Munising Powers Past Reigning Champ to Claim 1st Finals Title

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

March 25, 2023

EAST LANSING — There is an old saying that the heart of a champion should never be underestimated.

But in this case, it was the heart of the challenger that couldn’t be underestimated. 

After seeing a six-point lead turn into a one-point deficit during the fourth quarter of the Division 4 Boys Basketball Final on Saturday, Munising seemed to be on the ropes trying to dethrone 2022 champion Wyoming Tri-unity Christian.

But from there, it was Munising which made the championship plays.

The Mustangs scored six straight points, and ultimately did enough to hold on for a 39-37 win over the Defenders.

It was the first Finals title for Munising, and chants of “UP Power! UP Power!” rained on the court from the Munising fans as the team celebrated afterwards. 

The Mustangs’ Kane Nebel (0) gets to the basket for a shot with Wesley Kaman (5) defending.“A lot of our games have been this way this year,” Munising head coach Terry Kienitz said. “We come out fighting and scrapping the whole game. A lot of times we get a good lead and lose it, but we always keep fighting and the next guy makes a big shot.”

Munising held a 25-19 lead with 3:07 remaining in the third quarter, but Tri-unity Christian went on a surge and took a 30-29 lead with 3:46 left in the game on a layup by senior Roy Fogg. 

Then, Munising took over. 

First, senior Cully Trzeciak hit a 3-pointer from the wing to give Munising a 32-30 lead with 2:10 remaining.

The play run for that shot was called “Herro,” after Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro, but it was appropriate because it turned Trzeciak into a town hero forever.

“On Thursday (in the Semifinal), I was kind of in a slump and missed a lot,” Trzeciak said of his only 3-point attempt in this game. “But shooters shoot. You’ve got to keep shooting, and it felt good.”

Sophomore Trevor Nolan then stole an errant inbounds pass and went in for an uncontested layup with 2:02 left to make it 34-30 Munising. 

Senior Kane Nebel then made a free throw with 1:07 remaining to give the Mustangs a five-point lead. Tri-unity Christian made it 35-32 with 45.1 seconds left on two free throws by Fogg, but Munising took a 37-32 lead with 33.6 seconds to go on two free throws by sophomore Carson Kienitz, and then went up seven on two free throws by Nebel with 18.6 seconds left. 

Munising’s Carson Kienitz (2) tries to get a pass past Tri-unity Christian’s Akais Giplaye (20).Things did got a little dicey at the end for Munising, as Tri-unity Christian cut its deficit to 39-35 with 13.6 seconds left on three free throws by junior Owen Rosendall and then made it 39-37 with 2.8 seconds left with a basket by Rosendall.

But Munising successfully inbounded the ball, avoided a foul and dribbled out the clock to start its celebration. 

Nebel – whose grandfather Chuck Nebel played on the last Munising team to reach the Semifinals in 1954 – had 14 points, six rebounds and six assists to lead the way for Munising (27-1), which overcame a 39-17 rebounding advantage by Tri-unity Christian. 

Junior Jordan VanKlompenberg scored 15 points and Fogg added 11 for Tri-unity Christian (22-7), which was making its third-straight appearance in the championship game. 

The Defenders shot 31.1-percent from the field and made just 4 of 19 shots from 3-point range. 

“I was disappointed in our offense,” Tri-unity head coach Mark Keeler said. “I felt we showed a lot of impatience and a lot of bad shots. But I don’t want to take anything away from Munising. They had a great team and they played great defense.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Munising players celebrate the team’s first Finals championship Saturday at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Mustangs’ Kane Nebel (0) gets to the basket for a shot with Wesley Kaman (5) defending. (Below) Munising’s Carson Kienitz (2) tries to get a pass past Tri-unity Christian’s Akais Giplaye (20).

Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years Now 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.)