By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
ESCANABA – There was no drama because the game had virtually been decided by halftime, so the North Central Jets merely exchanged hugs and pats on the back after erasing a 59-year-old state record Jan. 27.
The Jets shelled neighbor and arch-rival Bark River-Harris 76-29 for their 66th consecutive win. That snapped the MHSAA record set for consecutive wins by fellow Upper Peninsula quintet Chassell from 1956-58, and they reportedly carry the longest active winning streak in the nation with 69 straight victories.
The capacity-plus crowd of about 1,000 cheered the record-setting performance, but the running clock had been going since the first minute of the third quarter and everyone knew the only thing to be determined was the final score.
The only other major excitement also came early, when Jets senior Dawson Bilski converted a three-point play with 17 seconds left in the first half to enter the 1,000-point club. He finished the night with 21 points and 1,002 career points.
The build-up to the win streak had taken precedence over Bilski’s approach primarily because this time of the season spawns several 1,000-point producers, while Chassell’s iconic mark had been in the discussion stages since North Central won its second straight Class D championship in March.
The Jets broke the record the same way they have waltzed through the past four seasons, with stifling defense, balanced scoring and another dunk by 2016 Associated Press Class D Player of the Year Jason Whitens.
Surprisingly some on-lookers have downplayed North Central’s streak, with coach Adam Mercier indicating there were questions about the competitive level of the schedule. Mercier simply pointed out the Jets were 4-0 in back-to-back trips to MHSAA Finals weekend at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center en route to consecutive Class D championships.
Teams can only play the schedule given them, and North Central is enjoying a fourth straight unbeaten regular season, in a conference annually considered the most competitive and balanced in the Upper Peninsula. The only loss during that span came March 18, 2014, when Cedarville won a Class D Quarterfinal 81-79 in Marquette.
The Jets own a 78-game regular season winning streak and are a stunning 94-1 since 2013-14. Their last regular season loss was Feb. 18, 2013, against Munising.
While the regular season success is hard enough to fathom, building a winning streak that is into its third straight season with a different cast each time helps put the record in better perspective.
Not only have the Jets defeated teams in their conference and their region, they have rolled through the district, regional and state tourney rounds unchecked.
In 2014-15, the Jets were 7-0 in the postseason highlighted by lopsided victories over Fulton (71-46) and Morenci (67-47) in East Lansing.
In 2015-16, the Jets were 8-0 in the postseason, crushing Fulton (64-23) and Waterford Our Lady (59-48) at the Breslin Center.
Perhaps the biggest question may never be answered. Will anyone eclipse North Central’s record, wherever it ends? After all, it took 59 years to surpass Chassell’s vaunted 65-win figure. If the Jets reach 80 straight, and the chance of that happening is pretty good, what are the odds of anyone else being that fortunate? This is a record that could realistically never be exceeded with just about everything stacked against such an attempt as the seasons unfold.
While the Jets now possess the state record boys streak, they are only second among schools in Menominee County for the longest win streak in state history.
Carney-Nadeau High School, just six miles south of Powers, owns the state girls record of 78 straight wins (from 1989-91). The Wolves won an amazing 127 consecutive regular season games until falling to Cooks Big Bay de Noc in 1993.
Even more astonishing, North Central and its 115 students own the MHSAA record of 26 straight victories in 8-player football. The Jets, with many athletes on that team who also play basketball, have won the past two 8-player football championships to cap back-to-back 13-0 finishes to the only seasons they have played that version of the gridiron game.
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at email@example.com with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTO: The North Central Jets hold a banner marking their state record 66th consecutive boys basketball victory Jan. 27 after beating Bark River-Harris 76-29. Chassell held the mark of 65 straight wins that was set from 1956-58.
Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
December: Dundee boys basketball - Report
November: Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
October: Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report
Matt and Derek Seidl have a lot to talk about these days.
The father and son duo both have highly-ranked, undefeated basketball teams going into the first full week of February, something neither of them saw coming.
“We were hoping for a season like this, but you never think about winning this many in a row,” said Matt Seidl, the father and head coach of the 15-0 Olivet Eagles. “When our season ended last year, we knew our top seven players would all be returning.”
About 50 miles south of Olivet, in Jackson County, Derek Seidl has the Napoleon Pirates off to a 14-0 start. They are sitting on top of the Cascades Conference.
“We have a really talented group right now,” Derek said. “We were 19-3 last year and brought six guys back. Having that experience has been very valuable.”
Olivet is ranked No. 2 in MPR in Division 2 while Napoleon is No. 9 in Division 3. Both are top-10 teams in the latest Associated Press polls as well.
Matt Seidl, 60, graduated from Ypsilanti Lincoln High School in 1981 and went to Eastern Michigan University to become a sportswriter. He didn’t begin teaching until he was in his early 30s, but, by then, was already a veteran coach.
“It was getting difficult because I was always leaving my job to go coach,” he said. “I decided to go and get my teaching degree.”
