One of Erik O. Furseth’s favorite moments every March – perhaps the one he looks forward to most – comes during the hour before each MHSAA Basketball Semifinal.
From his familiar seat on press row, Furseth has called hundreds of Michigan State University and MHSAA Finals basketball games.
But the opportunity for high school teams to play at Breslin Center is not lost on him, especially as he watches players and fans enter the arena for the first time.
“(It’s) the kind of awe that overtakes people when they come there,” Furseth explained earlier this month. “The enthusiasm reflected on the kids there and so on.
“What a thrill for those kids to come and play a ballgame there.”
Now imagine Furseth saying this with the voice that’s become legendary to generations of basketball fans across this state.
Furseth, 82, has been a member of the MSU basketball family for more than 60 years. A player first, he since served as the homecourt voice of MSU basketball from 1968-02 and MSU football from 1971-98, and this weekend is continuing a run of calling MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals that began more than four decades ago while those games still were played at Jenison Field House.
Some of his phrases are on ready recall for those who have sat in his audience.
“The clock is correct and official.”
“Yesssss … on the basket!”
“Heeeee gets the bonus.”
Last weekend, Furseth also called his sixth MHSAA Girls Basketball Finals, and he’s announced MHSAA football championship games since their days at the Pontiac Silverdome and Baseball Finals for a decade. Furseth also just finished his third season as voice of Traverse City St. Francis football and girls and boys basketball.
“Erik is able to make that job not just a game, but an event,” St. Francis athletic director Tom Hardy said. “To have somebody of his caliber, with his recognition, in a small gym in Traverse City … whether there are 100 people or it's standing room only, it’s so great to know the professionalism of that is taken care of. He just understands kids.”
Furseth moved from East Lansing to Traverse City 18 years ago. That he would find his way to the microphone in his new hometown makes sense. But that it became the tool of his trade the last half-century certainly would be considered a detour from his original plan when Furseth turned down a chance to play football for Woody Hayes so he could study forestry in East Lansing.
“Erik O. on the radio” was the voice of Lansing rock-n-roll radio during the 1950s and 60s.
“He was the number one disc jockey in this area before they were called disc jockeys,” said Lansing WILX sports director Tim Staudt, who grew up in East Lansing and has worked in mid-Michigan television for four decades and as a daily radio host for 20 years.
“He has the all-time greatest voice, and obviously it's held up to this day.”
Furseth grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and got to know Hayes while the soon-to-be-legendary coach was finishing his tenure at Denison University. Hayes hoped Furseth, a high school football standout, would become part of the coach’s first recruiting class after taking the job at Miami (Ohio) before the 1949 season.
But Furseth, who had vacationed in Michigan growing up, was drawn to MSU’s forestry program. So he made a trip to campus – picked up by then-assistant Duffy Daugherty for a visit with head coach Biggie Munn – and was sold on coming to East Lansing instead.
It didn’t take long for his future to turn in an unplanned direction.
Furseth was injured his first fall with the Spartans, and he never played a down of college football. But at that time, MSU sent all freshmen who had played high school basketball a card encouraging them to try out for the Spartans’ freshman hoops team. Furseth, also a 6-foot-3 post player in high school, not only made that MSU team but played three seasons on the varsity under another future coaching legend – Pete Newell, who would go on to lead teams to NCAA and Olympic championships. Furseth played in MSU’s first Big Ten game, against Northwestern in 1951.
It was during sophomore year that Furseth’s academic future also changed lanes. Forestry students were required to take a soil science class offered only during the winter and from 3-5 p.m. – a conflict with Furseth’s basketball commitments. He dropped the class, dropped the major, and as a junior switched course of study to communications.
MSU basketball’s announcer at that time, Larry Friedmeyer, was among a few who took note of Furseth’s deep and authoritative tone, and suggested he audition for the campus’ WKAR radio station. Furseth was hired at 75 cents an hour to host a few nights each week of “The Concert Call,” a classical music program, and later that year joined local station WILS to read the evening news. After serving in the Air Force, Furseth returned to WILS – and a star was born.
Furseth was a DJ for WILS for 14 years. On Saturdays for a decade, he hosted dances at the Lansing Civic Center that drew 1,000 teenagers a night – and one evening, included a surprise drum performance by a famous student at the local Michigan School for the Blind, known then as Little Stevie Wonder.
Furseth later managed WILS from 1956-68. “Being the manager made it no fun anymore,” Furseth noted.
He left for a job outside of radio. But the fun returned when his announcing career began.
Erik O on the microphone
The “O,” by the way, stands for Olaf. Furseth’s parents are from Norway. “Erik O” was a smooth radio name early in his career when he was filling in for mentor Dave Froh – “Erik O for Dave Froh” – so it stuck.
In his role at a basketball game, Erik O admittedly doesn’t see much of it – at least, as a fan might. He can say his top three MSU players during his time as announcer were Scott Skiles, Magic Johnson and Johnny Green. But for the most part, Furseth focuses on the factual information he must supply with every substitution, foul and break.
He found that winning formula long ago.
“He’s just a nice guy – and nice guys don’t usually last on the air as long,” said Lansing sports radio personality Earle Robinson, who recently retired after 39 years at WKAR. “He’s always had good relationships and such a pleasant personality.”
“You’d never know he was a basketball player or anything. He’s very free of any ego, very helpful to people and generous of his time,” said longtime MSU men’s basketball broadcaster Gus Ganakas, who formerly coached the Spartans from 1969-76 and was an assistant on Furseth’s freshman team.
“And particularly in basketball, he knew what he was doing. He’s a former player and has a background as an athlete, and he has a pleasing voice. I’ve always admired him because of his devotion to what he’s doing.”
High school sports are high on that list.
Furseth enjoys announcing the seventh and eighth grade football teams that play at Traverse City’s Thurlby Field – “They think they’re big time,” he said – and finds it incredible how much the high school teams can improve over the course of a season.
He relishes the camaraderie he sees at Class C St. Francis, and wishes he’d attended a similarly-small school himself. To a player who was wearing his former number, he said, “You’re wearing my number. Do it right.” And the St. Francis boys basketball team felt at home at Breslin Center in 2012, when it finished runner-up to Flint Beecher while a familiar voice called the action.
Furseth recalled earlier this month. “Really, for me, high school (sports) exemplifies the development of our kids athletically and in many other ways. You learn a lot of things in athletics.”
“When I think about my life, to think something I started led to doing this; I’m thrilled that it happened,” Furseth said of returning to another Finals. “It’s always been a great thrill for me to do it.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Erik O. Furseth calls the Saginaw/Rockford Class A Boys Basketball Final last season at Breslin Center. (Middle) Furseth prepares to call another game during the 1999 Boys Finals weekend at Breslin.
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)