North Central Finishes Memorable Run

March 28, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Powers North Central’s three-season quest to win its first boys basketball championship since 1984 will go down as one of the most successful in MHSAA history.

And how the Jets finished this winter should make them among to most memorable Class D champions for at least a few seasons to come.

North Central capped the run with a 67-47 win over Morenci in Saturday’s Final at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center, and in doing so pushed its three-season record to 75-5 – with the wins tied for seventh-most over three seasons in MHSAA history. 

The Jets finished this winter 27-0, combining what coach Adam Mercier calls a lost art, a sizable lineup unlike any Morenci had faced this season, and an incredible scoring touch that showed to a statewide crowd when North Central hit an unreal 70 percent of its shots from the floor during the first half.

“We have a lot of skill players, a lot of kids who love basketball,” Mercier said. “These kids just play a style that I like to coach, and I know fans like seeing.” 

North Central’s last two seasons had ended in the Semifinals and Quarterfinals, respectively. Despite entering this postseason ranked No. 1 in Class D, a pre-Breslin exit looked possible with five top-10 teams hailing from the Upper Peninsula, and three playing in the Jets’ Regional.

They dispatched No. 5 Munising in the Regional Semifinal, then No. 7 Lake Linden-Hubbell in the Regional championship game. North Central downed another top-10 team, No. 6 Hillman, in the Quarterfinal. 

Morenci wasn’t ranked heading into the playoffs – but eliminated previously-undefeated and No. 3 Waterford Our Lady in its Semifinal. Still, and despite playing a Class C-heavy schedule, Morenci hadn’t faced a team with North Central’s ability to put three players on the floor 6-foot-4 or taller, and all capable of handling the ball, scoring – and this season, playing much better defense as well.

“When your gameplan is to do your best to not let them beat you to the basket, make them shoot from the outside, and then you see continual 3 after 3 going in, it’s kinda deflating,” Morenci coach Jim Bauer said. 

The Jets made 10 of 13 first-quarter shots – 77 percent – including a pair of 3-pointers in jumping out to a 26-17 lead.

Senior Rob Granquist Jr. had nine of his 11 points during the opening period. 

“Coach and the guys told me to be aggressive,” Granquist said. “It’s my last game, so I was going to go out and do what I do. They trust me, and we trust each other.”

The margin between the teams never got smaller than 18 points during the second half.

Senior center Torin Merillat finished his Morenci career with 11 points, 12 rebounds and three steals. Senior point guard Austin Sandusky also finished with 11 points. But the team’s 3-point shooting success of Thursday's Semifinal and throughout this season wasn't of assistance Saturday – the Bulldogs (24-3) made only 4 of 28 attempts from beyond the arc – and total they connected on only 29 percent of their shots from the field in their first MHSAA championship game appearance.

“We knew lightning would have to strike, when we’re playing a team with that size, quickness, ball-handling, rebounders; that team had it all,” Bauer said. “I talked (to our team) about if we played them 10 times, they’d probably beat us nine, but we were hoping today we’d strike a little magic, play a perfect game and hang with them. For the most part, we did a respectable job. 

“The guys played with all their heart, what I’ve asked of them all year long. They have nothing to be ashamed of, I don’t think.”

Sophomore guard Jason Whitens led North Central with 19 points, making 9 of his 12 shots, and also had seven rebounds and four assists. Junior center Caleb Martin added 13 points and sophomore guard Bobby Kleiman also had 13 points, plus six rebounds. 

Granquist and guard Ryan Whitens are the team’s only seniors. The MHSAA doesn’t keep a listing for best win-loss record over four seasons, but the Jets will be worth following again as they pursue 100 wins and a second straight team title in 2015-16.

“They’re basketball savvy, and you see that on the floor. They knew where they’re passing before they get the ball even. We don’t have set positions. We play in space. … I’m not a big set guy,” Mercier said. “It’s a matter of getting guys in good position to score and being ready to roll." 

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

PHOTOS: (Top) Powers North Central players and fans celebrate after clinching their first MHSAA title since 1984. (Middle) North Central’s Dawson Bilski (left) and Morenci's Bobby Black scramble for a loose ball.

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.)