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It’s never been work but it’s time to step down

Sports Den

May 21, 2012
Dennis Grall - Sports Editor ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Agreeing to join the Marine Corps during the early stages of the Vietnam War and asking Sally to become my wife have been the biggest decisions of my life.

A tougher decision was made recently, to retire. That will happen July 27.

I've been at the sports desk since 1970, including four years at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. That is 42 glorious years on the job, but never has it been work. I can honestly say I've never worked a day in my life, which should make it impossible to retire.

Article Photos

Dennis Grall, sports editor

I've put in extended hours every day and week and hundreds of thousands of miles (more than 20,000 just attending all-state selection meetings), which will not be missed. Everything else will be very much missed.

It has always been fun, interesting, fascinating, challenging, demanding, filled with meeting deadlines and the pressures and stress of accomplishing the various tasks.

It is something I have always loved and enjoyed and has been an incredible privilege.

There have been bad days or moments tucked in among those good times, but like those days traipsing through the rice paddies of Vietnam and getting shot at or blown up by booby traps, I have always focused on the good times.

Those good times have included so many outstanding games and athletes, from state championships following Escanaba football, Gladstone softball, Carney-Nadeau and Mid Peninsula girls basketball to countless regular season events.

It also provided the opportunity to report on local teams at the Little League World Series in Portland, Ore. (twice) and Louisville, Ky. as well as getting credentials to a pair of Super Bowls and yearly sideline credentials for games at Lambeau Field.

Watching athletes from Joe Harvey and Wayne Schwalbach in the early 70s to Austin Young and Jared Vuksan excel on the same fields today is precious.

Meeting players like Jammie Botruff and Heather Sanderson in Portland and following their careers through high school and on to college scholarships is also precious.

Does it get any better than watching Kevin Tapani pitch a perfect game in a Babe Ruth tournament in Escanaba and then 12 years later see him pitch for the Minnesota Twins in an American League playoff game and a World Series game in Atlanta? Wow, that goes beyond best dreams.

Meeting and watching athletes like Dean Altobelli, Jeff Nault, Brian Pelon, Dave Elliott, Doug Ingalls, Sharon Schultz, Jean White, Tracy Creten, Lynette Royer, the Boyer sisters, Becky Iverson, Scott Hebert, John Barnes, Olivia Nash, Julie Elsing, the entire Benson family and so many others was just as special.

Getting to know Jill Gobert and Casey VanDamme when they were kids and then attending their wedding and seeing Casey go on to coach at Tennessee, or watching Bill Pistulka play at Manistique and become an area coach and then see his son Derek become Rapid River's all-time scoring leader in basketball are memories that go beyond special.

Or coaching Babe Ruth baseball and having Kelly O'Connell on my Bankers' team. We quickly became friends, and later softball teammates. Much later I was asked to be godfather for Patrick, and now Kelly is the EHS girls basketball coach. But we both know how to separate friendship from the job, and when he is on the bench and I've got the notepad, we are coach and writer, nothing else, just as it is with every coach in the area.

Softball teammates included Steve Fisher and Steve Erickson, and their children (PJ, Mallory and Garrick Fisher and Christa and Tom Erickson) became top prep players who played college ball.

Bob McGinn was also a softball teammate and we were sports department teammates at The Daily Press and Press-Gazette. He is a valued friend and confidant who just happens to be among the best scribes on the pro football beat with the Packers, someone you tried to emulate and learn from.

When I first came to this desk, Crusaders (Holy Name), Yellowjackets (Perkins) and Little Giants (Rock) were among the area schools.

Likewise, girls were limited to being cheerleaders and fans. Now they command a huge amount of the coverage, thanks originally to Title IX and now because of their own wonderful accomplishments. What a pleasure it is to see these young ladies perform on a platform that was denied my wife and so many other girls before 1972.

Working closely with coaches like Jerry Cvengros and John Mileski and now his son Josh, Dan Flynn and Karl Dollhopf, Debbie DeBacker and Sandy Raymond, Paul Polfus and now his son Jake, Bob Whitens, Jim Hilgendorf and Fred Stage, Bill Bower and Steve Ostrenga has been wonderful and illuminating.

It is the players who are forever young that helped make this job fresh and fascinating wherever I went. I've never been much of an athlete, just a lover of athletics so I have relished the chance to write about all our athletes and teams, doing what many of us only dream of doing.

I have always tried to make the positive out-weigh the negative, remembering these athletes are not professionals, a perspective that is important and one I wish fans would remember more often to temper their expectations and actions.

This position also opened the door to doing Coaches Corner on WDBC radio, 24 years with Jerry Root and the past year with Jim Pinar. What a pleasure those years have been interviewing coaches and athletes in a different setting with two quality people sharing the microphone.

This part of "God's Country" has been special because it provided the opportunity to cover every high school team in the Upper Peninsula (from Mackinac Island to Ironwood, Menominee to Calumet), something perhaps only valuable and long-time Press partner John Vrancic can claim among U.P. scribes.

It also offered the opportunity to play golf on every course in the U.P., which it appears no one else has done.

Golf also took over a huge part of the peninsula sports landscape in the last 15 years, and being able to be the first to report on the emergence of such stalwarts as TimberStone, Greywalls and Sweetgrass is special.

That word, special, best sums up what a pleasure it has been to help build scrapbooks and provide insights for our readers and athletes.

Nothing was more special than the opportunity to cover an American Legion zone tournament baseball game when my son Brian pitched a two-hitter as the Escanaba Cubs beat Hancock 8-1. After covering so many youngsters getting the job done over so many years, it is indeed special to cover a game in which your son gets the job done.

It has been a pleasure, but now it is time to pass that privilege to someone else and let them learn how wonderful it is to be a sports reporter in this spectacular piece of our planet.

The passion, energy, enthusiasm, desire and health remain, but the time has come to end what has been the best position a person could ever find.

A comment from a former assistant coach when Pat Summitt retired recently as Tennessee women's basketball coach hit home and helped make this decision. In effect, the message was she gave 38 years to the Vols and women's basketball, now it is time to focus on Pat Summitt.

Those 42 years spent with our readers, players and coaches came at the expense of not spending much time with Sally or Brian, who now has two daughters. It is time to make up for some of that missed time.

So long (in two months, and thank you for everything. It's been a thrilling journey.



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