Bucs Take Place Among Beecher Greats

March 28, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — Flint Beecher's basketball players warmed up Saturday wearing red and white T-shirts proclaiming the 2015 Buccaneers as Genesee Area Conference Red Division champions. 

It was certainly an understated look for a team with much loftier goals than league titles.

The expectation for young basketball players growing up in the Beecher community the past 40 years has been MHSAA Finals championships — and nothing less. 

This year's players added their names to the list of greats who have gone before them by beating Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, 78-52, in the MHSAA Class C title game at the Breslin Center.

It was Beecher's third championship in the last four years and sixth overall. The Buccaneers have played in 10 Finals and 16 Semifinals over the last 40 years. 

There were some down years as well. But all any of the current players can remember are Beecher teams that have been legitimate threats to win it all.

"We don't think about losing," Beecher coach Mike Williams said. "We prepare to win. We don't prepare to lose. We set a standard that we want to win championships. It's important that the kids learn how to set goals and how to work toward them. That's one thing they get from me is that discipline, that structure that in life there's going to be competition, no matter what you do or where you go. You need to learn how to prepare. 

“The other thing is you have to have an edge and you have to have a chip on your shoulder. We don't want to be just an average team; we want to be the best."

There was no doubt Beecher was the best team in Class C this season. 

The Buccaneers (26-1) won their eight postseason games by an average margin of 31.4 points, with the closest game an 18-point decision over Southfield Christian in the Regional Final.

Not even a team good enough to play on the final day of the season could pose a serious threat to this Buccaneers squad. Beecher scored the first eight points of the game and led by 23 early in the second quarter. 

"You know, they're a great team," NorthPointe coach Jared Redell said. "They've been the gold standard of Class C basketball for a long time. ... Obviously, Flint Beecher's been here a ton. They know what to expect. All those kids growing up, when they're in middle school watching the high school kids win state championships and coming to the Breslin Center all the time, that has a big part in terms of the culture of the school."

This would have been Beecher's sixth straight trip to the Breslin Center if not for a devastating loss to Pewamo-Westphalia in last year's Quarterfinals. The Buccaneers led by four points with less than 15 seconds to go, but lost 42-41. 

It was a painful memory that drove the Buccaneers all season.

"Last year we learned we can't take anything for granted," said senior Samuel Toins, who was 5 for 10 from 3-point range while scoring 17 points. "Every day in practice, we went hard and didn't goof around. I just wanted to lead my team and leave my legacy with this program." 

Junior Aquavius Burks is the only Buccaneer who played in the nail-biter championship game Beecher won 40-39 against Laingsburg two years ago, scoring nine points in 21 minutes in that game. Backup Mike Herd was on the varsity that season.

Burks was one of four Buccaneers in double figures on Saturday, scoring 15 points to go with 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. 

"I feel relieved it's over with and we won," Burks said.

Other than Burks, it was an entirely different cast. The 2012 and 2013 championship teams were led by Monte Morris, the 2013 Mr. Basketball who is having a successful career at Iowa State. Morris, whose Cyclones were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, was in the stands cheering on his alma mater Saturday. 

"That's like their big brother," Williams said. "We knew he was coming home. He was at practice yesterday. Monte was calling, keeping up with us the whole way."

There would be no repeat of 2013, when Beecher had to hold on for dear life to turn aside an upset bid by Laingsburg. 

The Buccaneers were up 8-0 with 5:52 left in the first quarter and build leads of 25-5 and 28-8 during that opening period. A 3-pointer by Malik Ellison with 6:48 left in the second quarter made it 33-10 before the Mustangs (21-6) were able to settle down and play on relatively even terms the rest of the game.

"I felt like if we got out to a good start that we could play with them, and it was the start that killed us," Redell said. "We were down 20 at the end of the first quarter. Part of it was, obviously, them and their pressure. The other part was we're not beating them shooting 30 percent from the floor. We had to come out and make shots in order to be right there with them." 

Beecher's trademark pressure defense led to an 18-6 advantage in points off of turnovers for the Buccaneers.

"We wanted to throw the first punch," Williams said. "We wanted to get out and pressure them." 

NorthPointe got within 33-17 midway through the second quarter, but Beecher responded with a 12-2 run. Beecher shot 52.9 percent in the first half on its way to a 45-21 lead at the break.

The lead reached 52-26 with 5:04 left in the third quarter. The closest NorthPointe got after that was 18 points. 

All-stater Cedric Moten shot 11 for 13 from the floor while scoring a game-high 24 points.

"I just came out and tried to do my best to help my team win," Moten said. "That's basically it. Whatever it took to get the win was what I was going to do. The shots were going in." 

Ellison, a sophomore who took over for Morris last year as the starting point guard, had 10 points. Levane Blake grabbed 10 rebounds.

Kual Nhial had 16 points and 10 rebounds (eight offensive), Tyler Baker 14 points and Preston Huckaby 10 points for NorthPointe.

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

PHOTOS: (Top) Beecher's Mike Herd drives for a shot during Saturday's Class C Final. (Middle) NorthPointe's Preston Huckaby looks for an opening. 

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.

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.)