U.P. Sports Hall of Fame: Corgiat entertains crowd with passion for the game

HARRIS – Jim Corgiat of Bessemer kept them laughing Saturday night during the 43rd Annual Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet at the Island Resort and Casino.

By far one of the most entertaining characters of the evening, Corgiat, a football, softball and baseball standout, cracked several jokes during his speech and recalled several moments during a prep and professional career he thoroughly enjoyed.

Corgiat, one of 10 UPSHF inductees honored Saturday night said he did things the hard or unconventional way.

He told an audience of more than 200 “This is kind of overwhelming. I think the first two words I learned how to say were ‘play ball.’ I love sports, maybe to a fault, but that was my life.”

He recalled traveling all over the state as a member of the Lansing Rockets fastpitch softball team that won the ASA state title in 1962.

Corgiat notably turned down a minor league baseball contract offer to play football at Michigan State University, where he credited Buck Nystrom (1975 UPSHF inductee) for recruiting him.

He said being inducted “feels like the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Other inductees included Whitney Bell of Sault Ste. Marie, Mike Caruso of Iron Mountain, Bill Lucier of Hancock, Holly Jean (Anderson) McCullah of Laurium and Mike Photenhauer of Menominee.

Bell was a hockey and baseball standout at Sault High but made a name for himself with football, where was a two time U.P. Dream Team selection who went on to standout at Ferris State University. Later he played in the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League with the British Columbia Lions.

Bell recalled being taught sacrifice, opportunity and work ethic from his parents, whom he helped with the family farm. He said of his prep coach Barry Pierson (1994 UPSHF inductee) “his love of the game was the foundation for me as a coach.”

Caruso was a three-sport athlete at Iron Mountain who later had a long and noteworthy career as a broadcaster.

Upon taking the podium during his speech, Caruso cracked, “A little Italian boy from the north side of Iron Mountain making the Hall of Fame, mama mia!”

Caruso was honored to be inducted with Terry Duval.

“We and Terry go back 50 years,” Caruso said. “We played Babe Ruth baseball together and played against each other in football.”

After high school, Caruso said he got into radio as a way to stay involved in sports, where he gave the advice, “just be yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not and don’t impersonate anyone.”

Lucier had incredible college athletic and coaching careers, participating in seven NCAA championship games and winning five titles, three as a player and two as an assistant coach with Michigan and Michigan Tech respectively.

Of his accomplishments, he said he was most proud of having 19 Michigan Tech athletes that he coached, having been inducted into the Michigan Tech Hall of Fame. Four of those players were present for Lucier’s induction Saturday night and three of them were U.P. natives.

McCullah, then known as Holly Jean Anderson pitched two teams to U.P. fastpitch softball titles at age 14 before returning to the mound 18 years later after becoming the mother of nine children. At the age of 32, she threw a no-hitter and struck out 15 in her first game back and was 46-3 over four seasons, helping Horner’s Hornets win the Class D state title in 1970.

Now deceased, McCullah was represented by her daughter June Pillatsch of St. Louis, who said she and her siblings viewed her as “just a mom who loved to have fun.”

She recalled that, “neighbors would always come by, ring the doorbell and ask if my mom could come out and play,” and that “summers were always spent watching my mom play softball.”

McCullah died at age 57 in 1994 waiting for a lung transplant. A softball tournament in Calumet is now played annually in her honor.

Photenhauer was a three-time Upper Peninsula cross country champion at Menominee High School where he set Class A-B track record in the mile, 1600 and two mile events. Later he was a four-year letterman in cross country and track at Central Michigan University.

Photenhauer recalled first being recruited for Cross Country and not realizing what it was.

“I said there’s no snow, how can you possibly cross country ski?” he said during his speech.

Coming from a family with running in their blood, Photenhauer said his coach Joe Johnson (2004 UPSHF inductee) would often wake him up at 5 a.m. to run 20-22 miles in preparation for a marathon.

“Our whole family ran distance at one time or another,” Photenhauer said.

The induction was a long time coming for Photenhauer. He was first nominated in 1984.