'Petoskey Brand' Shines On Under Past Star

December 20, 2018

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

PETOSKEY — Dennis Starkey was the face of Petoskey basketball for 32 years.

Now the Northmen have turned to a new, but familiar face to lead them into the next era on the hardwood after Starkey announced his retirement following the 2017-18 boys basketball season.

John Flynn, who suited up for Petoskey from 1996-98 and is among the school’s all-time greats, has taken over for his former coach after spending the last two seasons as a varsity assistant on Starkey’s staff.

“It’s kind of been surreal,” said Flynn. “I guess I never really thought about being Petoskey’s next coach just because when you think of Petoskey basketball you think of Dennis Starkey as the varsity coach. It wouldn’t exist without him. It never really crossed my mind that he would ever step down. He’s been there for so long. That’s all I’ve ever really known.”

Starkey felt like it was time to step down after last season, however. Not because the Northmen weren’t having success. In fact, last season’s 19-3 record was the 14th consecutive season that Petoskey had finished above .500. Starkey, who had already retired from teaching three years ago, was simply ready to enjoy other aspects of life that had been on the backburner during a 36-year coaching run during which he won 553 games — with 515 of those coming at Petoskey — and earned spots in both the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan and Michigan High School Coaches Association halls of fame. Starkey won 17 Districts and 14 conference championships while turning Petoskey into a model of consistent excellence on the basketball court.

Flynn was one of nine candidates who applied to replace Starkey. He was familiar with the program and seemed to be a natural fit, given the amount of time he had been a part of it. After going through the process with all the candidates, the school felt the same way.

“There were definitely some quality guys (who applied),” said Petoskey athletic director Dave Smith. “We were looking for someone who was going to be around for a while, and that was John.

“It’s nice to have one of Dennis’ former players. (John) certainly learned from one of the best.”

Starkey was pleased when Flynn was announced as his successor last spring and sees Flynn as having a bright future as a head coach.

“I thought it was a great choice,” said Starkey. “He’s a hard worker and he’s got a great personality. John’s always been a student of the game, and I think it’s been a real good fit. Nobody is going to outwork him, and that’s the No. 1 (trait), and he has good relationships with the kids. The combination of his work ethic and his ability to relate to the kids will make him special.”

Coaching basketball comes naturally to Flynn. His dad Joe was a longtime coach at Harbor Springs and had great success there. John Flynn started his high school career as a freshman at Harbor Springs but transferred to Petoskey as a sophomore and — along with backcourt mate Trevor Huffman — helped the Northmen win three straight Class B Regional titles, including getting to the MHSAA Semifinals twice. In 1997 Petoskey lost to Detroit Country Day, which went on to win its third straight Class B championship. In 1998 it was Marshall that ousted the Northmen.

“John was a very intense player — loved a challenge,” said Starkey. “Also really enjoyed the game. John just loves the game.”

That passion took Flynn all the way to Grand Valley State, where he became the all-time leading scorer with 2,220 points as well as the all-time leading scorer in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with 1,531 points. Now it’s shining through on the sidelines during games or with a whistle during practice.

“John understands how important basketball is to this community,” said Smith. “He has quite the drive and passion for the sport. That’s just something I don’t think many coaches can match. It’s not just necessarily about winning (to him), but certainly he holds our guys very accountable for doing things the right way. There’s no letdown with any of that. He just demands that they’re going to work hard and do their best.”

Flynn is a new voice on the bench, and he’s added a few wrinkles to Petoskey’s look, but the Northmen still have the basic tenets that were established under Starkey and remain the backbone of the program.

“We’re going to focus on the fundamentals, hold guys accountable, talk on defense, just be tough-nosed — the Petoskey brand,” said Flynn. “I got that from Coach Starkey, and that’s never going to change. We’re going to give 100 percent. We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to leave it on the floor, and if we lose some, we lose some. If we win some, we win some, but you can go home at night and go to sleep saying, ‘Hey, we laid it all on the line.’ I know Coach Starkey, that was true to him for more than 30 years and that doesn’t change.

“There might be some different stuff as far as Xs and Os that we do, but he and I both adapt with the talent we’re given each particular year. I’m just trying to give these kids a platform to give them the best chance to succeed. This year that style is a little bit different than what we’ve played in the past, but there’s still some of that core values and beliefs from a program perspective that’s never going to change.”

The results on the floor have so far been consistent amid the transition, too. Flynn’s squad started the season by winning four of the first five games, including a 57-52 win on the road over previously-unbeaten Alpena in the Northmen’s Big North Conference opener.

“The guys I have this year — they’re such good kids, and they work so hard,” said Flynn. “That right there keeps me fired up and motivated to do my best as a coach, because they’re receptive. Now they’re starting to see my method to my madness as far as what I’m saying works. They’re starting to see the fruits of their labor.”

Starkey has purposely tried to keep his distance to give his former player all the space he needs, even scheduling a trip to Florida to coincide with the start of the regular season. The two have spoken a number of times, however, as Flynn continues to glean information from his former coach and mentor.

“We have great conversations,” said Flynn. “It’s great to bounce ideas off of him. I hope he enjoys it as much as I do because he still has that coach mentality that’s been interwoven into his fabric for the last 36 years. I’m glad we’ve got such a great relationship. I respect him and his knowledge so much.”

Flynn may not have specifically set out to become Petoskey’s basketball coach, but the timing of the vacancy, his love for the game and the opportunity to carry on the rich Petoskey basketball tradition made for a perfect match.

“I just felt like there was a need and I had to fill that need because I know I could try to do as good of a job as Coach Starkey and carry on his legacy,” said Flynn. “This is the baton. Now it’s my turn to keep this going. Kind of like, ‘Coach, I got this.’”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Petoskey boys basketball first-year head coach John Flynn directs his players during a practice this season. (Middle) The Northmen celebrate one of many encouraging moments early this winter. (Photos courtesy of the Petoskey News-Review.)

Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years Now as WWII Vets, Great-Grandfathers

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)