Practicing, Playing Like Potential Champs

June 14, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Richmond baseball coach Scott Evans has been something of a drill sergeant during his two seasons running the program, junior Austin Harvey said.

But that’s exactly what the Blue Devils needed to reach a game they’d never played in before.

Richmond played in its first MHSAA Semifinal on Friday at Bailey Park. And thanks to a 3-2 win over Milan, the Blue Devils now will face reigning champion Grand Rapids Christian with a championship on the line.

“These juniors and seniors are a bunch of overachievers, and they were tired of the status quo,” Evans said. “They decided to hit the weight room, decided they wanted something better. They set goals and worked for it.

“When you get a group of kids, a bunch of teenagers, to believe in you and do what you ask them to do, go through a wall for you, then you can overachieve. That’s what’s going on here.”

Evans is a 1986 Richmond grad who went on to play at Eastern Michigan University and then coached at Clinton Township Clintondale for 16 seasons before coming home last spring.

By calling his players overachievers, Evans was not saying they lacked in talent. Far from it. Richmond (34-4) has plenty of ability. But it began to transform into more than potential last season as the Blue Devils began to see they could compete with highly-regarded opponents.

“Practice like we play. That’s what we always say,” Harvey said.

And that’s put this team in position to create school history.

Evans’ practices are intense to put his players in game-like situations. Drills are hard, but beneficial. “Coach likes to make things tough,” Harvey said. “He changed practices, and that changed the way we play.”

Richmond had to be on point Friday against Milan, which also was hoping to make its first Final.

The teams combined for only 12 hits, and after taking a second-inning lead Richmond faced a 1-1 deadlock heading into the bottom of the sixth.

Harvey led off with a single, stole second base and scored on a single by Evan Kratt. Junior Nick Ottenbacher, who pinch-ran for Kratt, also scored – which would prove necessary as Milan scored once in the top of the seventh inning before stranding two runners to end the game.

Kratt and senior Mitchell Ward both had two hits for Richmond, and Ward gave up only one run in six innings pitched.

Sophomore Thomas Lindeman was 2-for-4 for Milan (26-13) and threw four innings of one-run ball.

Grand Rapids Christian 1, Remus Chippewa Hills 0

The Eagles continued their run at a repeat championship thanks in large part to senior pitcher Alex VanDeVusse.

One of the heroes of Grand Rapids Christian’s Division 3 football championship in the fall, the quarterback-now-pitcher tossed a two-hit shutout and struck out 11.

He also was 2-for-3 from the lead-off spot and drove in senior rightfielder Tyler Davison in the fourth inning for the game’s only run.

The Eagles improved to 18-15 after entering the playoffs 12-15.

Senior Jake Tarbell was similarly masterful on the mound for Chippewa Hills. He gave up only five hits, and the run was unearned because Davison reached base on a throwing error. The Warriors finished 27-7.

Click for full box scores. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Richmond's Austin Harvey (20) slides in front of Milan catcher Jacob Friese to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning Friday. (Middle) Grand Rapids Christian's Alex VanDeVusse throws a pitch during his shutout performance against Remus Chippewa Hills. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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

By Tom Kendra
Special for

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.)