport, provide a more competitive landscape and bring additional recognition to the athletes and teams.
Basically the only meaningful games for Upper Peninsula softball teams come in the state tournament, but that is a single-elimination format. That means Gladstone, a dynamite Division 3 program, routinely ousts relative newcomers Manistique, Negaunee and Houghton in the opening tourney game or the title game.
Gladstone joins Escanaba and Marquette as the only Great Northern Conference schools with softball. McNeil said Kingsford is apparently preparing to start softball in 2013.
If administrators would be willing to think outside the box, a nice softball-only conference could be formed to include the aforementioned M-PC schools along with Rapid River, Superior Central and Stephenson.
Houghton, Newberry, St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie also field softball teams.
Call it the Mid-Central Conference, or anything else, if it stretches beyond the M-PC, but forming a softball conference should be high on the priority list for these schools.
* If you're still looking for a late Christmas present, a good choice would be a new book on the Green Bay Packers. Royce Boyles, a former WLUC-TV sportscaster, has joined with former Packer linebacker Dave Robinson to write "The Lombardi Impact, twenty people who were brushed by greatness."
They teamed previously on "The Lombardi Legacy," an excellent book that enabled several of Lombardi's standout players in the 1960s talk about the venerable coach.
This book, as the sub-title implies, is about those who either were secondary players or who dealt with the Hall of Fame coach. Excellent insights come from players like Robinson, Zeke Bratkowski, Jim Grabowski, the late Gale Gillingham, Pat Richter, Red Mack and Nelson Toburen, who was seriously injured in 1962, former WLUK-TV announcer Bob Schulze, videographer Al Treml and receptionist Carol Edwin.
They relate several fascinating stories and moments that helped build the tremendous legacy of the "Glory Year" Packers. Lombardi's son, Vince Jr., said the book provided insights to his father that he didn't know.
The younger Lombardi spoke in Escanaba several years ago and was spellbinding, making it feel like you were listening to his dad. Broyles and Robinson have also appeared in Escanaba in the past two years and are a pleasure to visit while sharing wonderful stories.