By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
NORTHPORT – Dan Stowe wondered how Northport might celebrate the 30th anniversary of its MHSAA Class D boys basketball championship.
Enter Ethan Pino.
The 17-year-old, a forward on the current Wildcats team coached by Stowe, has organized an event for Saturday night that will bring players and coaches off that 1988 squad together for a panel discussion on various topics, including the benefits of playing team sports.
It’s all part of Pino’s senior project.
“People still talk about (the state title) a lot,” said Pino. “It’s one of the great things that’s happened in Northport. It’s such a small town.”
Pino, who will be an interviewer, said he’s eager to hear team members talk about life lessons learned that season and what it took to win an MHSAA Finals crown.
“This was a great experience for them, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I want (to hear) about the dedication they put into it and the legacy they left behind.”
Audience members will be able to ask questions, too.
The team has had two reunions since claiming the title, but the last was 20 years ago, said Gordie Wick, the coach of the 1988 squad.
“I was wondering who was going to (organize) a reunion or celebration,” said Stowe, who hit the game-winning shot to beat Beal City 80-78 in the Final. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen.
“When Ethan suggested he wanted a role as part of his Northport senior project it made a lot of sense. Josh (athletic director Josh Vander Meulen) is his mentor (on the project). I think this is a good opportunity to have those people that were involved in that experience congregate (at the school) for some pointed, and some fun, questions. It will give us a chance to reminisce. Everybody wins.”
Northport seniors are required to complete a project to graduate. There are 17 seniors in this year’s class. Their project topics range from females in the military to drug awareness to the farm-to-table food movement. Pino, who has played five years of varsity soccer and four of varsity basketball, went the sports route. He said playing sports has taught him valuable lessons about teamwork and commitment. Plus, he added, it’s improved his communication, leadership and social skills. And it’s opened the door to lasting friendships, too.
Pino, who hopes to attend Oakland University, was selected as the school’s student athlete of the fall.
“He wanted to focus on team sports because it’s through his experiences with his teammates that he’s been able to grow,” said Vander Meulen. “Sports are a big part of his life. Ethan’s not a boisterous student. He’s celebrated because he’s a quiet competitor who is dependable and trustworthy. He’s not looking to stand out. He’s not looking for a gold star. When you work with him, you know he’s going to do a good job and you’re going to have fun. You know he won’t let you down.”
The 30-year reunion comes at a rather poignant time. Tonight’s game with Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian Academy could be the last home game for players wearing Northport uniforms. Because of declining numbers – the high school enrollment is in the 40s - Northport may have to go to a co-op, like it does with neighboring Suttons Bay in soccer and girls basketball. There are currently nine players on varsity, but only three return next season. There is no JV team.
The Wildcats, 10-4, recently clinched the Cherryland Conference title. The team had won eight games in a row before a loss to Traverse City Christian on Wednesday. That was Northport’s first league loss in two years.
“It’s been rewarding to see how far we’ve come since the beginning of the season,” said Pino.
It’s been a hectic winter for Pino – and Vander Meulen, who has helped him pull his senior project together. There are three components to all projects – a research paper, a formal product and a presentation.
“This (projects) gives all of our seniors a chance to dive into something deeper than maybe they’re allowed to in the classroom,” said Vander Meulen.
Saturday’s event will be Pino’s product, although Vander Meulen said he believes “the planning is the product and the event is the cherry.”
“Certainly we want to pull it off and have it be a great night for everyone involved,” he said. “Planning is so important, and hopefully that’s what Ethan takes away from this. It’s the planning that makes it happen – and good planning takes work.”
Pino and Vander Meulen decided in October that the 30th anniversary of Northport’s title would be a perfect tie-in to the project.
“The 1988 team is the vehicle to drive the message of the benefits (of playing team sports) forward,” said Vander Meulen.
“In our community, they are the team, and that’s capital TEAM. And that’s what this narrative is about. If you ask anybody in our community, who lived here (at that time), they all have a story. To the modern athletes, though, they are mostly unknown so this will be a cool opportunity for our student athletes to see those former players and hear their stories from 30 years ago.”
Several of those players were also part of the school’s Class D championship soccer team in 1986. But it’s that magical March basketball run in 1988 that captured the attention of northern Michigan.
“Football and boys basketball, at least in northern Michigan, drive the dialogue,” said Vander Meulen. “All sports are important and valuable, but public interest in those two can capture a community, ignite not only a town but a region. When I watch highlights of the Buckley boys on the news you can’t see a place to sit. That’s the same energy that was once there with the Northport boys.”
After completing his research paper in late November, Pino reached out to former players and coaches about the idea and to see if they would be able to make it. Seven players and two coaches are planning to attend.
“Some are living out of town and are busy and cannot come,” said Pino. “Some we could not get ahold of. Overall, though, they were pretty excited to hear about it.”
Two dates were considered before Saturday was agreed upon.
When asked how much time he’s put in on the project, Pino paused.
“Mmm …, hours wise, I’m not exactly sure,” he said. “But it’s all good.”
Stowe appreciates the fact Pino and Vander Meulen went the extra mile.
“I think they’ve gone way over the top on this one,” he said.
And they’re still making sure everything is set for Saturday.
“Since we got back from (Christmas) break it’s been logistics, logistics, logistics,” said Vander Meulen. “We don’t want to invite people to Northport and have it be a sloppy presentation. We meet every day. In fact, I don’t know how he feels when he sees me in the hallway now because I always have a new idea. It’s ‘Ethan, we should be tackling this’ or ‘Ethan, did you take care of that?’ We hope we’re not leaving any stone unturned. We feel pretty good, but we’re still turning stones to see if there’s not more we can do.”
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. 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) Northport’s Ethan Pino squares up for a shot during a game this season. (Middle) The 1988 Northport boys basketball team remains legendary in its community. (Below) Pino winds up during this past soccer season. (Top and below photos by Dan Duffiney.)
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.