Muskegon Makes Return to Semis Count

March 21, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Muskegon High School has waited a long time for this.

And after waiting one more year than they'd hoped, the Big Reds finally have earned the opportunity to play for their first MHSAA boys basketball title since 1937.

Senior Deshaun Thrower said he and his teammates thought last year might’ve been theirs – but fell by three points to Grand Rapids Christian in a Quarterfinal.

Playing Friday in its first Semifinal since 1947, Muskegon earned that title chance with a 63-47 win over Mount Pleasant at the Breslin Center.

“Last year we were 32 minutes away from here, and we felt we could’ve won it. We beat ourselves,” Thrower said. “That feeling never left us. It’s something we’ve prepared for and something we go off of every game and every practice.”

The top-ranked and undefeated Big Reds (27-0) will finish this season facing either Detroit U-D Jesuit or Bloomfield Hills at noon Saturday.

And despite discussions about Mount Pleasant possibly pulling off the biggest comeback in MHSAA Semifinals history – the record is 18 points – the result never felt completely up for grabs after the end of the first quarter. 

Muskgon led by as many as 23 points, nearly halfway through the third quarter before the Oilers were able to wither the advantage to nine twice during the fourth quarter. But they could get no closer.

“When you dig yourself a hole the way we dug it, you’ve got to press so hard to try to make a comeback because you’ve got to start giving up things on the defensive end," Mount Pleasant coach Dan Schell said. "And when you don’t capitalize when you do have opportunities, it’s huge because possessions are so limited and important at that point in time.

“You can go down the stretch when we had a chance, but the first 8 to 14 minutes is what cost us the game.”

All five Muskegon starters scored between nine and 14 points and grabbed 4-6 rebounds. Combined, the starters shot 50 percent from the floor and scored all but five of their team’s points.

Senior William Roberson, Jr., and junior Joeviair Kennedy led with 14 points, while senior guard Jordan Waire added 11 and junior center Deyonta Davis had 10 points, six rebounds and six blocked shots.

Thrower – this season’s Mr. Basketball Award winner – scored only nine points, but grabbed six rebounds to go with five assists. Kennedy had 13 of his points during the first quarter as Muskegon jumped to an 18-9 lead.

“It’s the flow of the game. Because I think in that starting lineup, we’ve got five guys who can put it in the basket,” Muskegon coach Keith Guy said. “(Kennedy) got it going early and it didn’t do anything but help us. Hopefully he can do the same thing (Saturday).

Mount Pleasant, itself ending a long Semifinals absence by playing in this round for the first time since 1981, finished 22-5 to double its win total from 2012-13.

The Oilers started five seniors, with center Jaleel Hogan leading with 14 points and 10 rebounds and guard Aaron Leasher adding six points, eight rebounds and five assists.

“People around the state who know basketball know how hard it is to get through our Regional because you have to go through Saginaw or Saginaw Arthur Hill every year, or a good Flint team,” said Schell, an Oilers player during the early 1990s. “So just to get out of the Regional, we were happy but not content.

“We sure wanted to bring a state championship back. Hopefully we’ll get another special group some day and we’ll find a way to get back here.”  

Click for the full box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon's Jordan Waire works to get past Mount Pleasant's T.J. Johnson on Friday. (Middle) The Big Reds' Deshaun Thrower drives to the basket.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Mount Pleasant got a 14-point, nine -ebound effort in the Class A Semifinal against Muskegon from Jaleel Hogan. Here he takes a feed from Aaron Leasher and scores to give his team a 4-2 lead. (2) Off the long miss, Muskegon's Deyonta Davis scores on the putback for two of his 14 points. He was one of four players in double figures for the Big Reds.

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.)