Pointes' Pride Instilled by Longtime Leaders
By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
May 31, 2017
GROSSE POINTE – Neither Frank Sumbera nor Dan Griesbaum were raised in Grosse Pointe.
But no one, at least at the high school level, has done more to enhance and promote baseball in the Pointes than this long-serving pair.
Sumbera, 69, is in his 45th season as coach at Grosse Pointe North and Griesbaum, 64, is in his 34th season at Grosse Pointe South. In this sport the rivalry that exists between Grosse Pointe’s two public high schools is as good as it gets. Sumbera holds the upper hand in MHSAA Finals titles, 2-1, and Griesbaum has the edge in District titles, 23-14.
This last statistic is notable in a sense that the two programs are often paired in the same District, as they are this season. South will host North in a Division 1 District Semifinal at 10 a.m. Saturday.
This season there is an added twist to the much-anticipated community showdown. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, for the first time, will compete in the Division 1 tournament lined up on the other side of the bracket from North and South. University Liggett will play Detroit East English in the other Semifinal at 11:30 a.m. The winners will play for the title approximately 2 p.m.
University Liggett won four MHSAA Finals titles the past six seasons, two in Division 4 and two in Division 3, including last season in the latter. Coach Dan Cimini, knowing he had a strong team returning, petitioned the MHSAA to opt up to Division 1 for this season and 2018.
So far the Knights have proven they can hang at the Division 1 level. They are ranked No. 2 in the latest poll released by the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association.
And Cimini’s group received a break in the draw as it won’t have to defeat both North and South to win the District title.
This is Cimini’s 14th season as head coach, and he tips his hat to the job Sumbera and Griesbaum have done in laying the groundwork.
“Frank has been there forever,” Cimini said. “Dan has been there a long time. I feel old, and I’m 48. I’ve coached 22 years. No doubt about it, those guys have set the standard.”
Cimini grew up in Grosse Pointe and competed in the city’s strong Little League program. He played for Griesbaum at South and played four years in college, two at Macomb College and two at University of Detroit Mercy. He was part of the 1987 South team that reached the MHSAA Semifinals for the first time in school history.
Cimini said the quality of baseball has remained strong in the community over the years but noted there have been some changes.
“The Little Leagues are phenomenal,” he said. “The Federation ball is phenomenal. But there aren’t as many kids playing. Now there are seven teams playing in the (Little League) majors. Back when I played there were 13 of 14. I miss those days. If I could take myself back, that’s where I’d go.”
At least in the modern era, one must point to Sumbera as the person most responsible for the quality of baseball being played at the high school level.
Sumbera played three sports at Chesaning High – baseball, basketball and football – and then went on to Central Michigan where he played basketball.
Upon graduation Sumbera went looking for a job and received a tip from a college roommate. Sumbera was told that Grosse Pointe High would be splitting into two schools, North and South, and that they needed teachers, and, naturally, coaches. North opened for the 1968-69 school year, and Sumbera was hired as an assistant junior varsity football coach. In 1973 he became the assistant varsity baseball coach, and the next season he took over the baseball program.
“We won the District that year,” he said. “I’ll never forget it. We beat (then Detroit, now Warren) DeLaSalle, 2-1, in the final.”
Sumbera has coached some of the best teams in the state. His 2006 Division 1 championship team was 38-1. His 1980 Class A championship team was probably his best. Five players on that team were selected in the Major League Baseball amateur draft including Bill Babcock, one of the top pitchers on that team. Babcock’s son, Luke, will enter the ninth grade next fall is expected to enroll at North and play for Sumbera.
That’s the way it is in the Pointes. This large community that borders Detroit’s eastside is infectious. It’s common for someone who grew up here to remain in the area and raise his or her own family.
“A lot of the kids I coached in the 80s, I’m coaching their sons,” Sumbera said. “They play a lot of baseball here. As they grow through the ranks to high school, (Griesbaum) and I have to make cuts. You might have 250 at the Little League level, and by the time I get them we have like eight.
“The North-South rivalry is as good as any around. I coach football, and it’s intense every year. In baseball it’s as good a rivalry as there is in the state. It’ll be the fifth time we will have played South (this season). In our last doubleheader we won the first, 12-6, and lost the second, 3-2, in eight innings. That was a crusher. It’s big. The kids know it. The families know it. They all go to church together and play against each other during the summer.”
Griesbaum, a graduate of St. Clair Shores South Lake and Central Michigan, where he played baseball, said the level of competition is remarkable especially when one considers the schools do not have open enrollment. The only way one can play for North or South is to live in the school district.
Griesbaum got his start as an assistant under Sumbera (1980-83) before going to South in 1984.
“There’s nothing like a North-South game,” he said. “Our rivalry is one of the best. It’s a baseball community. My 6-year-old grandson plays T-ball. You look at what North and South have accomplished. There’s the (Grosse Pointe) Farms and City (Little League) teams. Then there’s the success of the Redbirds that (former Detroit Tiger) Dave Bergman ran. We run a (Christmas) Holiday hitting camp. We have 75 kids the first day and 75 more the next. It’s for the second through the sixth grades. We want to expose baseball at an early age.”
Some have expressed displeasure that all three Grosse Pointe schools are in the same district. Cimini scoffs at that thought. He said there are many districts throughout the state that have more than their share of quality teams.
The last two seasons North and South were in separate Districts, and they won their respective Districts both years. In 2015, they met in a Division 1 Quarterfinal, and South won. It was the Blue Devils’ seventh trip to the Semifinals, a record (tied with Saline and Grand Ledge) for a public school in Division 1/Class A.
Cimini said he’s looking forward to seeing what his team can do against the established powers.
“I can’t wait,” Sumbera said. “The whole thing is, come June 3 you have to be ready to play.”
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grosse Pointe South's Dan Griesbaum, left, and North's Frank Sumbera both have led their respective programs for more than three decades (Sumbera for more than four). (Middle) University Liggett coach Dan Cimini played for Griesbaum at South and has built a top program in the community as well. (Photos courtesy of the Griesbaum family, C&G Newspapers and the University Liggett 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.
No 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.
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.
“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 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.)