D4 Eagles Regain Championship Stride

March 16, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Southfield Christian began this winter minus two starters who left the program for other schools and with just two wins in its first seven games.

In early January, the Eagles faced a decision to guide the rest of their season.

“Our conversation repeatedly after a couple of those games was we’ve gotta choose if we’re either going to be great, of if you’re going to be OK and we’re going to be OK with being .500 and just being average,” Southfield Christian coach Josh Baker recalled Saturday. “Beat some teams, and lose to some better teams and call it a season.

“What are we going to do here? So as a team, we just collectively decided we were going to put in more work, and we were going to put in more time and … we’re just going to give extra effort. That’s the only thing we know how to do.”

Once again, Southfield Christian figured out the rest. The Eagles finished 19-1 after that opening stretch and finished Saturday as a repeat MHSAA champion with a 63-39 win over Frankfort in the Division 4 championship game at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

The title was Southfield Christian’s fifth this decade. In addition to last season’s, the Eagles also won Class D in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The team’s only loss since Jan. 5 came to River Rouge, an eventual Division 2 finalist.

“This is very sweet. I’m not going to lie to you,” Eagles junior guard Da’Jion Humphrey said. “We worked hard – me, Jon (Sanders), everyone on the team, we put in countless hours. And as you can see, it pays off. Southfield Christian basketball is still here, and we’re still thriving.”

Humphrey and Sanders, a senior guard, were returning starters from last season’s team. They took on bigger roles as Harlond Beverly – the leading scorer in last year’s Class D Final – left for a prep school, and Caleb Hunter transferred to Detroit U-D Jesuit.

On Saturday, Humphrey led with 20 points, five assists and five rebounds, and Sanders had 19 points. Junior guard Noah Rheker added 10 points.

The Eagles jumped out to a 13-2 lead over the first 3½ minutes, and pushed the advantage to 24-12 by the end of the first quarter despite Frankfort making 63 percent of its shots from the floor during the period. The Panthers’ problem was they struggled to get many off, with eight of their 16 turnovers also coming over the first eight minutes.

Rheker scored Southfield Christian’s final basket of the first quarter and five more points during the first six minutes of the second as the Eagles extended their lead to 21.

“I was really trying to bring a spark, because I knew our biggest emphasis was to try to pressure the ball and really get after it,” Rheker said. “So I just really tried to set the tone and let these guys pick it up after me.”

Senior guard Will Newbold led Frankfort with 17 points and seven rebounds. With the game decided in the fourth quarter, the coaches emptied their benches. Panthers’ freshman Blake Miller quickly became a fan favorite during his hustle-filled four minutes – he ended up the team’s second-leading scorer with seven points to go with a pair of steals.

“The moment can kinda get you, but I thought our guys did a good job,” Frankfort first-year head coach Dan Loney said. “They didn’t back down. They played to the end. And as a coach, you couldn’t be happier.

“Look at the crowd out there. You see the kind of community we come from. We’re down 30 and they’re cheering like we’re up. As a coach, I really can’t explain the feeling when you see that. … The future is going to be bright in Frankfort, and we plan on being back here.”

Loney’s team finished 21-6, and the trip to the championship game was made more impressive by the fact the Panthers had graduated all of their starters and a top sub from last season’s 20-3 run.

“The fans and the crowd, it was so much different than back home,” Frankfort senior forward Jack Reznich said. “To be able to see all our fans, come out and see the (U-D) Jesuit school, all of them cheering for us. Just having everybody here, see all the lights and noise, it was a crazy feeling. It was life-changing.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Christian’s Jon Sanders (10) gets a shot up over Frankfort’s Conner Smith during Saturday’s Division 4 Final. (Middle) Will Newbold works to drive past the Eagles’ Rahmon Scruggs.

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.)