Beecher Pulls One Win Closer to Repeat

March 21, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Monte Morris returned to the Breslin Center on Thursday for the start of his fourth and final trip as a member of the Flint Beecher basketball program.

The group on the court with him was, for the most part, different than the one that last season won the MHSAA Class C championship. But the Buccaneers’ level of motivation hasn't changed a bit.

Beecher may not be seeking to end a title drought this time after last season's was its first since 1987. But Morris and another group hungry to make history pulled one more win closer to doing so with a 73-55 win over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. 

Beecher will finish this season against Laingsburg in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. championship game.

“Last year, any one of these guys could’ve stepped in and started like they do now. They were just getting ready,” Morris said. “They put the work in during the offseason. They just waited their turn. Now it’s their year, and they’re cherishing the moment.”

And it’s been another memorable week for the Bucs (26-1).  

On Monday, the Iowa State-bound Morris was named Mr. Basketball by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. On Tuesday, Beecher edged Detroit Consortium 46-44 to earn its return trip to East Lansing.

Morris and his teammates were aware that his award would serve as additional motivation for the teams it would see this week. The Bucs used that as an opportunity to focus their collective mindset even more.

“We’re still hungry,” Beecher coach Mike Williams said. “We’ve got 32 minutes left, and we’re going to learn from history. We know what happened the last time Beecher was here trying to repeat. We’ve got to put in 32 minutes Saturday to bring it home.”

That season, 1988, Beecher returned to the Semifinals but lost in overtime 68-64 to eventual champion Grand Rapids South Christian.

The potential for that kind of situation faded quickly Thursday.

Just 18 seconds in, junior Emmanuel Phifer dunked two of Beecher’s eventual 23 fastbreak points. Senior Markell Lucas’ basket six minutes later gave the Bucs a lead it would not relinquish.

St. Mary senior guard Kevin Woodson scored seven points over 1:22 to help cut what grew to a 23-point lead down to 52-39 with 2:27 to play. But the Falcons (23-3) got no closer than 11 of the lead.

“It was just a great opportunity for our kids,” St. Mary coach Randy Windham said. “We’ve been knocking at the door. Two years ago we lost to Schoolcraft (in the Quarterfinal), and last year we went to the Regional and lost to River Rouge. This year, their will and character just showed. They refused to lose to Schoolcraft this time (again in a Quarterfinal).

“This is something these young men will remember the rest of their lives.”

Morris led Beecher with 29 points and eight assists, while Phifer had 14 points and senior Eric Cooper added 12.

Woodson led four Falcons in double figures with 15 points. Senior Chinedu Nwosu, junior Bradley Sherman and sophomore Bryce Windham all scored 10 points, and Nwosu and Sherman both grabbed eight rebounds.

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Beecher's Eric Cooper (12) and Emmanuel Phifer (10) defend Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central's Bradley Sherman (40) during Thursday's Semifinal. (Middle) St. Mary's Chinedu Nwosu and Beecher's Markell Lucas go up for the opening tip. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)