HARRIS — Three men with local ties were among those inducted into this year’s class of the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame here on Saturday night.
Among them are Gladstone sporting director Dale Hongisto, sports commentator Jerry Root of Escanaba and John Pistulka, a graduate of Manistique High School in 1978.
Root began his 48th year as a play-by-play sports broadcaster last fall and has coached women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country and men’s track at North Central.
His cross country teams have been crowned UP Class D champions four times and coached the Jets to two UP track titles.
He also coached in Cedarville, was a sportscaster for the Cedarville Weekly Wave and the St. Ignace News, hosted radio shows for coaches in Sault Ste. Marie and Escanaba and established the North Central Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s a blessing to be here” said Root, who had been a baseball starter for two years at Whitehall High School. “I have enjoyed 48 years of teaching, most of those years of training. With the help of my coach Jerry Jacobson, I went from C level to honor roll in two years. It was great to see people from north central here, and I had family here from Lower Michigan.
Hongisto was a four-sport star at Wakefield where he earned 17 college letters.
He won five gold medals in the UP Class D Track Finals and was Offensive Player of the Year at Football’s Gogebic Range Conference in 1984.
In basketball, he is fourth at Wakefield in career with 1,064 points,
Hongisto played college baseball at Western Michigan University where he was a Mid-American Conference star as a designated catcher hitter.
“First of all, when (former Daily Press sports editor) Dennis Grall called to tell me I was inducted into the UP Sports Hall of Fame, I was very excited”, said Hongisto, who was appointed by former AD and basketball coach Karl Dollhopf. “I was delighted to present myself in front of people and proud of the achievement. Cathy Shamion (UPSHF Executive Director) told me “you don’t get up there alone” and I had a lot of great members in my team which includes family friends, coaches and teammates , to help me get there. It brings back a lot of memories, that’s for sure. »
Hongisto spent 15 years coaching basketball at Gladstone, including seven years as a varsity mentor for boys and two as an assistant for girls.
“Just being nominated was quite an honour,” he said. “It’s certainly not something I will think about often, but I’m proud to be part of such a prestigious group. I think it’s pretty cool that my high school football and basketball coaches (Duane Lane and Jim Daniels) are also in the UP Hall of Fame. It was a great night, and I’m certainly honored.
Pistulka was a Class C football and basketball selection in 1977, receiving UP Lineman of the Year honors that year. He was drafted as a tight end by more than 50 schools and played basketball at Lake Superior State University where he set the school’s single-season rebounding record in 1982-83. He finished fifth in Division II in rebounding and was selected All-GLIAC and team most valuable player.
After graduating from LSSU, Pistulka signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings and played in the Global Cup, the NFL’s first game in Europe in 1983, then became a professional wrestler.
Also inducted was Mike Dellangelo, who led Ishpeming to the Class C state football title while ending Hudson’s state-record 73-game winning steak in 1975.
He played football at Northern Michigan University where he rushed for 1,093 yards and caught 82 passes for 762, then served as a varsity assistant coach for 30 years at Ishpeming.
Tom Russo coached basketball for 24 years at four schools and led the Negaunee Boys to the Class C state title in 2000, finishing with a career-best 319-210. His teams have won six regional championships and seven Mid-Peninsula Conference titles.
Chris Nance was a three-sport athlete at Newberry where she set 20 school records, including 1,277 career points before playing at LSSU. She was one of three Newberry UP Class C Championship track teams and won all-state laurels in three events.
Vernon “Momentum” Johnson of Crystal Falls played minor league and independent baseball for many years.
He batted .469 over an extended stretch while playing with Baseball Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Ted Radcliffe.
Johnson, who died in 1965, played on the semi-professional National Championship team, now known as Baseball’s National Congressional Championship.
Calumet’s Bruce Coppo spent eight decades on UP rinks as a player, coach and official and became the only person to referee high school hockey for at least 40 years. He won 13 Gibson Cup titles as a player and manager and guided the Calumet Wolverines to the national championship in 2003.
Laurium’s John Jewell was a co-captain with former UPSHF inductee John Sherf on the University of Michigan hockey team.
Jewell was 28-12-4 as a Wolverines goaltender with seven shutouts and a 1.84 goals-against average. He played every minute of every game until the end of his senior year when an operation sidelined him for one game.
Sam Kokko of Sault Ste. Marie tried out for the United States Olympic hockey team in 1932 and coached teams with Taffy Abel of Sault. He played and coached for various teams for 42 years before his death in 1992 at the age of 93.
He helped Ironwood win the McNaughton Cup for senior hockey in 1929, then helped Hancock win it the next three years.