ESCANABA — The first inductee class for the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 1972 included some legendary figures who were standouts in various fields of play. The 2023 inductee class includes someone who relied on horse power to create his legacy.
Joe Casagranda, a native of Crystal Falls, has earned $3.2 million racing harness horses and has also built a huge reputation as a trainer.
He is one of 10 new people to be inducted May 13, 2023 at the 51st UPSHF banquet at Island Resort & Casino in Harris. The other honorees hail from traditional activities like golf, running and coaching.
They include runners Chris Lett of Houghton and Ginger Polich of Ironwood, coaches Jeff Blashill of Sault Ste. Marie, the late Jim Mattson of L’Anse, Don McDonald of Iron River and Lisa Twardzik of Calumet, golfer John Koskinen of Baraga, basketball standout Katie (Hoy) Batten of Newberry and all-around athlete David Cvengros of Wakefield.
Casagranda has won an astounding 1,123 harness races and finished in the top 3 in more than 40 percent of his races in a sport where 30 percent is considered outstanding. He has accomplished that in nearly 9,000 races despite frequently taking older, unsung horses, correcting their ailments and issues and turning them into top horses.
In 2017, his PV Miracle Mary broke a 12-year-old track record in Rice Lake, Wis. and became the fastest horse in Wisconsin history. He has raced throughout the Upper Midwest.
Casagranda received the peer-chosen Dan Rathka Award as the top horseman of the year and in 2015 he was Michigan’s headliner of the year and was Michigan Pacer of the Year.
Blashill was head coach of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings from 2015-22 and then joined two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning as an assistant coach. He was 204-261-72 with the rebuilding Red Wings. Prior to joining the Red Wings, he was head coach at Western Michigan University and led them into the NCAA playoffs, directed the Grand Rapids Griffins to the AHL Calder Cup in 2014 and directed the USHL Indiana Ice to the Clark Cup in 2009. He also spent time as an assistant coach with the Red Wings, Miami University and Ferris State.
He was a goalie as a youngster, helping Sault Lynn Auto Parts win the 1987 US Hockey Tier II national championship. He was also a goalie on the Ferris State University hockey team from 1994-98.
Cvengros was a five-sport athlete at Wakefield, earning 17 varsity letters. He teamed with UPSHF inductee Rom Gilbert to win two U.P. doubles titles. He played for three UPSHF coaches at Wakefield, then played four seasons of basketball and tennis at Michigan Tech. He scored 1,032 points in basketball, the first to reach that level at Tech. He played for UPSHF inductee Verdi Cox in basketball and tennis.
Hoy Batten was a four-sport letter winner at Newberry High School and scored 1,000-plus points in basketball, was a two-time All-U.P. cager and was U.P. Dream Team as a senior. She was also MVP of Newberry’s golf and volleyball teams. She was selected a scholar-athlete by the Detroit Free Press and received a basketball scholarship to Lake Superior State University. She was LSSU’s defensive player of the year in 1995-96 and was LSSU’s nominee as female athlete of the year in the GLIAC Conference.
Mattson spent 41 years in education and athletics, as a coach and official. His L’Anse track teams won three U.P. titles. He played football and basketball at Baraga High School and Northern MIchigan University, and was MVP of his Suomi College basketball team in 1955-56.
McDonald was 29-10-3 while coaching football at Stambaugh High School in 1962-67, then spent three years at West Iron County, where he was U.P. coach of the year in 1963 and was 17-6-1 and helped steer the consolidation of Stambaugh and Iron River schools. He also directed Bates High School to a Class E district basketball title in 1953. He was a two-year starter at center in football at Iron River and a three-year starting guard in basketball, played baseball at Western Michigan University and then joined the U.S. Navy, played baseball for the Iron River Red Legs and coached American Legion baseball.
Koskinen won the 2002 U.P. men’s golf title with a record 269 total, topping a field of more than 400 players. He was an all-conference golfer at Baraga High School four times and won every tournament as a senior, when he averaged 35.0 per round. While golfing at Michigan State University, Koskinen earned all-Big Ten and all-Midwest first-team honors. He was University of Miami associate women’s golf head coach the past five years and spent 12 years as an assistant with the Hurricanes, helping them win the 2016 NCAA title and earning 12 straight NCAA appearances. He became head women’s coach at Division II Barry University in Miami in 2022. He played in the U.S. Open in 2006 and 2007.
Polich earned eight running letters at Ironwood High School and added 12 letters running at Amherst, Mass. College, where she twice earned All-America relay team honors. She helped Ironwood win seven U.P. relay titles and in 2002 won the U.P. 800 title. At Amherst College she broke individual 600m and 800m indoor track school records and helped her team break the 4 x 800m relay school record. She qualified to race the 800m and distance medley relay at NCAA nationals, and her relay team twice earned All-American honors.
Twardzik earned 11 varsity letters at DeTour High School, then spent 20 years (1997-2016) coaching volleyball at Calumet High School. Her Calumet teams won 10 conference titles, 11 district titles and 10 regional crowns and made three Final Four appearances, including Class C state runner-up in 2008. She compiled a 656-142-50 career record.
Lett was a two-time U.P. cross country champion at Houghton High School and twice was named U.P. runner of the year. In track he won every mile and two-mile race over his final three years and won seven U.P. titles. He received a scholarship to run at Michigan State University and earned all-Big Ten and all-NCAA regional honors in track and cross country. He qualified for the 1996 Olympics Trials. Since graduating, he has won two 10-mile Canal Run titles in Hancock, the 1997 Copperman Triathlon and has run in the Boston and Chicago marathons.