Jets' Streak Withstands Mightiest Challenge

March 23, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Seth Polfus might still be giggling and shaking his head. He couldn’t believe it either.

Southfield Christian was going to be the greatest threat so far to Powers North Central’s nation-leading 81-game winning streak. Anyone closely following the Jets’ record-setting run knew it.

But no one would’ve guessed Polfus – a 5-foot-9 senior guard, the team’s fifth-leading scorer, coming off three missed jumpers – would be the one to finish victory 82.

With four seconds to play in Thursday’s first Class D Semifinal, the team’s Mr. Basketball finalist double covered, and history seemingly hanging in the Breslin Center air, North Central’s Dawson Bilski sent a halfcourt pass deep to Polfus, who bobbled the ball at the baseline. Recovering, he somehow got up a shot around outstretched arms with one tenth of a second on the clock – and it dropped to give the Jets an 84-83 double overtime victory that could well be remembered as the game of this Finals weekend, even though no title was awarded for winning it.

Regardless, it surely will be remembered as the defining game of North Central’s winning streak, however long it lasts. Southfield Christian won three straight Class D titles from 2012-14, and then played in Class C the last two seasons while the Jets built their legacy. After last season’s Finals, this school year’s classifications were released showing the Eagles headed back to Class D.

“We knew if we made it to this point, they’d be there,” said Jets senior Jason Whitens, that Mr. Basketball finalist. “So everything from that point was getting better each day, preparing for that but not overlooking any opponent because you never know when something’s going to slip up, and teams are after you. We’ve got a big target on our back, and we got the job done.”

North Central (27-0) will next face Buckley in Saturday’s 10 a.m. Class D Final.

Polfus will have a busy weekend. A 4.0 student, he’ll later that afternoon accept one of 32 MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Awards for his achievements as an all-around athlete and student.

But he wrote his legend with that most improbable shot, the basket of a lifetime for a player who tore a knee ligament two seasons ago and spent last year’s Breslin run mostly holding down the bench.

“I didn’t know how much time was on the clock. I didn’t even know I shot it,” Polfus said. “We set up that play and Dawson was going to be coming down the court, and I knew I was going to be in that position because they were going to go double (Whitens down the sideline), and the ball was coming and I was ‘Oh man, it’s actually coming at me right now.’ And then I lost (the ball) … and I didn’t really know where I was. And then I saw the 6-4 kid coming at me, pump-faked him like I always do when I’m really scared. And then just launched it, and I saw it hit off the rim, thought it was an air ball, and then I just didn’t know what happened.”

“I saw him go wide open,” Bilski added, “and I have enough trust in Seth – I grew up with him – I knew he was going to get the job done.”

Needless to say, none of what happened past halfcourt was coach Adam Mercier’s plan. 

“I think one thing that summarizes these guys, and they’ve always been this way, is that they’re good at adapting,” Mercier said. “You run sets and plays, and sometimes you get in the way coaching. (But) sometimes you let kids make mistakes, and you let kids make plays.”

The Jets had to make a few. Southfield Christian led by 10 with two minutes to go in the third quarter, only to see the Jets tie it back up with a 14-4 run to end the period.

The two teams went back and fourth during the fourth, with the Eagles pushing the game to overtime on sophomore Harlond Beverly’s free throw with six seconds to go in regulation.

“We had a couple chances, they had a couple chances to put it away,” Southfield Christian coach Josh Baker said. “That’s kinda what we’re used to with these guys and the work ethic they put in.”

Southfield Christian got up by three at the end of the first overtime, but Whitens drained a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to push the game to a second extra period. As that one wound down, the Jets led 82-80 with 20 seconds to go after a Bilski blocked shot and free throw.

But Eagles senior Brock Washington fearlessly drilled a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play, pushing his team ahead by one and setting up Polfus’ dramatic moment. 

“That’s what you want in the playoffs, what you want in the final four – a great game, a great matchup,” Washington said. “We’ll all look back one day and we’ll all be proud of what we did, but we all wanted to get that win.

“Everybody was prepared. Everybody was ready for the challenge. We’ve just gotta make the extra play.”

All five starters scored in double figures for the Eagles (21-6). Junior Bryce Washington had 23 points and Beverly had 22, seven assists and six steals, while Brock Washington added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior forward Trenton Temple had 10 points and 10 rebounds, and sophomore guard Caleb Hunter had 11 points and also seven assists.

Four other Jets average at least 10 points a game, and Polfus finished fifth in the points column again with seven (just above his 5.5 ppg average). Whitens had 31 points and 10 rebounds, Bilski added 23 points and 12 boards, and senior Bobby Kleiman had 14 points and eight rebounds. Polfus was the only starter who didn’t play the full 40 minutes, sitting for a mere three. 

“I think win or lose tonight, they guys have already built their legacy. They didn’t need to win this game to prove anything,” Mercier said. “I’m just so happy for our guys to overcome. I know a lot of people have doubts about us, and deservedly so. We’re a small Class D school with 115 kids, so a lot of people discredit our 81-game winning streak up to this point, because who have you beat?

“That was a question mark coming in. So these kids played the underdog role. At the same time, we’re the two-time defending state champs, we’ve won that many games in a row and we deserve to be here as well. I was just so elated at pushback by our kids tonight … just that pushback, because how many games did we have single digits (during this streak)? So how are our kids going to respond? Those were the questions coming in. And these kids answered them tonight.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) North Central teammates carry Seth Polfus down the court after his game-winning shot Thursday. (Middle) The Jets’ Jason Whitens works for an opening while the Eagles’ Brock Washington (left) and Harlond Beverly defend. 

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.)