Cass Tech 'Gamers' Force OT, Finish Surge to Reach 1st Final Since 1974

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 24, 2023

EAST LANSING – Detroit Cass Tech’s Darius Acuff was held in check for a majority of the second half Friday by Grand Blanc’s defense.

The talented sophomore, however, came up clutch in a pivotal moment.

The 6-foot-2 guard forced overtime with a 3-pointer and then scored four points in the extra period to help lift the Technicians to a thrilling 62-56 win in a Division 1 Semifinal at Breslin Center. 

Cass Tech (27-1) will play Muskegon in Saturday’s Division 1 Final.

After Grand Blanc senior Robert Williams made two free throws with 9.1 seconds left in regulation to put his team ahead 54-51, Acuff banked in a 3-pointer in the waning seconds.

It was only his second field goal of the second half after tallying 10 first-half points.

“Once I got open, I called for the ball and I knew I was going to shoot it,” said Acuff, who finished with a game-high 19 points, five assists and three steals. “I knew it was going in.”

The Technicians took control in the extra session.

A breakaway layup by Acuff pushed the Cass Tech lead to 59-56 with 55 seconds to play. He followed with a pair of free throws to make it 61-56. 

“We have some gamers on this team, and he doesn’t practice to my liking a lot of times, but when those lights come on I can count on him,” Technicians coach Steven Hall said of his standout sophomore. “The last play out of the timeout that we got a 3 on, they executed it to the T.”

Cass Tech was making its first Semifinal appearance since 1993, and will play in its first Final since 1974, when it finished Class A runner-up.

The Technicians’ Darius Acuff shoots the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation despite the defense of Grand Blanc’s Anthony Perdue (5).

Hall guided Detroit Rogers to three straight Class D titles (2003-05) and returned to his alma mater in 2015-16.

“It’s a wide range of emotions right now,” Hall said. “I’m happy to still be living to fight another day.

“For me, it’s my sixth time here but the first time with my school, and it's a dream of mine. It was a dream of mine for these guys. We came so close last year, and sitting here last year and watching the Semifinals was painful, but I’ve been dreaming of getting here with my school.” 

Cass Tech ended a 22-game winning streak by Grand Blanc, which was denied a third-straight appearance in the Division 1 Final. 

The Bobcats (25-3) rallied from an early deficit, but committed 18 turnovers for the game and were held to one field goal in overtime. 

“We didn’t handle the pressure, and one of the keys of our offensive game plan was limiting turnovers,” first-year Grand Blanc coach Tory Jackson said. “You can't beat great teams like that with 18 turnovers, and we just didn’t handle the pressure like we were supposed to.

“Hats off to Acuff. He’s a tough player and by far one of the best players we've played all year. We got undisciplined at the end, and it’s frustrating because this was supposed to be ours. We left money on the table.” 

Cass Tech jumped out to an early 11-4 lead as Acuff scored six quick points. 

The Bobcats, however, trimmed the deficit to 17-15 in the second quarter with a 3-pointer in the corner from sophomore Donnie Huddleston.

The Technicians took a slim 26-25 lead into halftime.  

Grand Blanc took its first lead, 35-34, midway through the third quarter on an offensive rebound and put-back by junior Anthony Perdue.

Cass Tech has become accustomed to close games.

“That’s us being tough and scrappy,” Acuff said. “It’s always going to come down to one possession, and it came down to that. Once we went to overtime we knew we were going to win, but we knew we had to fight for it.”

Senior Tae Boyd led the Bobcats with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while senior RJ Taylor had nine points.

Senior Kenneth Robertson added 15 points for Cass Tech, and freshman Corey Sadler Jr. added 14 points.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Cass Tech’s Corey Sadler Jr. (0) gets up a shot during his team’s Division 1 Semifinal overtime win Friday. (Middle) The Technicians’ Darius Acuff shoots the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation despite the defense of Grand Blanc’s Anthony Perdue (5).

Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years 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.)