Erik O, Legend on the Microphone

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 21, 2013

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.

Life-changing moments

“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. 

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)