Senior's Steal Seals 2nd Straight Title

March 23, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

EAST LANSING — Even on an MHSAA championship basketball team, there’s not always peace and harmony within the ranks.

There are still internal fires to be put out by coaches, whose job descriptions don’t call for pleasing everyone all of the time.

When Jalen Pettes was disappointed with limited playing time early last season, Flint Beecher coach Mike Williams had to talk the then-junior into sticking with the program.

“He had a tough time,” Williams said. “The first seven, eight games, he didn’t play much. He was ready to quit. I had a meeting with he and his mom. I told him, ‘Jalen, if you give me everything I want in practice, I guarantee you that by next year, I’m not going to be able to take you out of the game — period. But you’ve got to bring it.’”

Pettes played sparingly the rest of the season during Beecher’s championship run, but his work ethic in practice forced Williams to keep his promise this season.

Overshadowed by the exploits of Mr. Basketball Monte Morris, Pettes’ tenacious defense is one of the key reasons Beecher is celebrating back-to-back MHSAA Finals championships in boys basketball for the first time.

Pettes’ fifth steal of the game with 2.4 seconds remaining thwarted Laingsburg’s final attempt at springing an upset, as Beecher held on for a 40-39 victory on Saturday at the Breslin Center.

It’s the fifth MHSAA Finals title for the program, which would’ve won three Class B championships in a row from 1985-87 if not for Chris Coles’ miraculous half-court buzzer-beater for Saginaw Buena Vista in
the 1986 Final.

“I love winning it this way,” Williams said. “It’s just that much more gratifying to know that we earned it.”

Beecher’s success through the years has been predicated upon a stifling defense. Pettes acknowledges that he isn’t going to light up score sheets like Morris, but he became a key contributor to this year’s championship by completely buying in to the Buccaneers’ defensive philosophy.

“I really don’t score a lot,” Pettes said. “I just like to play defense and get stops and let my team do the rest. Defense just comes easy to me. I just like playing defense.”

Once he committed to stick with the team last season, he honed those defensive skills against two of the best guards in the state.

“Jalen had to guard Monte Morris and Antuan Burks all last year in practice,” Williams said. “In order for him to get on the floor last year, he had to play defense in practice. So now you take a year later, he’s four or five inches taller and stronger, and he doesn’t fear anybody, because he’s been guarding Mr. Basketball his whole life.”

Laingsburg (24-3), which received only honorable mention in the final Associated Press rankings, almost sprung a huge upset on the top-ranked Buccaneers (27-1).

The Wolfpack, which led 18-12 in the second quarter, took a 35-34 lead with 5:02 remaining on a free throw by Ryan Wade. Back-to-back scores\ near the basket by Markell Lucas and a driving layup by Morris gave Beecher a 40-35 lead with 2:25 to go.

Shaun McKinney cut the lead to one by hitting two free throws with 2:04 left and a basket with 1:05 remaining.

On Beecher’s next possession, Morris drove to the basket, only to have his shot rejected by Sam Edwards. Laingsburg got the ball, pushed it up the floor and called timeout with 17.5 seconds on the clock.

What followed was a helter-skelter possession which ended when Pettes came up with a loose ball and was fouled with 2.4 seconds left. Pettes sat on the floor clapping his hands, then pumped his fist as he got up.

“When I got that steal, I knew we won the game,” he said.

Pettes missed the front end of a one-and-one, McKinney grabbed the rebound for Laingsburg, but time expired as he heaved a long pass down the floor toward Jake Zielinski.

“My heart goes out to our guys,” Laingsburg coach Greg Mitchell said. “I’m so thankful for their effort. I thought we played really, really good team basketball today. A bounce or two here or there and we’re feeling a little bit better than we are right now.

“This was a team that was not expected to win our league, not expected to win our district, not expected to win our regional, certainly not expected to get here. But we’re a couple points shy of being the state champs. That’s going to be a tough one.”

Beecher won, despite flu-like symptoms that hit Morris and fellow starter Emmanuel Phifier the morning of the game. Morris wasn’t in the game early in the third quarter when Laingsburg turned a 24-19 deficit into a 26-24 lead. He finished with 16 points and two assists, his lowest totals in six career MHSAA tournament games at the Breslin Center. Phifier had only four points.

“You could see that Monte was sick,” Williams said. “He could barely finish the game. But he pulled it out. Without him, we’re not sitting on this podium (as Class C champion) right now. He’s actually too sick to even walk out of the bathroom right now.”

Morris played in the 109th and final game of his Beecher career, breaking the MHSAA record of 108 games played by Flint Powers Catholic’s Patrick Lucas-Perry from 2007-08 to 2010-11. Beecher had a 98-11 record during Morris’ four years, including 55-1 during the last two.

McKinney scored 15 points and Zielinski 14 for Laingsburg.

“Finishing is what we want,” Zielinski said. “We were a couple plays short. We just have to live with the results.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Beecher's Monte Morris (11) dunks during Saturday's Class C Final win over Laingsburg. (Middle) Laingsburg's Zach Walker (12) looks to pass to teammate Jake Zielinski (4) while Morris and others defend. (Click to see more at

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.)