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A perfect ending to a brilliant career

Dennis Grall

May 27, 2012
By Todd Dagenais , For the Daily Press

Editor's Note: This article was submitted to The Daily Press for publication by Todd Dagenais, a native of Escanaba who is now head volleyball coach at University of Central Florida in Orlando. He has also coached at Northern Michigan University, Michigan State, University of Southern California and was with the USA volleyball team at the Olympics in Greece.

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Remember those wonderful general-education electives that were supposed to help us become "well-rounded" students? I never seemed to get very much out of those classes. But as time goes on, I realize that I may have actually been paying attention from time to time.

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Todd Dagenais

I may have taken a few passages from a boring Literature class and revamped them into a rousing pre-game speech or two. I may have even applied those Theater class voice projection lessons to clearly illustrate my displeasure toward some unsuspecting official across the gymnasium.

However, the one class that I never seemed to get anything out of was Philosophy. Until now.

Have you heard the philosophical phrase: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

I remember sitting in an 8 a.m. Freshman-level Philosophy class at CMU, trying to figure out where and when I would find the opportunity to use this little nugget of superfluous verbosity.

I meanwho comes up with this stuff, and how could it possibly have real life application?

On Saturday I read about the retirement of (Daily Press sports editor) Dennis Grall, and that philosophical gem from CMU suddenly struck me like a ton of sparkling diamonds.

If we really stop to think about it, sport fans would never have understood the antics of Muhammad Ali without the quirkiness of Howard Cosell. We would never have truly appreciated the inner workings of the Detroit Tigers without the verbal prose of Ernie Harwell.

What Howard and Ernie were to their subjects, Denny was to the Upper Peninsula sports scene.

What do all of the great sports teams and memorable athletes from the Upper Peninsula have in common?

Their conference titles, their state championships, their All-State honors, and their career successes were thoroughly penned and etched into the archives of sports history by one individualDennis Grall.

We live in an information crazed society where "sports columnists" are more concerned about selling books and driving internet traffic with outrageous sensationalism.

Yet the Upper Peninsula had Denny, who was much more likely spending his 80 hour work week trying share as many stories as Daily Press paper space would allow.

He never needed to be a self-promoter or inject himself into the storyline. Instead, he spent his overtime hours making sure the "human side" of local sports figures were highlighted for all of his readers to see.

Going way beyond reporting the stats and a few 'coach-speak" laden quotations, Denny would find wonderful ways to bring the character of an athlete to life. He created the local "sports personalities" who would then go forward and inspire the next generation of young local sports enthusiasts.

As a 10 year old kid, I remember reading about Kevin Tapani, Jeff Nault and Dean Altobelli. I already knew that I couldn't pitch a baseball, catch a football, or crush a wide receiver like a Mack truck, but I knew that I was inspired to find some vehicle so I could enjoy the same kind of success that I really respected about those guys.

Denny possessed such an innocent exuberance when sharing the stories of area athletes and coaches. It probably led some readers to wonder if the "subject" of the article actually had the same DNA as the "writer" of the article.

The truth was, he wrote articles with the same beaming pride that any proud parent would have written with. He loves sports, he loves his community, and he made darn sure that athletic success was going to be recognized one way or another. He didn't apologize for it, and he didn't have to.

Sure, there were times in the late 1980's that Escanaba fans were thoroughly convinced that "Purple Denny" was a Gladstone homer. That was about the time that Chuck DeBacker, K.C. Leisenring and Erik Spindler were running the hardwood with those dominating Braves basketball teams.

The feeling probably quickly reversed when Nick Bink, Dana Young and Justin Gluesing were leading a resurgence in the Eskymo football program.

I think deep down that everyone along the US 2 and 41 corridor respected the fact that Denny walked the rivalry tightrope with the political skill of a United Nations diplomat.

It didn't matter if you were at a big school or small school, if you were playing football or tennis, and most importantly, if you were male or female.

His Saturday morning "Sports Den" columns would always make sure that athletic excellence was rewarded. Therefore, If a tree fell in the forest, and no one was around to hear it, Dennis Grall made sure that it made a sound.

It doesn't surprise me that there will be no fanfare, no farewell tour, and no "parting shots."

He leaves us with a simple column saying that "it's time". After 42 years of unyielding loyalty to the Upper Peninsula sports scene, there probably isn't enough ink, page space, or bandwidth to encapsulate all of his thoughts and memories anyway.

I guess a nice quiet ride into the sunset is truly the perfect ending to a really remarkable story.



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