Last Week I Drove 500 Miles Into the Upper Peninsula to Buy a Sweatshirt
"I think you're crazy."
Those were the encouraging words of my wife as we sat in the parking lot of the Watersmeet Township School. We had driven 500 miles at this point to arrive in Watersmeet, Michigan, a small town in the western Upper Peninsula, at the intersection of U.S Highway 2 and U.S. Highway 45. We were here because I had three objectives for Birthday Week 2016 - see as much of the U.P. as I could in a week, get a Watersmeet Nimrods sweatshirt and drive all the way up to Copper Harbor.
And here we were, in Watersmeet. I figured we would roll into town, find some gift shop with a bunch of Yooper souvenirs and a rack of Nimrod sweatshirts and we'd be on our way. Well, the reality was, there was a bar/grocery store right off the road, a Polaris ATV dealer and the school building (all grades K-12 in the one building). And that was pretty much downtown Watersmeet. Up the road was the casino operated by the Lac Vieux Desert Indian Reservation. (50% of the kids who go to Watersmeet are Native American) And, even though it was summer, I wondered if the school might be open and somebody could point me in the right direction. My wife was a doubter.
Here's why I wanted a Nimrods sweatshirt. An ESPN commercial from 2003:
Because of that commercial, the Nimrods got invited on the Tonight Show by Jay Leno in 2004. Robert Redford and his Sundance TV channel did an 8 part documentary called Nimrod Nation. And they were a good basketball team. In 2005 they were the Upper Peninsula Class D champions, but lost (in overtime, by one point) to the team from Posen, MI in the quarterfinals.
In front of the school was a bus, with grade-school age kids walking off and getting picked up by their parents after a field trip. I parked the car and I told my lovely wife Michelle I was going in. This is when she told me I was nuts. Hmm. Tell me something I don't know.
"You coming? Or staying out here?" She decided to come on in.
We walked up to the front door and in a small office next to it was a man who waved us in. I figured he might be a security guard. We went to the school's office. Nobody was at the front desk. But the "security guard" was in his office. The door was open, so I leaned in.
"I've got maybe a weird question. Do you know where I can buy a Nimrods sweatshirt or hat?"
"That's not a weird question. Yes, I do. Hang on."
Jackpot. I figured he would find some nice lady, who would go to a closet in the office and ask me what size I needed. And then I realized who this guy was. This was George Peterson III. The head basketball coach of the Nimrods back in 2004 and still the coach. AND, though I didn't know it - now school district administrator.
And he was about to give us a tour.
George picked up some keys and we walked and talked. We talked about the documentary on Sundance TV. The rumor had been that Robert Redford would come to town - he didn't. We talked about Tom Izzo - George went to Northern Michigan University and knew Tom when Izzo was an assistant coach there. Tom had even come to talk to his team some years back. I told George I was on a country radio station in Lansing and we'd interviewed Tom. "I'll show you some pictures of him when he was REALLY young." He told me his family had lived in Watersmeet for generations and showed me the picture of his senior class at Watersmeet. There couldn't have been more than a couple dozen kids. Finally, we arrived at a classroom-sized room where George unlocked the door and flipped on the lights - and there was a room FULL of Nimrods apparel. Hats, sweats, t-shirts - anything you would ever want.
I looked at Michelle and smiled. The rare smile of a husband who's right. For once.
We found sweatshirts in our size and I was looking at the hats when George asked, "How often do you talk to Izzo?" I told him I'd talked to him a few times and I knew people who see him all the time. George grabbed two hats, "I'll give you a hat, but you have to get the other one to Izzo. And tell him it's from George."
Coach Izzo, I'll be visiting you soon.
George locked up the room, showed us the basketball court, which was even nicer than I thought it would be - apparently thanks, in part, to Nimrod sweatshirt sales. George told us about the connection the school has with the town and the LVD Reservation. "If there's anything we need, all we have to do is ask." We saw the pictures from the Tonight Show. And pictures of a really young Tom Izzo. Yelling from the sidelines. Only younger.
And then George and I took some pictures with the Nimrod statue in the lobby. And, as we walked back to the car, even though we were still 800 miles from the end of the trip, Birthday Week 2016 was declared a success. By my wife - the doubter.
Banana Don and Stephanie McCoy amuse and thrill you every weekday morning from 5:30 –10AM on the radio at 100.7 WITL.
Banana Don can be reached via email at email@example.com and on Twitter at @WITLBananaDon and @WITLFM. Also, Facebook friend Banana Don and Stephanie at Facebook.com/BananaStephanie and Facebook.com/WITLFM.