Beecher Earns Opportunity to 'Complete the Task' with Semifinal Win
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
March 23, 2023
EAST LANSING — Flint Beecher and Ecorse entered their Division 3 Semifinal on Thursday with at least one common thread of motivation.
Both lost in last year’s Semifinals, so both the Buccaneers and Raiders were looking to leave Breslin Center with some vindication.
Ultimately, Beecher was the team that did so, earning a 64-54 win over Ecorse and advancing to its seventh championship game since 2012.
Senior guard Robert Lee and senior forward Kevin Tiggs both scored 17 points to lead the way for Beecher (23-4).
“We’re not satisfied with this,” Beecher head coach Marquise Gray said. “This is just one part of completing the task.”
The difference in the game turned out to be that Beecher simply had more depth, which eventually wore down Ecorse.
Beecher featured an eight-player rotation, while Ecorse, with the exception of one substitution late in the third quarter, played its starters throughout until the game got away late.
“We figured we would wear them down,” Gray said. “Looking at their bench, we saw that they didn’t have a deep bench. But the focus, energy and effort was on us, and us executing defensively and offensively.”
A big reason why Ecorse was short-handed was because one of its best players, senior Kenneth Morrast, was out after suffering a broken wrist in a Regional Final.
Ecorse head coach Gerrod Abram said he believes his team would have won this weekend’s championship if his squad was at full strength, but also heaped praise on Beecher and its playmakers.
Abram said before Morrast’s injury, his squad didn’t play any zone all year. But after he was injured, Abram said his team had to adjust on the fly and start playing a zone defense that he didn’t want to employ, but had to in order to keep players out of foul trouble.
Senior Malik Olafioye scored 22 points, and sophomore point guard Darrien Reddick scored 14 to lead Ecorse (20-5).
“Extremely proud of the effort we put out,” Abram said. “We knew it was going to be a big task with the way they play. We gave everything that we had. We just ran out of gas at the end.”
Beecher took a 40-34 lead into the fourth quarter, but Ecorse scored the first five points of the fourth to cut Beecher’s lead to one with 6:10 remaining in the game.
The Buccaneers answered, going on a 9-0 run to grab a 49-39 lead with 4:30 left.
Ecorse closed to within seven at 51-44 with 3:37 remaining following a 3-pointer by Reddick, but Beecher responded with four straight points to take a 55-44 lead with 2:42 remaining.
Beecher ultimately punctuated the win on a flying dunk by Lee with 1:09 remaining. Lee was also fouled on the dunk, and he made the free throw for a three-point play to give Beecher a 60-48 lead.
“What I really focused on was just trying to get my teammates involved,” Lee said. “Not try to force shots. Just let the game come to me.”
Now, Beecher will turn its focus to reclaiming its status as the best in the state.
“That’s something we have talked about, remembering the feeling that we had last year when we didn’t complete the job,” Gray said. “Guys have been taking it to heart. It’s not a rite. You have to earn your way here. It’s not a given.”
PHOTOS (Top) Flint Beecher’s Robert Lee Jr. (22) sends a pass into the post during Thursday’s Semifinal win over Ecorse. (Middle) The Bucs’ Kevin Tiggs Jr. (1) pulls in a rebound while Ecorse’s Deontae Jude (11) also grabs for the ball.
Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years Now 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.)