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Calumet’s storied athletic past highlighted by local historian

John Haeussler gave a presentation at the Van Pelt and Opie Library on the campus of Michigan Tech about Notre Dame’s storied connection to the Copper Country. With the Golden Domers playing one game at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena Friday night, ND’s first trip here since 1982, Haeussler looked back on how Calumet High School played a formative role in the university’s hockey program.

A traveling baseball team visited from Elkhart, Indiana in 1911, losing three times to Copper Country squads. The Calumet team was anchored by Bill Gray, who was so good that the visitors from Elkhart brought him aboard, and that led Gray to a career at Notre Dame. Gray was instrumental in putting together a hockey team in addition to his exploits on the diamond. Less than a handful of games were played and each team had seven players on the ice at a time.

In 1916, Gray was instrumental in getting George Gipp into Notre Dame for baseball. Gipp obviously went on to a famous career in football. Three other Calumet High School gridiron standouts followed Gipp, including Heartley “Hunk” Anderson, O’Jay Larson, and, lastly, Percy Wilcox, who went in 1919.

Those three revived the hockey team, informally at first, and then as a recognized varsity sport. Their first collegiate games were against the Michigan College of Mines. The teams split that series, with UND winning at the Calumet Colosseum, the Irish’s first ever win against another school.

The Michigan College of Mines, the previous weekend, had just played their first two games. They had hosted the University of Michigan for Michigan Tech’s first and second intercollegiate games. So Notre Dame’s first intercollegiate game was Michigan Tech’s third intercollegiate game.

Haeussler says that return trips were made in 1922 and 1923 and UND held Tech in the highest regard. They won both games in 1922 and used that series win to consider themselves the “Champions of the West.”

The Notre Dame student newspaper said, “Michigan College of Mines team proved itself to be the most worthy opponents of the season. They proved themselves to be sportsmen and gentlemen both on and off the ice, and the two victories accumulated at their expense are, perhaps, the most prized of the season.”

By 1922 George Gipp had passed away, and Larson and Heartley “Hunk” Anderson were not eligible for varsity contests after they suited up for the Green Bay Packers the previous year. Anderson was a pallbearer for Gipp’s funeral, longtime assistant to Knute Rockne, and he brought Rockne’s body back to the South Bend campus following the plane crash that killed the legendary Irish coach. Anderson played in the NFL for years, and is a member of the all-decade team for the 1920’s. He succeeded Rockne as Notre Dame football coach before taking over the helm of the Chicago Bears from George Halas. He won a NFL Championship in 1943. Anderson is in the hall of fame at the college level. Haeussler says he deserves a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio as well.

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