HARRIS — One day last summer, Deke Routheaux of Ironwood made the short trip to the Gogebic Country Club to enjoy a round ofgolf.
Little did he know it would turn out to be much more than that.
That was the day the retired Gogebic Community College basketball coach learned he was being inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame.
“We were out on the course when (U.P. Sports Hall of Fame council member) Nancy Osier nonchalantly mentioned that I was being inducted,” said Routheaux. “I knew that Jim Milakovich had nominated me. But I was completely surprised when Nancy told me I was actually being inducted. I’m thankful to Jim for nominating me and being such a great supporter of our basketball program for so many years.”
He was among a group of 10 honored Saturday night during the 42nd annual induction ceremonies at the Island Resort & Casino at Harris (13 miles west of Escanaba).
Routheaux coached at Gogebic for 31 years, starting as men’s assistant to Gene Farrell during the 1974-75 season.
A year later, he became the first coach of the Gogebic women’s program, which competed as a club team that season. Then in fall 1976, that program became certified by National Junior College Athletic Association.
“We had some real good players, including Sandy Manning of Trout Creek, Mary Lynn Veda of Ramsay and Mary Paro of Bergland who were very good players,” said Routheaux. “We were playing varsity teams from Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, UW-River Falls and UW-Stout because not many junior colleges had women’s basketball at that time.”
Routheaux, who was head women’s coach for seven years, recalls just how dedicated the first group was and provided an example.
“I remember one day we had a snowstorm and classes were called off at Gogebic,” he said. “We didn’t have cell phones back then, so there was no way to let the girls know practice was cancelled. I decided to drive by the (Ironwood) armory to check if anybody was there. When I got to the armory, all nine girls were there and ready to go and we had practice that day. It’s very easy to coach a team when the players are self-motivated all the time.”
After the 1981-82 season, Farrell retired and Routheaux became head men’s coach, a position he held for 24 seasons.
Routheaux says the most talented team he coached at Gogebic was during the 1984-85 season when the Samsons finished 24-2.
“We had guys like Robert Glass, Preacher Owens and Bob Ranallo, all of whom we recruited out of the Negaunee (Invitational) tournament,” he added. “Then, we had Jim Olson who was our fourth player and went on to play at UMD. Jim scored more than 20 points everytime we played Northern (Michigan University). Any one of those guys could score 30 points on any given night. The gym was packed everytime we played at home that year.
“Unfortunately, we lost in overtime in the regional finals. The most frustrating part about that is we could have beaten a lot of teams in Hutchinson (Kansas). We could have made some noise in the (NJCAA) national tournament.”
Four years later, the Samsons were crowned regional champs, becoming the first U.P. team to advance to the NJCAA nationals.
“That was quite an accomplishment,” said Routheaux. “We’ve had many kids go on to play at four-year schools. But many of them also say their two years at Gogebic were the most fun.”
Routheaux also recalled the Region 13 final in 2005 when the Samsons outlasted Bismarck (N.D.) 117-115 in overtime prior to finishing sixth in the national tourney.
“Many people in Ironwood told me that was the best game they ever saw,” said Routheaux. “That was a very entertaining game in front of a large crowd. Players loved coming here to play on a nice floor and large crowds, and the fans appreciate good basketball.”
Until the mid 1990s, the Samsons played most of their home games in the Ironwood High School gym, with some games taking place at Hurley, Ironwood Catholic, Bessemer, Wakefield and Ewen-Trout Creek in the late 1960s and early 70s.
Construction was then completed on the Lindquist Center at GCC, providing the Samsons with their new facility.
“That’s something that was much needed, and many people in the community continue to use it,” said Routheaux. “It was also named after a great man (former dean of students Dave Lindquist). Dave is still very active and a great supporter of our program.
“For the first 20 years, we practiced at the armory with the tin backboards and floor that was like cement. And with us being so far west, not many people in the U.P. knew a lot about our program. It was difficult to recruit players out of our area, but we found ways to overcome that. Now, we have a beautiful facility and it’s much easier to recruit players. Our best recruiters are the former players. Their support has been phenomenal.”
Routheaux also served as director of the Last Chance Basketball tournament for 30 years, with the first tourney in March 1975 termed a “great success.”
“We’ve also hosted golf tournaments, clinics and 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, which all contributed toward the athletic basketball scholarship fund at Gogebic,” said Routheaux. “I appreciate the officials who gave their time for our fundraiser and my wife Debbie who took tickets and hosted parents and officials. Debbie was probably the happiest of anybody when I decided to retire, and Dennis Mackey is doing a great job with all those things today.”
Routheaux played high school ball at Ewen High School as a sophomore, a year before Ewen and Trout Creek consolidated. He then resumed his prep career at E-TC before playing two years each at Gogebic and Wisconsin-Parkside.
“I remember Rudy Perhalla came to Ewen in my 10th-grade year and did maybe the best coaching job in the U.P.,” said Routheaux. “That was the first U.P. championship at Ewen. He put the best five players on the floor and took a team to the (Class D) state finals. He was a great guy to play for. I also loved playing for Gene Farrell at Gogebic. I remember Geno hired me (as assistant coach) right out of college. He was a great mentor. His message was ‘keep it simple.’”
Ewen fell to Flint St. Matthew in the 1967 state finals. A year later, E-TC was eliminated by Hermansville in a regional opener and bowed to Lake Linden-Hubbell 51-50 in the district in 1969.
“That was my worst loss as a high school player,” said Routheaux. “We overlooked Lake Linden, which is a difficult thing because you don’t get a second chance. We were ranked as high as third in the state during the season. We beat Marquette Bishop Baraga by 30 points at home and they went on to take the state championship. That’s why we always told our players at Gogebic not to overlook anybody.”
Following his retirement, Routheaux coached junior high basketball at Ironwood for two seasons and has helped his son, Tim, resurface gym floors. He and Debbie also do some traveling in their motorhome.
Also inducted Saturday were former Lake Superior State, NMU and Michigan State hockey coach Rick Comley of Marquette, Menominee assistant football coach Ron “Satch” Englund, LSSU and NMU basketball standout Deanna (Sutton) Kreski of Rudyard, Michigan Tech football legend Ronald “Wimpy” Nettell, semi-pro hockey star John Vasseau of Marquette, 45-year track and cross country track veteran and former Manistique resident Bob King, Nahma High School standout and NAIA All-American cager Pat Groleau and longtime high school basketball coaches Paul Miller of Escanaba and Bob Whitens of Hermansville.
Miller led the Stephenson boys to a Class C state title in 1981, with Whitens guiding North Central to the Class D state crown three years later.