By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
We’re heading into the midpoint of this boys basketball season, and the surprises keep coming.
Detroit Henry Ford and Grand Ledge were full of them last week, and Berkley has been one of the state’s most intriguing all season. We touch on those a little bit below, along with a number of others that most recently caught our attention.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Detroit Henry Ford 63, Detroit Cass Tech 60 – The Trojans should be back in the Class B title talk after handing a first loss to one of the major favorites in Class A.
2. Grand Ledge 59, East Lansing 53 – The Comets are 6-1 but weren’t getting much attention until this upset broke East Lansing’s 45-game regular-season winning streak.
3. Frankfort 69, Buckley 53 – The Panthers handed the reigning Class D runner-up this defeat after falling to Buckley by 39 and then only three last season.
4. Detroit Cass Tech 85, Muskegon 78 (OT) – The Technicians did not waste time bouncing back from the Henry Ford loss, downing Muskegon in overtime the next day at Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills.
5. Macomb Dakota 64, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 62 – The Cougars took big losses early to Detroit U-D Jesuit and New Haven, but are undefeated in the Macomb Area Conference Red after handing Chippewa Valley its first defeat in the league and overall this winter.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Ann Arbor Skyline (7-0) – The Eagles have been building toward a start like this, even winning the Southeastern Conference Red title a year ago. They started the new year with a 20-point win over second-place Ann Arbor Pioneer on Saturday and have impressive wins by 14 over Belleville, one over Detroit Pershing and 20 over frequent nemesis Ann Arbor Huron.
Berkley (8-0) – The Bears have doubled their win total from last season after going 4-17, and they’re only a few more from guaranteeing a first winning season since 2010-11. They’ve pulled off a few close ones including a two-point victory over MAC Bronze leader Madison Heights Madison a month ago. Next up is Rochester with first place in the Oakland Activities Association Blue on the line.
Detroit Henry Ford (7-2) – The 2015-16 Class B champion still made the Regional last season despite finishing 13-11 overall, and another big run could be on the way. Ford opened this season with a two-point win over 2017 Class A semifinalist West Bloomfield, and has beaten a series of Class A teams including Cass Tech (see above). The losses came to Class A powers Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills and Hazel Park, the latter in overtime.
Ovid-Elsie (5-1) – The Marauders have hovered around .500 the last few seasons, but might have something more in store over the next two months after a fast start. Ovid-Elsie sits atop the Tri-Valley Conference West standings and hasn’t lost since its opener (to still-undefeated Fowler). Coming up Friday is a matchup with second-place Hemlock.
Norway (5-2) – The Knights moved over to the Skyline Central Conference after sharing the Mid-Peninsula Conference title last season and finishing 18-3 overall. They’ve won four straight and hold a half-game lead in the SCC’s Large School division. The two losses came in December in overtime to Powers North Central and by eight to nemesis Iron Mountain, which knocked Norway out of the tournament last season. Those two will face off again Feb. 9.
Sanford Meridian (7-1) – The Mustangs are playing for a second straight Jack Pine Conference championship and already have wins against usual annual contenders Beaverton and Clare. Meridian’s only loss was by 10 in early December to Class A Saginaw Heritage, and it’s got another similar test coming up against Midland Dow in two weeks.
Cedarville (7-2) – The Trojans are approaching the season’s midpoint in position to take back the Eastern Upper Peninsula Athletic Conference title after tying for second a year ago. Cedarville got past reigning champion Pickford 67-59 last week and has lost only to undefeated Hillman and Class B Boyne City.
Frankfort (6-0) – The Northwest Conference sent Buckley all the way to the Class D title game last year, and early this winter it’s Frankfort that could be setting up for a run. The Panthers held onto first place all alone in the league last week with a win over the Bears, and now face the other two teams with only one conference loss – Kingsley on Tuesday and Maple City Glen Lake on Thursday.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Rapid River (7-0) at Powers North Central (6-1) – The Rockets ended North Central’s record 84-game winning streak Dec. 7, but the Jets can make it six straight by taking the rematch.
Tuesday – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (7-2) at Warren DeLaSalle (6-2) – In a strong Detroit Catholic League Central, these are two of the best; DeLaSalle leads and St. Mary’s is third after falling to second-place U-D Jesuit by a point last week.
Thursday – Bellevue (8-0) at Camden-Frontier (8-2) – Both are pushing for Southern Central Athletic Association titles; Bellevue is tied for first in the West and Camden-Frontier is second in the East, and this game counts in the standings for both.
Thursday – Maple City Glen Lake (5-1) at Frankfort (6-0) – The Panthers also must survive Kingsley on Tuesday to keep their perfect start going, and Glen Lake is aiming to gain a share of first place in the Northwest Conference too.
Friday – Hazel Park (8-0) at West Bloomfield (3-3) – Hazel Park and reigning Class A champion Clarkston have been the talk of a strong OAA Red, but West Bloomfield also is undefeated in league play after opening with three tough nonleague losses including two by only two points apiece.
PHOTO: Berkley, here against Clawson in December, is one of this season’s biggest surprises. (Photo courtesy of C&G Newspapers.)
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.)