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Spotlight on Past Ely Sports Hall of Fame Members: John Jamnick

by Mike Turnbull

This week the ESHOF spotlight turns to John Jamnick. John is a 1979 graduate and was named to the ESHOF Class of 1996 as a representative of the 1970s.

John was an outstanding three sport athlete. He played football for Larry Mischke, Tom Wetzel and Bill Braun. Basketball for George Marsnik and John Ackerman and in his senior year for Tom Wetzel and Jim Stukel. His baseball coaches were George Marsnik his first three years and Merle Lunceford in his senior year.

John was a receiver in football, guard in basketball and a catcher in baseball.

John shared the fields and court with fellow hall of famers; Jimmy Grahek, Mike Turnbull, Dennis Minier, Jim Lesar, Pete Marsnik, Karl Scheuer, Bill Wavrin, Paul Scheuer and Steve Saari.

“I also got the privilege of playing with a few of the older hall of famers playing with the Ely Blue Sox. Including Tony Thompson, Larry Grahek, Paul Starkovich, Pudge Berrini and Mike Tezak.

After graduating from Ely, John went on to North Dakota State University and graduated with a degree in civil engineering. He also played four years of baseball catching for the Bison.

After graduating from NDSU he took a job in North Carolina as a civil engineer for the state. From 1987-1991 he worked for a private engineering consulting firm.

In 1988 he married his wife Diane (Gotchnik) a 1981 graduate of Ely who played volleyball and basketball for the Timberwolves.

In 1991 John and Diane moved to Hibbing. They had two sons Aaron and Kevin who graduated from HHS and also reside in Hibbing.

Aaron played college hockey for Providence, works for the city of Hibbing and is an assistant coach for the HHS hockey team. Kevin works in IT for L&M Supply and is based in the corporate office in Grand Rapids.

John started in Hibbing working for Kuuisto Engineering which became RLK. In 2011 he bought RLK and merged the Duluth and Hibbing offices into JPJ Engineering which he still owns today.

Diane is the company manager and Elyite Bill Horvat serves as an engineering technician.

John has fond memories of his days at Ely High.

“In the spring of my freshmen year, Coach Marsnik had the faith to insert me as the starting catcher on the high school team and that carried over to Legion ball. George did a great job of teaching me the fundamentals of catching. He was a stickler for fundamentals and did a great job teaching them.

“I remember one night up at the field after we had played a somewhat lackluster game, Coach Marsnik had us stay after to work on a few things. We did some base running, sliding practice in the outfield and the infamous ‘In & Outs.’

“The team would sit in the dugout, Coach would announce the end of the inning and we would all sprint out to our positions. He would then announce the end of the inning and then we would sprint back to the dugout. We did a lot of those. I didn’t mind those too much because I only had to run to the plate. I am sure the outfielders hated In & Outs.

“I was pretty intimidated that first year. Paul Vidmar, who graduated in 1975 had been the starter for four years. I had always looked up to him. Ely always had great pitching.

Right away I was catching Mike Turnbull, Jimmy Grahek, Alan (Ram)Portinen, Dennis Minier and Jody Bach. Those guys all threw great and could really bring the heat. I am grateful that Coach Marsnik took the chance on me and threw me out there.”

Note: John started at catcher for the high school and Legion teams from 1976-1979 and was one of the best to ever do it in Ely.

“For Legion ball in the summer of 1976 some of my classmates moved up with Jody Bach and me to play also and joined the high school line up the following year.

“Those guys were Randy Skube, Darrel Salo and Scott Nelson. We lost in the District championship to Babbitt in 1976 and 1977. They were State champs in 1976 and State runner-ups in 1977.

“We hosted the State Legion tournament in 1977 and won our opening game against Morton and were eventually eliminated by Arcade Phalen. We had some Tower guys on the team that year it was fun to play with them. Matt Yernatich, Walt Passi, Mike Jamnick and John Gornick all came over and were great teammates and valuable additions to the team.

“I don’t remember if it was 1978 or 1979, but one of those years we only played three regular season games in baseball and right into the District baseball tournament. The weather was terrible that year, a lot of snow. We ended up losing to Eveleth in the Districts.

“In my junior year most of us (juniors) didn’t play a whole lot in basketball, other than Paul Scheuer. The seniors, Karl Scheuer, Pete Marsnik, Bill Blakesly and my brother-in-law, Dave Gotchnik made up a very good senior class.

In my senior year we (Paul Scheuer, Lance Erickson, Bob Farkas, Darrel Salo, Bill Wavrin and Mark Newman) were joined by younger players like Toot Anderson and Ray Podominick.

“The 1978-79 season was Tom Wetzel’s first year as the head coach. We were pretty much a run and gun outfit. We beat Mt. Iron-Buhl in the District championship. We played the Regions at the DECC in Duluth. In the semi-final we defeated Cromwell by two points. In the championship we lost to Morgan Park of Duluth.

“That was a great experience but I do remember how disappointed we were. We were all looking forward to playing Lake City and their 7-foot center, Randy Brewer, in the state quarters. Brewer went on to play for the Gophers and in the NBA and I think Lake City won the state tournament that year.

“Football was fun too. I think we had 22 seniors on the team my last season. We were definitely a lot more competitive not playing in the IRC anymore against all the big schools.”

Before ending the interview, John wanted to give a nod to his coaches during his high school years.

“Coaches never get enough credit and I had some great ones. George Marsnik, Larry Mischke, Tom Wetzel, Merle Lunceford and their assistants Bill Braun and Jim Stukel were all outstanding teachers of the game and life. They were demanding and inspirational. Those guys all emphasized fundamentals and taught them and drilled them well. I did not appreciate that at the time as much as I have grown to do so as the years have passed.

“They all taught team concepts well also and the value of being great teammates and supporting each other through good and bad. Citizenship and academics were huge with those guys also and we were all held accountable. When these things are all in place athletic programs maintain a successful and respectful level even in years when there isn’t an abundance of talent on the team. I am truly thankful those men prepared me to be a good person, husband, father, employee and citizen as an adult.”

Final Note: Final nominations for the 2024 ESHOF Class have been accepted up through March 1. The ESHOF Committee will be meeting later in March to select the 2024 Class, which will be announced at a later date. I have enjoyed writing these Hall of Fame Spotlight articles and I hope they have been enjoyed by Ely Echo readers. Ely graduates be sure to get on the Ely All Class Reunion website and register for this summer’s reunion.

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