Cass Tech Continuing Rise to Hoops Elite

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

January 4, 2018

DETROIT – When you think of Detroit Cass Tech, one would probably think of its football program.

Why not? The program coach Thomas Wilcher has built there has been arguably the best in the state the past dozen years.

That fact doesn’t bother Steve Hall, the head coach of the Technicians’ boys basketball team. On the contrary, Hall, a 1988 Cass Tech graduate and co-athletic director (along with Wilcher), takes pride in it.

It also serves as motivation.

Hall is in his third season at Cass Tech, and when the next rankings are released his Technicians will be ranked No. 1 in Class A by at least one news service, State Champs Network, and likely others.

Cass Tech is 7-0 overall and 2-0 in the Detroit Public School League. The Technicians are currently on winter break and scheduled to play next against Detroit Henry Ford on Jan. 12.

That a PSL team is ranked No. 1 is common. Teams like Detroit Cooley, Detroit Pershing, Detroit Renaissance, Detroit Southwestern and, most recently, Detroit Western, all have been ranked No. 1 over the past many years.

But for Cass Tech, it is unusual. In fact, it is believed that a top ranking for a Cass Tech boys basketball team would be the program’s first.

Hall is careful not to boast or gloat. After all, it’s early in the season and nobody awards MHSAA championship trophies in January.

“It’s hard to feel great about being No. 1,” Hall said. “The last thing you want to do is exhale.”

The program has achieved success in the past but, truthfully, it’s been awhile. Before Hall took over, Cass Tech most recently had won two PSL titles under coach Robert Shannon, the last coming in 1998. During the late 1980s, when Hall was one of the state’s top players, Cass Tech reached the 1988 Class A Quarterfinals before losing to the eventual champion, Cooley. Cass Tech had defeated Cooley that season in the PSL quarterfinals. The 1993 team that won the PSL title made it all the way to a Class A Semifinals.

During the 1950s Cass Tech was a powerhouse in the city winning three PSL titles over the decade. As one might surmise, Cass Tech has never won a state title. And just once has it reached an MHSAA Final, as the Technicians lost to Birmingham Brother Rice, 60-56 in overtime, in the 1974 Class A championship game.

Since 1998, Cass Tech had reached a PSL final just once (2013). That is, before Hall came aboard.

Last season Cass Tech defeated Detroit Martin Luther King, 59-47, to capture the school’s eighth PSL title. The Technicians won a District title for the first time since 2014 and finished 20-5, a vast improvement from the 11-10 record they posted in Hall’s first season.

As good as last season was for the program, it was just one step forward. Hall has set loftier goals.

His three-year plan included becoming regarded at the state level and nationally. That plan is on schedule.

“There were some dynamics that first year,” Hall said. “I was hired late and I didn’t have the kids during the summer. We beat (Detroit) Western, Benton Harbor and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s that season. It’s a tough league. The stable programs had upperclassmen leading them. It was a year of growth. I wouldn’t have the same appreciation (for the success) if we had won that first year. ”

Though Hall is in just his third season at Cass Tech, he’s built a strong resume as a coach, within the PSL and at the collegiate level. High school basketball fans will remember the great Detroit Rogers teams in the early 2000s that won three consecutive Class D titles (2003-05) with Hall as head coach. When that school closed in 2005, Hall went to Detroit Northwestern and guided the Colts to the PSL title in 2008, Northwestern’s first league championship in 30 years. That season Northwestern reached a Class A Regional Final before losing to Pershing.

Hall then left Michigan and became an assistant coach at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania. He stayed there four seasons before he was hired by Youngstown State in Ohio as an assistant. Hall remained there for four seasons before returning to Detroit.

This team has talent, but is void of any one superstar. None of the four seniors are Division I recruits. Hall returned six players who started at least one game last season and the top senior is Randy Gilbert, a 6-foot-6 forward who signed with Ferris State.    

There are Division I recruits coming up, however, including 6-3 sophomore Tyson Acuff and 6-5 juniors Kalil Whitehead and Tyland Tate.

Gilbert, who alternates between forward and center, is in his fourth season as a starter. He may not have made the varsity so early or with such an immediate impact playing at one of the city’s established basketball powers.

“Even going into my sophomore year people started to say things like I should transfer somewhere else,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t think about that at all. I thought we had potential.

“Coach Hall has been great to us players. He’s opened up a lot of doors. He takes us to a lot of team camps during the summer to different level of schools like Division I, Division II and NAIA so everybody gets a shot and to see where they can play (in college).

“I don’t look at Cass Tech being a football school now. We changed that.”

In the long run, that’s been one of Hall’s goals. Hall is a basketball coach, but he’s also a fan of all sports, in particular those at Cass Tech. He wants to see all of the athletic programs enjoy success, not just his team.

“When you’re a coach, it’s a way of life,” Hall said. “When I went to Cass our girls (basketball team) won the Class A title. I’ve been to Ford Field to watch the football team. I’ve been to their practices. I grew up around the school. My father (Ferd Hall) was an assistant principal here when I was growing up in the mid-70s. Cass Tech has always meant so much to me.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Cass Tech boys basketball team including head coach Steve Hall (far right) stands together at a game this season. (Middle) Randy Gilbert prepares to throw down a dunk. (Photos courtesy of the Cass Tech boys basketball program.

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.

Southwest CorridorIt reads "In Jesus' name we play."

Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to  God.

"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.

Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.

The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.

Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.

With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.

"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."

Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.

The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.

"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.

Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.

"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."

Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.

"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.

Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.

"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."

In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.

"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.

The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.

"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”

Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.

"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.

"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”

"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."

Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.

The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.

Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.

"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."

Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.

"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."


The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.

Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.

"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."

Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.

Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)