Showing their pride
Local fans excited by Hurons return to playoffs
ROGERS CITY–Driving through Rogers City, it’s hard not to notice all the orange and black.
The window decals proclaiming “Our Hurons Rock” and “This is Huron Country; the placards that say “Huron Pride, Show Yours!” in the front windows of local businesses; the wooden yard signs posted all over town with messages like “Huron Power,” “Go Hurons,” “Win From Within” and “Good Luck Hurons.”
Heading up 3rd St toward Gilpin Field, signs posted outside the entrance announce “This. Is. Huron. Country.”
These days the town is abuzz and there’s a growing excitement that hasn’t been felt for quite awhile: the excitement of playoff football.
It’s been nearly 10 years since the Rogers City football team has been to the playoffs and even longer since the Hurons have hosted a playoff game.
On Friday, both droughts will end when the Hurons host Iron River West Iron County in a Division 8 pre-district game at Gilpin Field. The game will be held 11 years to the day that the Hurons last hosted a playoff game in 2007 against Mancelona.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
For many longtime fans, this season has been an exciting one and all the signage around town reinforces that excitement. The Hurons (8-1) are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and are giving fans plenty to cheer about on Friday nights.
“(The community is) very excited. I think we have a very good chance of winning and advancing. It’s been awhile since we’ve been in the playoffs, so we’re looking forward to it,” Thomas Gajewski, owner of McLean Pharmacy said. “The chance for us to play in October when the leaves falling and it’s nice and cold out and we get that nice snow on the ground, it’s really exciting.”
Football Fridays are an annual rite of fall and fans love it when the home team wins. That’s certainly been true this season as the buzz and excitement around town has grown with each Rogers City win. Under new coach Jesse Fenstermaker, the Hurons won their first four games and then ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak. Regardless of Friday’s outcome, the Hurons will post their best finish in 20 years, having won eight games for the first time since 1998.
It’s an encouraging sign for fans who have watched the Hurons enter each season with plenty of potential, but ultimately never realize it. Since their last playoff season, the Hurons have had one winning season and five different head coaches.
With stability at the head of the program and a talented group of players, the Hurons have been turning a lot of heads in town this season.
To come up here and perform to some standards, people in this town are kind of freaking out that we’re doing this right now,” senior Austin Cook said.
Rogers City fans have gotten used to long postseason runs in volleyball and softball in recent years, but the football team’s success in 2018 has been a welcome surprise for players, coaches and fans alike.
Neil Grulke, owner of Grulke Hardware, played for Rogers City in the late 70s, just before the Hurons made their first playoff appearance in 1982. Like many local residents, Grulke listens to Rogers City’s games on the radio and is impressed with the Hurons’ workman-like approach to games.
“No matter if it’s baseball or football, any sport that your local teams (are) doing good, you’re happy to see that,” Grulke said. “They’ve got a good bunch of kids, a good coach, they give it their all. That’s what I like about them, you know? They’re a great group of kids.”
Sam Amrhein, Rogers City’s athletic director, has been impressed by the outpouring of support from the community, especially from the student body. Students have routinely dressed in orange and black on game days and attended games to support their friends and their school. In preparation for Friday’s game, students in Mandy Munger’s shop class have made signs which they will hang up around the field.
She’s also been impressed with the team’s focus and the success that’s followed as a result of hard work.
“They have a goal, they beat it, they accomplish it and they have a higher goal, achieve that goal and strive for higher goals,” Amrhein said. “At the games, home and away, our town brings that electrifying feeling. It’s that electrifying support. In the moments that they won, our entire town was vibrating with excitement for our team.”
It’s a safe bet that the stands will be packed for Friday’s game and the strong show of support isn’t lost on the Hurons. Players and coaches have worked hard to get back to the postseason and players have taken notice of increased fan support, even for road games.
“It’s nice to see. I notice when we go away to like Manton or Sault or wherever we went, you notice people from Rogers City that you’ve never seen in your life,” senior Michael Karsten said. “They’re there cheering you on and it’s just cool to see.”
Fans aren’t ready to see the season end just yet, but regardless of Friday’s results, they’ll be there, decked out in orange and black, rooting on the home team.
“Everybody’s excited for that one. It’s good to see it. As long as they give it 100 percent, that’s the main thing,” Grulke said. “That’s the best you can do and won’t feel sorry for yourself as long as you give 100 percent.”
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.