Athens' #13 Makes 'Miracle' Comeback

By Pam Shebest
Special for

October 19, 2015

ATHENS — Damon Knowles talked about baseball and basketball with his cousin, Luke Lamson, one warm Sunday last December.

That’s not unusual for the two young teens, but that day Lamson lay crushed beneath the wheels of a semi trailer loaded with corn and weighing more than 30,000 pounds.

His cousin had crawled beneath the trailer to keep Lamson awake until the ambulance arrived with the Jaws of Life. Both boys were in eighth grade at the time.


Immediately following the accident, “My dad told me to go get the phone so we could call 911,” Knowles, 14, said. “I went under the trailer and was talking to Luke. I just had to keep asking him if he could breathe.”

That accident drastically changed the way Lamson figured his freshman year at Athens High School would play out. Instead of running cross country and playing basketball this year, he is on the sidelines cheering his teammates.

The fact the 14-year-old can actually do that now is a story of amazing recovery and faith.

Knowles, his dad John and Lamson were the only ones at the farm, moving the corn to the silo at the time of the accident. None of them knows exactly how the accident happened, but John Knowles said the ground was soft from rain the day before, which probably kept his nephew from being crushed to death.

Lamson said he was awake the entire time, but doesn’t remember much about the accident. 

“It didn’t kill him because we kept the pressure on him,” an emotional John Knowles said. “I could have drove the truck off him. Had a piece of machinery there, I could have tipped the truck off him. 

“But I kept the pressure on him and he didn’t bleed internally. There was a higher power telling me not to get the trailer off him. He should have never made it out from under the trailer, never made it to the hospital. The first couple days were nerve-wracking.

“By the time I got to the hospital (later that day), half of Athens was there. We had over 90 people in the waiting room that night; probably 25 of them spent the night.”

Said Lamson’s mother, Lucy: “Being the adult and the one driving the vehicle, my brother was a mess. This little guy (Damon) was down there with Luke, underneath the trailer while he was pinned and held his head and made him stay awake and just kept talking with him.

“To me, that was the first miracle. Luke is sitting here right now because of it.”

The family created a Facebook page, Lukey Lamson’s Comeback, to post updates for friends and family.

The first entry explained: “He has a shattered pelvis, a compound fracture in his shoulder, a fracture in his lower back, and numerous open wounds. He currently just got out of surgery and they were able to attach a wound vac to help his wounds heal.

“We are receiving some communication from him such as waves, thumbs up, and hand squeezes when he is off his sedation medication, which is only for a few minutes at a time.”

Lamson, who spent two months in Kalamazoo’s Bronson Methodist Hospital and one in University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, said at the beginning he wasn’t sure he would live.

“There was times in the hospital that Luke wasn’t real fun to be around,” his uncle said. “There was one time I come around the corner and my mother and my sister were crying. I said what’s wrong. They said Luke wants to die.

“So I walked in there. I asked the two nurses to leave. We had a good heart-to-heart talk, and things changed.”

By Dec. 10, three days after the accident, Lamson was taken off the ventilator. And by Christmas, he had survived seven surgeries.

On Dec. 28 he was moved from the intensive care unit to a regular room, and by Jan. 20 he was able to sit in a wheelchair for the first time. He left Bronson for Mott’s on Feb. 3.

One bright spot in those early days came from Bronson Hospital’s Dr. Michael Leinwand who learned that Lamson is a huge Michigan State fan. He arranged for a visit from two students from the MSU dance team along with mascot Sparty.

Lamson had an attitude adjustment at Mott’s, where he found inspiration after watching an ESPN short called “Miraculous: The Austin Hatch Story,” about the University of Michigan basketball player.

“(Hatch) survived two plane crashes and lost his mother, father, two siblings and a stepmother in those two airplane crashes,” Lucy Lamson said. “He had a crushed pelvis, brain injuries. He worked like there was no tomorrow, and he didn’t have the family to support him.

“After we watched the story, Luke looked at me and said he doesn’t even have his mom and his dad to help him, and I do. That’s when he kicked it in.”

Lamson has had 22 surgeries with another scheduled for later this week, goes for physical therapy three times a week and has actually walked Athens’ home course at Stanton Farms with the cross country team.

He expects to be on the sidelines cheering on the team at its regional Oct. 31 and hopes to be a manager for the basketball team.

Lucy Lamson said it is not just the community who has come together to support the family, but also teams in the Big 8 Conference.

While at Mott’s, the teen wanted a leave to attend an Athens basketball game when his sister, Josie, was on the homecoming court.

He worked hard to meet all the criteria his doctors set and planned the surprise.

“We played our rival, Union City,” Lucy Lamson said. “They did a fundraiser for him, too. My sister was thanking everyone and then Luke rolled in in his wheelchair. and everybody just cried.”

Lamson’s basketball number has always been 13, and that number actually gave the family some comfort.

“After the accident, that number kept showing up everywhere,” his mother said. “The room he was in at one point was 13. Damon’s first gymnastics meet after the accident, he drew 13. They won a basketball game by 13.

“Players had headbands made that had 13 on them. Other teams in our conference that played our team would come in with 13 on their shirts or wristbands. At a dollar store for fundraiser stuff, the amount came to exactly $13. That was our way of knowing that God was with us and Luke would be OK.”

Lamson, Knowles and Riley Howard, all freshmen, figured they would be battling each other on the cross country team this year.

Instead, Knowles and Howard are running with Lamson cheering them on.

Although basketball is his first love, “We talked Luke into running cross country his seventh grade year, so he ran seventh and eighth grade years,” said coach Missy Hamilton, who also teaches science at the middle school.

“He’s just amazed everybody because we didn’t think he’d be back in school last year. He came back after spring break, in a wheelchair. He’s starting to walk a little bit. Now he walks the halls (with a brace on his left leg).

“I’m hoping he’ll be ready to run with us next year, and by the time he’s a junior, full time. As he works through his physical therapy, he becomes stronger and stronger.”

Damon Knowles has dedicated this cross country season to his cousin.

Asked if he thinks of Luke running beside him during meets, Damon replied, laughing and without hesitation: “Maybe behind me.”

Howard said Lamson is an inspiration to the other athletes.

“I’ve known him my whole life,” Howard said. “I was worried that he wasn’t going to make it, but I was really surprised because he’s up and walking.

“It’s inspired me to work harder, actually, because he’s not doing this right now, but he’ll be back. The team likes it when he’s there supporting us.”

John Knowles said the family has become even closer since the accident.

“There’s been a lot of great things that have come from this accident that is bigger than any one person or any one sport,” he said. “You’ve got to have bad days to appreciate the good days. Sports is a great teacher of that.”

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She continues to freelance for covering mainly Kalamazoo Wings hockey and can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Luke Lamson, in bed, is surrounded by his doctor, members of the Michigan State University dance team and Sparty during his stay at Bronson Hospital. (Middle) From left, John Knowles, Damon Knowles, Lucy Lamson. (Middle below) Luke Lamson sits up as his recovery continues. (Below) Lamson played basketball during middle school. (Top and middle photos courtesy of Lamson family; head shots by Pam Shebest, basketball photo by Photography by Char.)

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.)