Sampson Goes 'All Out' for 3 Ida Teams

April 23, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

IDA – Clay Sampson knows only one speed, whether it’s on the football field, basketball court or baseball diamond – it’s full go, all the time.

“He has such a passion for the game, no matter what sport,” said his basketball coach, Jared Janssen. “As a coach, you preach all the time about giving it your all for 32 minutes. The thing is, with Clay, he did it. He was always going all out.”

Sampson’s career at Ida High School is winding down, and Bluestreak fans will be sad when he’s no longer putting on a uniform and representing the Class B Monroe County school.

Sports always have been part of his life. His parents were both multiple-sport athletes in high school, as was his older brother, now 21. His younger brother, 15, is following in the same footsteps.

“I played four sports when I was younger,” said Sampson, who is about 5-foot-7, 145 pounds. “I think that’s where it started. I’ve always loved the competition.”

His parents have a deep sports background as well. His mom, Carrie, was a three-sport athlete at Ida and part of the Bluestreaks’ Class C championship softball team in 1989. His dad, Steve, was a Class C champion hurdler and record holder for the Summerfield track & field team in 1990.

“He’s the middle boy of three, and he’s probably our spitfire,” said his mom. “He’s a competitor. He’s a debater, too. I’m sure his teachers would say that. He’s always up for a challenge. He’s always been an intense kid.”

In football, Sampson was Ida’s quarterback, helping the Bluestreaks win 16 games over the past two seasons and extend their consecutive playoff streak to six. He threw for more than 500 yards and ran for more than 400.

“As a mom, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know about him playing quarterback,’ but he just said, ‘Mom, I’m fine,’” said Carrie.

He’s been a four-year varsity baseball player. As a freshman, he drove in the winning run as Ida won the first District baseball title in school history.

Sampson made his biggest impact on the basketball court. He finished this winter as one of the top scorers in Monroe County at 20 points a game and, despite being Ida’s point guard, was third in the county in rebounding at more than seven boards a game. His shooting has improved every season, he said, and this year he made 44 3-pointers. He also knew how to draw a foul. He got to the free throw line 178 times, shooting better than 74 percent from the stripe.

“I was a sad 3-point shooter as a freshman,” Sampson said. “It’s something I worked on all through high school. This year I was better at it. I was able to use my ability to shoot from outside to draw defenders and get to the free throw line. I didn’t go out there and just chuck up 30 shots or something.

“Coach Janssen sat down with me before the season and told me that we needed a lot of scoring out of me. I knew I had to carry that load.”

Ida went just 1-20 during Sampson’s sophomore season but improved to nine wins the following year. This season, Janssen’s first, the Bluestreaks won 12 games, including back-to-back over Flat Rock and Carleton Airport, two of the three teams that shared the Huron League championship. The second of those wins, against Airport, gave Ida the District title. Sampson scored 28 in that game, including drilling 14 of 19 free throws.

“We started 0-2, but things changed after that,” Sampson said. “We had a lot of fun. No one expected us to win that many games or a District. It was great beating Dundee twice. I know my senior class had never done that, so that was awesome. Winning a District just put a great cap on the season.”

Sampson rarely came off the floor for Ida.

“A lot of people that play that way try and do too much,” Janssen said. “He always seemed to find that good medium. Everything he did helped the team, offensively and defensively. The pace he played at wasn’t too much.”

Sampson, who recently announced he would attend Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville and play basketball, said his parents never pushed sports on him or his brothers. He played in the recreation baseball leagues at Ida beginning in first grade and youth football through the community-sponsored team. He played on travel basketball teams from the time he was 10 years old.

“They introduced sports to me and my siblings, and it’s just always been part of our lives,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine not playing all of the sports that I played in. I don’t understand kids that just play one sport.

“Football is the No. 1 sport that shapes you. It’s a demanding sport. You have to be mentally and physically tough to go through a football season, let alone four. Basketball is probably my favorite, but football is a close second.”

No matter what sport Sampson plays, his family is a big part of it. In addition to his parents being at every game, his aunt, Connie Diesing, has been a strong supporter, sending texts before just about every game and being part of the community following his every play.

“I don’t think she’s ever missed a game,” Sampson said of his aunt.

Sampson is a Bluestreak through and through. The family lives in the house his grandfather grew up in.

“I think my mom is a little more competitive than my dad,” he said. “We joke about them winning state championships or holding records. It’s all in fun. My whole family is so supportive. It’s always reassuring that they have been there the whole time.”

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 [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ida’s Clay Sampson directs this offense this winter. (Middle) Sampson (2) is hoisted by a teammate during a playoff win over Dearborn Heights Robichaud on Oct. 26. (Top photo by David E. Phillips; middle courtesy of the Ida football program.)

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.)