North Central Powers Up Again in D

March 24, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Adam Mercier had a clear message when he reassembled his Powers North Central boys basketball team for its first meeting last spring.

He re-emphasized that message again before Thursday’s Class D Semifinal against Fulton. 

This is a new team, the coach said. But it sure looked like last season’s MHSAA champion with another dominating Breslin Center performance.

In case anyone south of Mackinac Bridge forgot about the phenomenon that has been the Jets’ run over the last two seasons, they offered plenty of reminders with a 64-23 win over the Pirates that upped their winning streak to 54 straight and earned them the opportunity to repeat as best in Class D on Saturday.

All 15 Jets saw the floor in the Semifinal, eight scored and 10 had at least one rebound. 

“That’s been our mentality all year, is to get everyone involved, everyone a piece of the glory here,” North Central junior Jason Whitens said. “We have a lot of players out there that have worked hard for this moment. To get out there and get everyone the ball and share the glory in this, it’s really special to do it with this group of guys.”

The top-ranked Jets (27-0) will take on No. 3 Waterford Our Lady at 10 a.m. Saturday with a second straight title – and an opportunity for more – on the line.

One more win would give North Central 55 straight, tying it for the most by any team over two seasons and with Saginaw Buena Vista’s 1992-94 teams for fourth-longest winning streak in MHSAA boys basketball history. The Jets would then have to win their first 11 games next winter to break Chassell's record streak of 65 set during the 1956-59 seasons.

North Central has had two games decided by fewer than 12 points this season – a four-point win over Class B Menominee and another close call against rival Crystal Falls Forest Park. The 23 points allowed Thursday were a season low.

And yet, none of this seems to press on a team that still has only three seniors. A number of these players were part of the 8-player football championship team in the fall, and the theme of that run was keeping it light and having fun, despite the serious nature of playing at the highest level. It’s an attitude that’s seemed to follow these athletes into the winter as well.

“We don’t try to do anything different. They have expectations for themselves; we don’t follow anybody else’s expectations, and there’s no pressure on these kids,” Mercier said. “This is a game of basketball, and it’s meant to be played with a lot of passion, a lot of fun and a lot of energy. … And when they play it, they play it so well.”

After scoring the first nine points of the game Thursday, the Jets built an 18-4 lead after a quarter and never looked back. 

Whitens led with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and senior Morgan Cox added 12 points. Junior Dawson Bilski had 11.

Fulton senior Colton Antes added two more 3-pointers to a career total that will rank among the highest in MHSAA history, finishing with six points. Fulton ended 19-7 after also making the Semifinals and then falling to North Central in 2015.

Click for the full box score.

The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Jason Whitens fires a jumper over Fulton defenders during Thursday’s Semifinal win. (Middle) Morgan Cox buries a dunk.

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.)