Freshman Shines As Eagles Repeat in D

March 23, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — There was no need for Eugene Brown to sit quietly in the background and ease his way into a prominent role on Southfield Christian's basketball team.

One game was all it took for the freshman guard to prove he belonged on the defending MHSAA Class D Finals champion.

When Brown scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a season-opening overtime victory over traditional Class A power Orchard Lake St. Mary's, it justified coach Josh Baker's decision to put a ninth-grader in the starting lineup of a team with Breslin-or-bust aspirations.

"To come in as a freshman, that's a pretty good first game against a great team," Baker said.

Brown was a mere spectator at the Breslin Center when the Eagles won their first championship last season. He thrived under the bright\ lights on Saturday as Southfield Christian repeated as Class D
champion with a 65-46 victory over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian.

He jump-started the Eagles' championship victory, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the first half and helping Southfield Christian build a 16-point second-quarter lead. Brown shot 5 for 8 from the field,
3 for 3 from the line, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out four assists and had three steals.

Freshman jitters? Not in this kid.

"I just tried to come out and not be nervous," Brown said. "Just play the game like you know how, just go out and do your best."

Baker wasn't concerned how his freshman phenom would respond on the big stage, just as he was confident that Brown could handle making his high school debut against a team like St. Mary's in early December.

"He's usually pretty cool and casual under pressure," Baker said. "Part of that is his problem, because he's not aggressive enough all the time. We wanted him to be aggressive. We've been on him all year to be aggressive. He did it tonight, and he showed he can make plays. He's so skilled as a freshman. When he's aggressive and he keeps the ball low, he's really good."

As Brown started sinking shots during a decisive second quarter, the Southfield Christian student section chanted, "He's a fresh-man!" It was a warning to the rest of Class D that Brown will have to be reckoned with for three more seasons. For that matter, the entire program could dominate Class D for years to come.

It's not too early to begin speculation that Southfield Christian is a dynasty in the making. Winning back-to-back championships is an excellent start. All 65 of the Eagles' points against Tri-unity were scored by players who are eligible to return next season.

The team's only two seniors didn't play until a 58-40 lead had been built midway through the fourth quarter.  The Eagles started a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors.

"We can only get better," said 6-7 junior Damarco White, who had 15 points and five blocks.

"The sky's the limit," added junior guard Lindsey Hunter IV, who scored 11 points.

A man who is an expert on Class D dynasties is Mark Keeler, who has coached four MHSAA Finals champions and four runners-up in his 26 seasons at Tri-unity.

"Seeing how young their team is, they're definitely going to be a force in Class D," said Keeler (499-142), who was trying to celebrate a Finals championship and his 500th victory on the same day.

The Eagles rebuilt on the fly after winning the title last year. Their returning players combined for only 12 points in last year's MHSAA Final, with Hunter scoring eight of them.

After a 3-4 start, Southfield Christian won its final 20 games.

"We knew we had the potential. It's just that early on we struggled with understanding the work ethic you have to put in," Baker said. "It's not just handed to you. Every game you play, every team is going to come after you. That's why we started off 3-4. We just got drilled by some guys. When they understood the work ethic and what it takes every game, we started to go on a nice run."

Tri-unity (25-3) got out to an 8-6 lead, but Southfield Christian took the lead for good by scoring the next nine points to ignite a 26-8 run. The lead reached 34-18 with 3:48 left in the second quarter. The Eagles didn't score the rest of the half, while the Defenders cut the margin to 34-23 at the intermission.

Matt Wachter's basket with 7:04 left in the third quarter trimmed the deficit to single digits at 34-25, but Tri-unity didn't put together consecutive scores again until Southfield Christian was comfortably ahead, 56-34.

Tri-unity forward Joey Blauwkamp, The Associated Press' Class D Player of the Year, was held to seven points on 2 for 9 shooting before fouling out with 2:38 left in the game.

"For us coming into halftime, being down only 11, I wasn't too concerned," Keeler said. "But when Joey picked up three and four (fouls) so quickly, it definitely messes with you."

Sophomore Bakari Evelyn scored 11 points for Southfield Christian, which shot 22 for 42 from the field and 17 for 21 from the line.

Daniel Cole scored 21 points and Wachter 11 for Tri-unity.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Christian coach Josh Baker presents the championship trophy to his team Saturday at the Breslin Center. (Middle) Eagles freshman Eugene Brown goes up for a shot against Wyoming Tri-unity Christian's Joey Blauwkamp (4) and others. (Click to see more at

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.

Southwest CorridorIt reads "In Jesus' name we play."

Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to  God.

"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.

Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.

The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.

Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.

With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.

"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."

Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.

The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.

"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.

Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.

"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."

Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.

"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.

Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.

"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."

In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.

"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.

The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.

"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”

Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.

"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.

"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”

"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."

Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.

The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.

Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.

"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."

Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.

"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."


The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.

Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.

"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."

Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.

Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)