Data Dig Continues for Hoops Histories

March 7, 2017

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

There is a list – well actually two – that sit, unfinished, among the “1,001 Projects I’d Like to Complete Before I Die.”

I became the caretaker of these lists back when I inherited the title “Historian for the MHSAA” in 1993.

The original lists contained the scores of all MHSAA Quarterfinal, Semifinal and Final round games for the MHSAA boys and girls basketball tournaments since their origin.

From the 1930s into the late 1960s, the MHSAA tournament game-day program was generally nothing more than a single sheet document, containing tournament brackets and team rosters for the qualifiers.

In 1969, the program saw a redesign by Lansing sports personality Tim Staudt and premiered at the MHSAA Tournament. Sold for 50 cents, it included a list of “Past Michigan State Champions” containing the names of the winning teams and those schools’ basketball coaches for each of the four classes. The publication also included a couple of articles from Dick Kishpaugh, the author of the champions list. Kishpaugh was identified as “Sports Information Director at Kalamazoo College and … perhaps the most knowledgeable historian on Michigan high school basketball.”

With the start of the Girls Basketball Tournament in 1973, a similar program design was followed.

Those lists were faithfully updated and published in the game-day programs in the same format until the 1987-88 school year, when the souvenir publications were expanded. For the first time, a list containing opponents and final scores of the boys and girls championship games was now available to the general public.

Among the first tasks I chose to approach when I assumed the duties of MHSAA historian was to chase more information.

Since Kishpaugh’s lists had game scores for the three final rounds of the tournament,  and names of the championship coaches, I thought I would try to leave my mark. I began chasing down the names of coaches for the runner-up, as well as final win-loss records for both schools. And while I was at it, I decided to see what I could find for teams that made the Quarterfinals and Semifinals.

Hundreds of hours have gone into adding to and maintaining the lists, and much progress has been made. Yet, some 20+ years later, I’m still trying to fill holes in the data.

The Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan helped spread the word, notifying its membership of the project. Web pages were created for both the boys and girls to show teams still missing information.

The pursuit has led to friendships, and fascinating stories, documents and images. The late Walter Michael, who had attended the MHSAA Finals for more than 60 years, donated a cache of MHSAA tournament programs from the 1940s through the 1960s that filled in the names of many high school coaches. Del Newell, a sports writer from the Kalamazoo Gazette, knocked out most of the Kalamazoo schools early in my search. Bill Khan, then of the Flint Journal sports department, filled in a large number of missing names and records from the Flint area. The recently retired “Son of Swami,” better known as Mick McCabe, contributed by including the win-loss records of the quarterfinalists in his annual tournament prognostication columns for the Detroit Free Press.  

Numerous coaches around the state sent e-mails and letters with the names and records for their predecessors. Prep basketball fans and former players sent along offerings. Rob Madsen from Mt. Pleasant became a huge contributor, and sent regular updates to both lists. He focused on some of the state’s smallest schools, including many from the Upper Peninsula.

Leon Westover sent the win-loss record for little Marlette, 1951 Class C runner-up, as well as one of my favorite photos from that golden era of prep sports. Marlette had “waltzed through the Mid-Thumb League and district, regional and quarter-final tournament games,” wrote Fred J. Vincent of the Port Huron Times-Herald. Marlette slipped past Stanton 41-37 to advance to the Class C title game against unbeaten Detroit St. Andrew.  

“Just one game too many …,” continued Vincent, writing from East Lansing’s Jenison Field House following the title game. “That just about explains the one-sided beating Marlette absorbed in the state class C high school basketball final here Saturday afternoon. The final score was 52-26. … One of the smallest teams, physically, in the tournament, it seemed that the Raiders were just worn out.”

Yet, that night, the team was celebrated like the hometown heroes they really were.

Westover’s photo shows the Red Raiders on the night of the Final, gathered at Teale’s Restaurant in Marlette. The clock indicates its 11:30. The owner, George Teale, has opened up his restaurant for the team to cook them steaks in honor of their achievement. Coach Nieland "Tommy" Thompson and his 22-2 squad look happy, ready to celebrate a long season.

At tournament time, these lists help answer media requests that arise.

Question: When was the last time two undefeated teams met for an MHSAA Finals championship?

Answer: 2003-Class A for the girls. Detroit Martin Luther King topped Flint Northern 58-53. 1971-Class C for the boys. Shelby downed Stockbridge 71-57.

Question: What coach had the longest span between championship game appearances?

Answer: Eddie Powers, coach of Detroit Northern, went 34 years between his Class A championship team in 1930 and his runner-up squad in 1964. The mark is asterisked, however, as the Detroit Public School League chose to stop participation in the annual state tournament from 1931 through 1961. Saginaw’s Larry Laeding went 20 years between winning the 1942 Class A championship and his squad’s 1962 Class A title. Maple City Glen Lake coach Don Miller went 19 seasons between the school’s 1977 Class D title and its 1996 runner-up finish, also in Class D.

For the girls, both Mary Cicerone at Bloomfield Hills Marian and Carl Wayer at Ashley went 16 seasons between appearances. While Cicerone’s Marian teams have made seven visits to the Finals and have won six Class A titles, 16 years elapsed between Marian’s 1998 and 2014 Class A championships. Marian then captured a second consecutive title in 2015. Coach Wayer advance two teams to the title game. Ashley finished as runner-up in Class D in 1980 and again in Class D in 1996. The loss in 1996 came in overtime, and was the only defeat for Ashley that season.

Michigan’s high school basketball tournaments are an experience shared, mostly unchanged, since their beginnings. At the end of the regular season, everyone qualifies for the madness. Yet in the end, only four teams finish as champions. The path mimics the magical trail taken by fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers. Qualifying for the Quarterfinals is still a huge triumph, as the round brings together only 32 teams from a field of more than 700 boys teams and more than 650 girls teams.

In my eyes, these lists emphasize that remarkable, undiluted achievement. In a world consumed with trophies and the number “1,” perhaps it is time to step back and celebrate this rare journey.

Click for Ron Pesch's data "Needs Lists" for girls basketball and boys basketball.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) Marlette's 1951 boys basketball team gathers for dinner at a local restaurant after the Class C Final. (Middle top) The 1969 Boys Finals saw the addition of updated tournament programs. (Middle below) The 1977 Girls Finals program told of the teams that would meet at Jenison Field House. (Below) The 1947 Boys Finals program was among many that helped fill in data gaps from the early years of the tournament. (Photos provided by Ron Pesch.)

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.)