D1 Preview: Follow the Fan Favorites

March 13, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Friday's first Semifinals – formerly Class A, now Division 1 – always are the most popular ticket of Boys Basketball Finals weekend.

But you’ll want to get to Breslin Center especially early to see this season’s contenders.

It’s no secret that fans statewide are eager to see Ypsilanti Lincoln freshman Emoni Bates. But local Okemos no doubt will bring a big crowd as well. Howell, just down I-96, should too as it plays in its first Semifinal in more than 90 years. And Detroit U-D Jesuit always seems to bring a following, led by a festive student section.

Division 1 Semifinals – Friday
Howell (20-6) vs. Ypsilanti Lincoln (21-4), Noon
Detroit U-D Jesuit (24-2) vs. Okemos (23-2), 2 p.m.

Division 1 Final – Saturday, 12:15 p.m.

Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Divisions 4 and 1). All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a pay-per-view basis. The Divisions 2, 3 and 4 championship games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit’s primary channel, while the Division 1 Final will be shown live on Fox Sports Detroit PLUS. All four championship games will be streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com and the FOX Sports app. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.

Below is a glance at all four semifinalists. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.)

24-2, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Pat Donnelly, 11th season (207-53) 
Championship history: Class A champion 2016.
Best wins: 91-54 over honorable mention Roseville in Quarterfinal, 79-59 over honorable mention Detroit Cass Tech, 70-69 over Division 3 No. 1 Flint Beecher, 54-47 over Detroit Edison.
Players to watch: Daniel Friday, 6-4 sr. G/F (16.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 bpg); Jalen Thomas, 6-10 F/C (12.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.5 bpg).
Outlook: The Cubs have reached at least the Quarterfinals six seasons straight and won their six playoff games this winter by an average of 27 points per. Jesuit hasn’t lost since Jan. 5, and it’s only instate defeat was Dec. 1 to Division 2 No. 1 New Haven. Friday and Thomas earned all-state honorable mentions last season and senior guard Caleb Hunter (9.6 ppg) made the all-state first team in Class D. Senior guard Julian Dozier adds 12.8 ppg and leads the team at 5.9 assists per contest.

20-6, unranked
League finish: Second in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
Coach: Nick Simon, seventh season (108-55) 
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1927. 
Best wins: 57-56 over No. 5 Saginaw in Quarterfinal, 59-46 over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Regional Semifinal, 55-49 over Linden in District Final, 58-57 over Wayne Memorial.
Players to watch: Josh Palo, 6-2 sr. G (17.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.7 apg); Tony Honkala, 6-2 jr. G/F (10.2 ppg).
Outlook: Howell played its first Quarterfinal since 2014 on Tuesday to earn its first trip to the Semifinals since 1927. The Highlanders have won 14 of their last 16 games, the only losses during that time both to No. 3 Canton, and while giving up 50 or more points only four times during the run. Palo earned an all-state honorable mention last season and is one of four seniors in the starting lineup.

23-2, honorable mention
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Coach: Jeff Wonch, seventh season (101-58)
Championship history: Class B champion 1982 & 1981, Class A runner-up 2006. 
Best wins: 50-45 over East Kentwood in Quarterfinal, 39-34 (Regional Final), 56-41 and 41-35 over DeWitt, 72-28 over Howell.
Players to watch: Evan Thomas, 6-4 sr. G/F (17.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg), Noah Pruitt, 5-9 jr. G (10.7 ppg, 3.0 apg).
Outlook: Okemos is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since the runner-up run in 2006, although Wonch has been to Breslin a little more recently – he led Bath to the Class C championship in 2007. The Chiefs only losses this season were Detroit Catholic Central and Haslett, which both went on to win at least District titles. Long-range shooting could be key – entering the week, five players had made at least 13 3-pointers and the team as a whole was making 33 percent of its shots from beyond the arc.

21-4, honorable mention
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Coach: Jesse Davis, fourth season (54-34)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 56-52 over No. 8 Detroit Martin Luther King in Quarterfinal, 81-79 over Detroit Catholic Central in Regional Final, 58-55 over Ann Arbor Skyline in Regional Semifinal. 
Players to watch: Emoni Bates, 6-10 fr. (29.2 ppg, 53 3-pointers, 10.1 rpg, ); Jalen Fisher, 5-10 sr. G (13.1 ppg, 3.3 spg).
Outlook: Bates entered this season known as perhaps the top player his grade in the country. It’s fair to say his impact has been even greater than anticipated. He’s keyed Lincoln’s run to its first Regional title and now first Semifinal berth, making game-winning shots in both of last week’s games as he’s continued building one of the most memorable freshman seasons in state history. But his teammates certainly have done their parts. In addition to Fisher, seniors Amari Frye (10.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Tahj Chatman (10 ppg, 2.9 apg) also are averaging double-digit scoring, and Lincoln as a team is making nearly 45 percent of its shots from the floor with Bates, Fisher and Chatman also all at 73 percent or better from the free-throw line.

PHOTO: Okemos’ Evan Thomas looks for an opening during Tuesday night’s Quarterfinal win while East Kentwood’s Ja’moni Jones (1) defends. (Photo by Eric Sawatzki.)

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.)