He wound up in the classroom, which enabled him to dive deeper into coaching. He spent several years coaching at the middle school and high school levels, boys and girls, with stops at places like Pinckney, Ypsilanti, Manchester, Willow Run and Romulus. He was the JV boys basketball coach at Dexter when his son, Derek, made the team as a freshman.
By then, Derek already knew he would be on the bench one day as a coach.
“I played for my dad in youth travel stuff, and he was on staff for one year my freshmen year of high school,” Derek said. “He was a varsity coach all growing up. I was always at games. I loved talking to him about the game, the strategy of it, the Xs and Os. Even when I was younger, I thought about coaching someday. Growing up if you would have asked me what my dream job was, it would have been a teacher and coach.”
Derek, 27, graduated from Dexter in 2014. He played four years of college basketball at Lawrence Tech University. After getting his master’s degree and teaching degree, he got his first coaching job as an assistant coach at Chelsea, under Josh Tropea, who also had coached with Matt.
Derek’s first teaching and head coaching job came at Springport in 2019-20. This is his third year at Napoleon.
“It’s been a really good fit here,” Derek said. “Before I started looking into the job, I barely knew anything about Napoleon. It has worked out well.”
Matt is also the athletic director at Olivet. If he would have had his way, Derek would be coaching at Olivet.
“Derek did a really good job at Springport, and we had an opening and he interviewed and was recommended for the job, but before they offered it to him, Napoleon hired him,” Matt said. “He would have been the perfect choice to teach math and coach basketball.”
With Derek no longer in the running, Matt came out of coaching retirement and was named head coach.
“It was going to be a one-year deal, sort of a band-aid to get us to the next year,” he said.
Instead, Matt’s stayed on and put together quite a successful team. The Eagles have gone 47-6 since the start of the 2020-21 season. This year’s team has taken a big step.
Junior Bo Lincoln, a 5-foot-11 junior point guard, leads the team in scoring (17.1 points per game), assists (3.6 per game), steals (3.0 per game) and free throw percentage at 78 percent.
Drew Priddy, a 6-5 senior center, is averaging about eight points and seven rebounds a game, and junior guard Bryce Wine is averaging nine points a game and leads the team in 3-pointers.
“We had quite the youth movement a few years ago,” Matt said. “We go 8-9 deep now and have a lot of experience. Having those young guys play a couple years ago is paying off.
“We are a good team, but we’re not a 70-possessions-a-game type of team. We know who we are.”
Derek also knows plenty about his dad’s team.
“I definitely keep track of them,” he said. “We talk on the phone on a daily basis – 30 minutes about Napoleon and 30 minutes about Olivet. We bounce things off each other. We run a lot of the same stuff as far as systems. We’re very connected on things.”
Matt and Derek’s teams tried to have a good old-fashioned scrimmage, or exhibition, last year but – with Derek’s team ahead – Matt received two technicals and got kicked out of the game. It’s a fun story for both to tell now.
“That was wild,” Derek said. “It was a cool thing we had going. We were winning so I was enjoying it, but that put a whole different spin on the situation.”
Matt said they probably won’t do that again. Probably.
“My wife said no,” he said. “Derek and I have talked about it, but I don’t know that it would ever happen.”
Derek said one day he’d like to coach with his father.
“I’m very energetic and into it, just like he is,” Derek said. “There are some similarities. I played for him and watched him a lot. I try and pull some of the things he does, being prepared. We get along super well. I don’t know if I could trust him to not get technical fouls.”
He’s kidding, of course.
Napoleon has a core group of four players with a ton of experience.
Devonta Habern is a 5-11 junior who is on the varsity for the third year and runs the show at point guard. Six-foot-5 senior Trent Jester is one of the best big men in the conference. University of Michigan baseball commit Grant Bradley is a three-year varsity starter and outstanding athlete. Holden Vanpoppel is an all-state track athlete who has turned into a pretty good basketball player.
“Grant is super steady and having a great year,” Derek said. “He looks like he’s been in the weight room since he was 5 years old. He can guard anybody. Vanpoppel is an unbelievable run and jump athlete. All four of these guys are averaging in double figures. They are really good athletes who have invested in the program and put the time in.”
“We’ve got a very talented group,” Derek said. “They are a little looser than I am. I tend to be very calculated, kind of analytical and serious. They like to goof around a little bit. They keep me even-keeled. They know when to get serious. It’s good for me to have a group like that.”
Derek said his squad wants to exceed expectations this year.
“We talk about that after every game – don’t be satisfied just because we are undefeated,” Derek said. “There is plenty more to accomplish. Last year we went 18-2 in the regular season and 19-3 overall, but we didn’t win a league or a District. Our guys have bought into that mindset. That’s helped us get to where we are.”
Matt is keeping a close eye on not only his team, but Derek’s as well.
“I probably get more stressed watching his games,” he said. “I’m really proud of what he has been able to do.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Father Matt, left, and son Derek Seidl are leading undefeated boys basketball teams this season at Olivet and Napoleon, respectively. (Middle) Senior Brayden Wine makes a move toward the basket for the Eagles. (Below) Derek Seidl instructs his players. (Olivet photos courtesy of Olivet High School; Napoleon photos by Jeff Steers/JTV.)