MARQUETTE, MI – The U.P. Football All-Star Game has been held annually in Marquette since 2008. This year would have marked the 13th year for the event. Each year, seniors from around the U.P. come to Marquette to play in one last game before heading out into the world. Some go to college, some go into the military and some enter the workforce. The players spend an entire week practicing and preparing for the game on Saturday. They also perform charitable work in the community and get to spend time with other U.P. players who they previously may have known only through competition against each other during high school. The players stay in the dorms at Northern Michigan University and eat in the NMU cafeteria. The game is played in the Superior Dome.
In past years, All-Star Week has taken place the last week of June, but like most events, it was negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of cancelling, it was initially decided to postpone the game until the last week in July, which would give the best chance of being able to play. The U.P. had been one of only a couple regions in Michigan which showed very low case numbers, and thus, was allowed to begin opening up prior to other areas of the state. But, like many other areas of the country, the cases began to rise recently with the increase in tourism, and with those increased cases, came greater restrictions. At the time of the game’s postponement, the U.P. was one phase away from being completely open, which would have allowed the game to take place. However, with the recent reversal, it is not possible, and certainly not advisable, to have that many players, coaches and fans in one place.
“It saddens me that this year’s seniors will not be able to experience all of the different events that take place throughout All-Star Week”, stated organizer Todd Goldbeck. “Each group of all-star players has spent their entire high school careers working hard to earn the awards and honors that will get them a chance to participate in this event. Unfortunately, for these seniors, it is yet another rite of passage that they will not get to take part in.”
Notably, the 2020 group of All-Stars has seven father-son combinations. That is the most in any year. They are: Carter Crouch, Lake Linden-Hubbell (father-Andy), Tommy Lundin, Gogebic (father-Dave), Colton Salani, Hancock (father-Chris), Jason Waterman, Negaunee (father-Dan), Reid Marshall, St. Ignace (father-Iffer), Marcus Johnson, Iron Mountain (father-Bucky), Noah Thomson, West Iron County (father-Chris).
Also, being that this is the 13th year, this group of players has had the game take place every year of their schooling, K-12. There are definitely numerous players from this year who have been to every All-Star Game since they were in kindergarten. They don’t remember a time when there was not a U.P. Football All-Star Game.
“Even though we held out hope as long as possible, cancelling was the right decision at this time. The safety and health of the players and coaches is always the highest priority, and when the number of cases started to rise recently, it became impossible to overcome. There was a very good chance that the game would have taken place, if the environment had not changed, and that would have been amazing. But, we could not take the chance that anyone participating in this event, or any fan attending, would have their health put at risk.”, Goldbeck stated.
Despite the actual event not taking place, the players will still be receiving all of their gear, which includes a custom game jersey and other All-Star branded apparel and memorabilia. They also will be getting several game programs, which contain the player profiles and ads from the various sponsors who make the game possible. Each year, the players are encouraged to take the programs back to their sponsors to show their appreciation. A schedule is being worked on with the local high school coaches to get the players their gear as soon as possible.
One of the U.P. Football All-Star Game’s missions every year is to give back to the communities around the U.P. A full set of 40 new practice jerseys will be donated to L’Anse and Superior Central. Also, 20 new footballs will be given to Lake Linden-Hubbell and St. Ignace. Monetary donations are made to Bay Cliff Health Camp, the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame, as well as two U.P. high school football programs. Each U.P. high school receives $1000, which can be used to advance their program in any way possible. Some programs have used it for equipment, uniforms, facility improvement and the youth program. Thus far, in the previous 12 years, 24 schools have received the donation. Once a school is chosen, they are removed from the random drawing, until all other U.P. schools have been chosen to receive an equal amount.
Goldbeck states, “There are many different costs involved with an event such as this, and the money raised through sponsor donations makes this event possible every year. Players are chosen in November and need to fundraise in order to cover some of those costs. All of the gear that the players and coaches receive is customized with the U.P. Football All-Star Game logo, so it is ordered months in advance. I am very happy that we are in a position where we can still get all of those items to the players.”
“Every year, when the event is over, it gives me great pleasure to reflect upon the process and know that we gave back. Not having the event means lost revenue in ticket sales for the game and banquet, as well as the sale of game programs and apparel. However, we do not have the expenses of dorms and food. In the end, when all of the bills have been paid this year, we will be in a position to make donations to several more schools, instead of the typical two. This fall is going to be a greater challenge to high school football in the U.P. than ever before, so hopefully the fundraising efforts of this year’s players and supporting communities will help alleviate some of that stress. The U.P. Football All-Star Game is unlike any other in the country, just like the U.P. is unlike any other region. The U.P. looks after and takes care of each other, and that’s what this event is all about.”
Every year, we talk about the U.P. Football brotherhood and what that means. It means using your talents to give back, building something for others, and maintaining the high standards of being a U.P. Football All-Star so that future groups may benefit from what you have done and others before you. Even though this year’s players did not get to actually play, I have enjoyed working with them greatly throughout the process and am proud of the way they have soldiered on through these troubled times. Future U.P. Football All-Star Games will be played on the foundation that they have helped maintain with their efforts, and for that, I am grateful.”