By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Last week was unkind to many who had enjoyed perfect runs through most of the first half of this boys basketball season.
Of course, the best teams rarely make it through an entire season unscathed – and often that’s a good thing. Five of eight teams on this week’s “Watch List” below have lost at least once and a couple have three defeats – but are still making major impressions as we roll along toward March.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Detroit Renaissance 60, Detroit Cass Tech 57 – More on Renaissance’s surge below, but this one announced it as Cass Tech had been in the talk as the best in Class A.
2. Kalamazoo Central 55, Mattawan 47 – The Maroon Giants are quietly off to another strong first half, sitting alone in first in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East after handing Mattawan its first loss of the season.
3. Maple City Glen Lake 54, Frankfort 45 – The Lakers had quite a week, handing Frankfort its first loss to move into a three-way tie atop the Northwest Conference before defeating Lake Michigan Conference leader Traverse City St. Francis two days later.
4. Rochester 71, Berkley 55 – Rochester moved into first place alone in the Oakland Activities Association Blue while handing Berkley its first loss overall.
5. Buckley 62, Manton 60 – These teams went a combined 47-6 last season in both making it to the Breslin Center; they are a combined 13-6 with high aspirations again this winter.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Detroit Renaissance (8-3) – The Phoenix finished 6-14 only a season ago, but the rise has been sharp and impressive over the last two months. Right after downing Cass Tech last week, Renaissance also defeated Class B contender Detroit Henry Ford – which beat the Phoenix by three Dec. 19. The three loses this season are by a combined nine points; Renaissance fell early by four to Flint Carman-Ainsworth and then by a basket to Ann Arbor Huron in overtime (those two are 15-3 combined).
Okemos (7-3) – Last week’s 60-55 win over East Lansing requires context; Trojans all-stater Brandon Johns was unable to play, reportedly resting a lingering knee injury. Regardless, the victory pushed the Chiefs into a first-place tie with Grand Ledge in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue after Okemos finished fourth and 12-9 overall last season. The only losses this winter were to the Comets, DeWitt and Troy Athens (24-6 combined) in December; the Chiefs are 4-0 in 2018.
Coloma (9-0) – A 54-49 overtime win over nonleague foe Kalamazoo Hackett on Saturday didn’t enhance Coloma’s standing atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore, but did further the Comets’ standing as a team to watch statewide (Hackett fell to 9-2). Coloma improved from five wins two seasons ago to 13 and second in the Lakeshore last winter, and it has a one-game lead on Fennville heading into their second meeting this season Friday. The Comets won the first 71-64 on Dec. 8.
Fremont (7-2) – After two seasons winning only six games apiece, Fremont improved to 13-8 last winter and has continued to climb. The Packers have won five straight to rise to first place in the Central State Activities Association Gold despite suffering a loss to third-place Reed City during a 2-2 start. They are perfect this month and started the run with a 54-49 win over second-place Big Rapids.
Capac (9-0) – The Chiefs have nearly guaranteed their first winning season since 2010-11, and are set up to play for more. Coming off an 8-13 finish a year ago, Capac finds itself tied for first in the Blue Water Area Conference with Richmond, and they’ll meet for the first time next week. The Chiefs handed former co-leader Almont its first league loss Friday, 41-35, and have won six games by double digits.
Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-2) – The Bobcats’ Division 8 championship football success seems to be following into the winter, as they moved into first place alone in the Tri-County Conference with a 63-42 win over Sand Creek on Thursday. Next up is second-place Petersburg-Summerfield, and a victory would be coach John Rice’s 500th. Whiteford’s only losses this winter are to Class A Temperance Bedford and also much larger Toledo Waite.
Ashley (9-1) – The Bears have run off nine straight victories to move into first place in the Mid-State Activities Conference with a matchup against second-place Carson City-Crystal coming up this week. Ashley won nine games total a year ago – and had 19 victories over the last five seasons combined entering this winter. The lone loss was by only three to Portland St. Patrick in its opener.
Bellevue (8-0) – Last season’s 23-2 run – an improvement of five wins from the solid season before – might have been just another step as the Broncos are surging again. The most impressive win may have come Thursday, 45-39 over Camden-Frontier which sent the Redskins to 9-3. The Broncos also beat Class C Carson City-Crystal and Lakeview to win the Central Montcalm Holiday Hoops Tournament, and have a two-win lead in the Southern Central Athletic Association West.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Grand Rapids Christian (6-2) at East Grand Rapids (9-1) – These two sit together at the top of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold after Christian was first and EGR only fifth last season.
Tuesday – Warren DeLaSalle (7-2) at Detroit U-D Jesuit (8-2) – This will be the first of two meetings (at least) between the current co-leaders of the Detroit Catholic League Central.
Tuesday – Grandville Calvin Christian (7-1) at Grand Rapids Covenant Christian (10-2) – Both should be in the Class C statewide mix again after Covenant was runner-up last season and Calvin was runner-up in 2016.
Tuesday – Coloma (9-0) at Kalamazoo Christian (9-0) – The leaders of the SAC Lakeshore and Valley, respectively, have made similar big moves in their divisions with a similar opportunity to gain a little more statewide acclaim.
Thursday – West Bloomfield (5-4) at Clarkston (10-1) – The overall records don’t look close, but West Bloomfield trails the Wolves by just a win in the OAA Red after both made the Class A semifinals last season (and Clarkston won it all).
PHOTO: Ottawa Lake Whiteford coach John Rice provides some pointers for his 7-2 Bobcats. (Photo by Cari Hayes.)
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.)