BC Western Writing Storybook Season with Celebrations, Early Success

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

April 26, 2023

Before a single pitch was thrown this season, there was plenty for the Bay City Western baseball program to be excited about.

Bay & ThumbSome of it was historic: Coach Tim McDonald entered the year three wins away from 800 in his career, and, during the season, the program is set to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the 2013 Division 1 championship team. 

But the present was just as exciting. 

Led by a strong group of seniors that started a program rebuild in 2021, the Warriors figured to have one of their strongest teams in years.

Then the pitches started getting thrown, and the excitement may have been kicked up a notch.

Western is 14-0 to start the season, and living up to its lofty expectations in a year where it just feels like everything is already a celebration.

“It’s kind of freaky the way it’s kind of lining up right now,” said senior pitcher Ben Kohany. “We have our goals in mind, but we’re still taking it game by game. Obviously, there is that pressure (from the program’s past success), but we’re just trying to take things slowly.”

Western’s success on the field this season is the result of a simple formula: good pitching, solid defense and the ability to manufacture runs. 

It’s a formula that helps the Warriors to focus on what’s directly in front of them, and not look ahead when they have big postseason goals that could otherwise distract them.

“We just play together as a team – we trust each other, make plays and get the job done,” junior catcher Bryce Neitzel said. “Every day in practice we work on the fundamentals. Especially with bunting, we do a station of bunting every day. I feel like it does help, because whenever we’re in a situation in a game, we’re prepared for the moment. We kind of expect it.”

It’s also a formula that has won McDonald and the Warriors a lot of games over his 31 years as a coach – 811, to be exact.

“We have a philosophy, things we emphasize and things we work on,” McDonald said. “We’re kind of known for our small ball, and we kind of got away from that. This year’s team, one of the many things they understand is that at some point, that’s going to become important. They’re just rock solid. They’re a good practice team, and that translates.”

The Warriors play in the Bay County Invitational on April 15.When the season began, McDonald had 797 career wins, which put him 12th on the MHSAA’s all-time list. It took just three games, and a bit of serendipity, to become the 11th coach in state history to reach 800.

The Warriors swept Flushing in their season-opening doubleheader, which gave McDonald the chance to get win No. 800 against his alma mater, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, in a game that was a late addition to the schedule.

And just to make it a little more personal, Sacred Heart is coached by Earl Hartman, who coached McDonald and is one of the 10 ahead of him on the all-time list; and McDonald’s nephew, Joe McDonald, was the starting pitcher for the Irish.

“It sounds like a Hollywood script, but that’s just how it all fell into place,” McDonald said. “It was certainly a neat day, and that just added to it.”

While McDonald knew how close he was to the milestone coming into the season, he wasn’t planning on making a big deal of it. The people around him, of course, had other plans.

“They had cupcakes, and my AD got a plaque made for me,” McDonald said. “Somebody did some work behind the scenes, and all of that is appreciated. I’m proud to represent this program. If me, as the head coach, has a lot of wins, that means the school has a lot of wins. I’ve been fortunate to be in a good baseball community. They had good baseball before I came. I’m proud of the foundation that we built, and I think it’s just continued on.”

Getting to be part of that historic moment was a thrill for the current Western players.

“That was super cool,” senior third baseman Miles Yurgaites said. “That’s a lot of wins. It was a super cool moment, and a super fun day.”

The timing was also great for the Warriors, and not just because of the opponent in Game 3 of the season.

“I’m glad it happened early in the season,” McDonald said. “We got to enjoy the moment, and now we can move onto some of our goals that we set for ourselves. That worked out in a good way, as well. Now this team, they’ve become focused, because we still got a lot of work ahead of us. They’re staying humble in their approach, and every one of them knows they have some things they can get better at. As a coach, that’s all you can ask.”

Helping McDonald drive home that message is a trio of assistants who are Western alumni: Brian Patrick, Brendan “Bubba” Harrison and Brandon Wise. Patrick has been on the staff for 12 years, while Harrison (2013) and Wise (2014) were each part of Finals championship teams for the Warriors.

Not only does that give McDonald the luxury of coaching with people who know how a championship program is run, it also gives the Western players a daily look at what it takes to get back there.

“It does help,” Neitzel said. “They have all that experience, and they’ve shared all their memories with us. It makes us want to do what they did.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Bay City Western celebrates coach Tim McDonald's 800th win April 8. (Middle) The Warriors play in the Bay County Invitational on April 15. (Photos courtesy of the Bay City Western baseball program.)

Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years as WWII Vets, Great-Grandfathers

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

June 7, 2023

Walter “Stretch” Hansen and Harold Tate were good friends and high school basketball and baseball teammates at Hart High School, graduating in 1943.

West MichiganNo one could have guessed that less than two months after graduation (on July 2, 1943), the two friends would head to Fort Custer in Battle Creek, the first stop on their way overseas to fight for their country in World War II.

