Benton Harbor Back in Breslin Spotlight

March 21, 2014

Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Benton Harbor’s players came off the court Friday night to their band playing and fans who had filled most of the horseshoe at the north end of the Breslin Center.

It’s hard to believe the Tigers hadn’t played in an MHSAA Semifinal since 1993. But Benton Harbor basketball is back in a big way – and one win from the school’s first title since 1965.

Led by coach Corey Sterling – who played on that 1993 team – the Tigers continued their longest run in more than a decade with a 69-52 win over Cadillac to earn a spot in Saturday night’s Class B Final.

“What Benton Harbor is known for is basketball,” Tigers senior guard John Robinson, Jr., said. “For us to come back in 2014 and make a run is really big for the community and for the Benton Harbor program.”

Benton Harbor will face either Milan for Detroit Douglass at 6:30 Saturday night.

Sterling is in his second season leading his alma mater, guiding it to a 17-9 record this winter after the Tigers went 17-7 a year ago. That 1993 team was the last to make a championship game as well, where it fell in a heartbreaker 67-64 to Detroit Pershing.

Benton Harbor had won two Regional titles since, the last in 2001. But the Tigers’ reputation as a basketball power has faded only a bit, getting a boost in part during the middle of last decade when Wilson Chandler starred before moving on to DePaul and now the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.

“One thing we try to do is have the guys come in who played back in the day,” Sterling said. “(These players) are aware that the last champion was in 1965. They’re aware that I played here at Breslin in ’93 and lost by three. We remind them that Benton Harbor is a basketball school with a rich tradition. And they’re just really hungry. They don’t want their season to end.”

It took only about a quarter Friday to realize it wouldn’t end until the final day.

Benton Harbor took its first double-digit lead 1:09 into the second quarter and kept it for good over the final 18 minutes. Four players scored in double figures, led by senior forward Cortez Moore with 18 points plus 11 rebounds.

Sophomore forward Jaton Gunn added 13 points and nine rebounds, Robinson had 11 points and sophomore point guard Curtis Dawson had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Senior forward Jalen Brooks led Cadillac with 30 points despite constant attention from one or multiple defenders. But the next highest Vikings scorer totaled only five points.

Brooks was the team’s second-leading scorer last season when it fell to Detroit Country Day also in a Semifinal.

“It’s really exciting, especially for our juniors and after what we came off of from football (Cadillac finished 11-1 and won its District),” Brooks said. “That translated to the basketball court. People look at our team, and we’re not the biggest. Most people wouldn’t think we’d get where we’ve gotten. But we have a lot of heart, and I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Both teams entered the postseason unranked. Cadillac finished 19-7, with two losses by two points or fewer.

Five of Benton Harbor’s losses were by three or fewer points, which no doubt has helped as the Tigers have taken down two top-five teams over the last two weeks.

“We might’ve lost nine games this year, but we play in one of the toughest conferences in the state,” Sterling said, referring to the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West. “All our losses built character. So when teams make a run on us, we overcome it. We know how to finish games.”

Click for a full box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Benton Harbor's John Robinson, Jr., brings the ball upcourt during Friday's first Class B Semifinal. (Middle) Cadillac's Jalen Brooks dunks for two of his 30 points.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Cadillac's Jalen Brooks led all scorers in the Class B Semifinal against Benton Harbor with 30 points. Here he drives the lane for a basket and the foul - a 3-point play! (2) Cortez Moore led Benton Harbor with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Here he scores on a putback.

Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years Now 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.)