No one could have imagined how many twists and turns their lives would take over the next 80 years – from the battlefields in the South Pacific, then back to West Michigan where they both were married with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and now Harold even has a great-great-grandchild.

And, certainly, no one would have believed that the two young boys from Hart – who forged a friendship through high school sports long before the days of computers, microwave ovens and cell phones – would still be alive at the age of 98 for an emotional reunion last month, on May 22, seeing each other for the first time in 80 years and, to cap it off, the reunion took place in their hometown of Hart.

“It was such a great day,” Hansen said about the meeting, which was set up by Muskegon-area World War II historian Richard Mullally.

“We picked right up, talking about sports and the service and everything else.”

The conversation came easy for the two old friends, who played for Hart during a “golden era” at the school – particularly in basketball, as the Pirates won 11 West Michigan Conference basketball titles between 1940 and 1954.

Hansen, left, and Tate reunite for the first time in 80 years on Monday, May 22, 2023, in their hometown of Hart. Perhaps the best team during that time period was Hansen and Tate’s as seniors in 1943. That team lost only once, to rival Scottville (31-25), but more than made up for it with an 80-10 trouncing of the Spartans in the final regular-season game.

Hart then crushed Scottville and Newaygo to win the District championship, only to have Michigan’s prep basketball season stopped abruptly at that point because of World War II.

That 1943 team featured four starters over 6-0, led by the duo of Hansen and Stan Kapulak (both 6-6), Joe Mack (6-2), Lyle Burmeister (6-1) and Stanley Riley (the lone starter under 6-foot at 5-11).

“The newspapers called us ‘The Hart Skyscrapers,’” said Hansen, who will be 99 on Nov. 6. “We were taller than most college teams at that time.”

Hansen and Tate’s friendship continued to blossom on the baseball field, only to have their lives turned upside down shortly after graduation 80 years ago, when all Hart senior boys who had been drafted headed to Battle Creek as a brief staging area on their way to the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific.

Hansen served in the Army Specialized Training Program and was part of the 52nd Signal Battalion and the 4025th Signal Battalion in the Pacific Theater.

“I had an all-expense paid tour of the South Pacific,” Hansen said with a chuckle. “The Philippines, New Guinea, Okinawa, Hawaii, all over the place.”

Tate did his service in the 24th Infantry Division and the 19th Infantry Regiment, and was stationed in Japan.

During their visit last month, Harold showed off the Japanese Samurai sword and Arisaka rifle which he had sent back from Japan to Hart. The week after their visit, both took part in Memorial Day parades – Hansen in the Lakeside parade in Muskegon and Tate in his 77th Memorial Day service in Hart.

Hansen, who still has a home on a small lake in Holton and lives at a senior care facility in Muskegon, played many years of semi-pro basketball and did some coaching. He worked at GTE and has five children and 10 grandchildren.

Hansen served from 1943 to 1946 as a Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Tate served from 1945 to 1946 as a Platoon Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II.“I have been so blessed,” Hansen said, sorting through one of his many scrapbooks. “All five of my kids are great and I have grandkids that are just amazing, everything they are doing. I don’t even know all of their names, but it’s sure been fun watching them.”

Tate returned to Hart after his military service and has been there ever since, at first working as a carpenter with his father and then becoming a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, retiring 26 years ago at the age of 72. He has lived in the same home for 75 years and has three children, six grandchildren, seven great-grandkids and now one great-great-grandchild.

Tate laments the demise of his beloved American Legion post in Hart, a town with just over 2,000 residents, as the number of members has steadily declined.

One topic that brings a smile to both of their faces is the recent resurgence of the Hart High School athletic program, which drew media attention not too many years ago for all the wrong reasons – notably a football program which went 24 years without a winning record.

That string was snapped with a 6-3 mark and the school’s first earned playoff appearance last fall.

But that was just the start.

This winter, Hart’s boys basketball team finished the regular season 22-0, the girls basketball team made it to the Division 3 Semifinals at the Breslin Center, wrestling qualified for the Team Finals for the fourth-straight year and competitive cheer placed fourth in Division 4. This spring, the Hart girls track & field team won its second-straight Division 3 Finals team title, and the boys placed fourth.

“It’s a great place to call home, a great place to live, always has been,” said Hansen of his hometown, which got its name from its central position in the “heart” of Oceana County.

And who would have imagined that these two high school teammates could still come home again for a reunion at the age of 98?

Tom KendraTom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Members of the 1943 Hart High School varsity baseball team gather together, preparing for a team photo. Among those are Harold Gayle Tate (far left) and Walter "Stretch" Hansen, at 6-6 the tallest player in the back row. (Middle) Hansen, left, and Tate reunite for the first time in 80 years on Monday, May 22, 2023, in their hometown of Hart. (Below) Hansen served from 1943 to 1946 as a Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Tate served from 1945 to 1946 as a Platoon Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. (Top photo courtesy of Stretch Hansen. Middle and below photos courtesy of Richard Mullally.)