By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – After three seasons away, Southfield Christian returned to the Class D championship game Saturday.
And for the fourth time in seven seasons, the Eagles added their school to the list of MHSAA title winners as well, with a 64-54 clincher over Buckley at the Breslin Center.
The title was the program’s first since winning three straight from 2012-14, and after falling by a point in last season’s Semifinals to eventual champion Powers North Central.
“It just means a lot for us as a team,” said Eagles senior Bryce Washington, whose older brothers Blake and Brock both were part of past champions. “It puts us on the map. The last few years, people were like, ‘Whatever happened to Southfield Christian?’ We were still in the gym, still working, still a great team. It’s just great to be back here.”
Southfield Christian (23-4) showed all weekend it could get rolling in a hurry. Starting at the 5:57 mark of the first quarter Saturday, over the next 2:41 the Eagles went from a point down to 10 up. Junior Harlond Beverly scored 10 points, had a steal, two rebounds and a blocked shot. He made six of his first seven shots from the floor total in scoring his team’s first 11 points and 11 of the Eagles’ first 14.
“I didn’t even notice it was the first 11 points. I was just trying to play basketball and do what I do,” Beverly said. “The rim, it feels as big as the ocean. It was feeling good.”
Beverly finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, eight steals, six blocks and four assists.
“He brought a lot of energy, a lot of effort, and he can make great plays in transition and get us an easy one,” Southfield Christian coach Josh Baker said. “We struggled the rest of the game. His start, that was the game.”
The Eagles did have to fend off a second-half comeback attempt by Buckley, which returned to Breslin this weekend with the entire starting five that made it to last season’s championship game before falling 78-69 to North Central.
Southfield Christian pushed its lead to 22 on another Beverly basket with 4:27 to play in the second quarter, but the Bears came back with a 19-3 run over the next six minutes to cut the deficit to 38-32 two minutes into the third.
The Eagles pushed the lead back to 12 during the opening minute of the fourth quarter, and the Bears couldn’t get it back into single digits.
“We just never give up,” Buckley senior Denver Cade said. “We were in the same position last year, but it was a bigger margin. I just kept trying to pound that into (my teammates). I wasn’t having the best game myself, and I’ll probably regret that the rest of my life … but I tried to be a leader and put that motivation into them.”
Cade finished with eight points and nine rebounds. Senior guard Joey Weber led with 26 points, eight rebounds and three steals, and senior forward Austin Harris added 15 points and seven rebounds. All three were four-year varsity players and 1,000-point career scorers. “I’m missing them already,” Buckley coach Blair Moss said.
“We’re a little disappointed; the kids played their hearts out,” Moss added. “That’s a quality team out there. There’s not much to say. The kids worked their butts off, and they’ve been doing it for the last 10 years to get here. … We don’t see teams like that up north; let’s face it. They play in a Detroit league, they play up, and that’s why we try to play up to match that.”
Buckley (21-6) shared the Northwest Conference title this season with Frankfort and Maple City Glen Lake; the latter reached Saturday’s Class C championship game.
Southfield Christian won the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue and also played a nonleague schedule loaded with Class A and B opponents, including Class B semifinalist River Rouge, plus Class C finalist Detroit Edison.
“Part of the deal with our program and our mentality as a coaching staff is how do we get our guys better with every opportunity,” Baker said. “We want to play the best competition whenever we can.”
Junior guard Caleb Hunter added 13 points including four 3-pointers for Southfield Christian. Washington had 12 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore guard Da’Jion Humphrey had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Buckley finished 74-25 over the last four seasons, including 47-7 over the last two.
“Last year we said we have another crack at it, and now we don’t, of course,” Harris said. “But I wouldn’t want to trade these guys for anything. They worked hard and they helped me work hard and build my character up.
“A lot of people dream of losing their last high school game at the Breslin, and I got to share in that.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Christian’s Harlond Beverly works to get past Buckley’s Brock Beeman during the Class D championship game. (Middle) The Bears’ Joey Weber goes up for a shot at the Breslin Center.
When Cheboygan hosts Ogemaw Heights next week to kick off a new boys basketball season, those attending will see something special.
And really, for Cheboygan and its opponents, it’s nothing new. It’s been going on for five decades.
The special part? Scott Hancock, junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach, is starting his 47th year coaching at the school. Forty-five of those years have been in the same role he has this season.
“It really just means I’m getting old, but I feel very fortunate to be able to do something that I love for this long,” Hancock, himself a Cheboygan product of 1976, reflected on his tenure. “To be honest, I never really thought about how long I would do it. It’s just something I love doing, so I never really put a number on how long I would do it.”
As the campaign starts, though, he has thoughts of coaching high school basketball for six and possibly seven decades before he hangs it up. He has coached his sons — Nick, who owns the Cheboygan career steals record; and Brian, the leader in career made 3-pointers — and now he’s looking forward to the possibility of coaching his two grandchildren, Landon Gahn and Lincoln Hancock.
“Well, all I can say is I have a grandson that is 3 years old, and I would love to hang around coaching until he graduates,” Hancock said of how long he thinks he’ll stay in coaching. “I have loved every year.
“I have coached with a lot of great coaches who are all great friends to this day.”
Included among those coaches are his two sons, who served as assistants for Cheboygan, and Jason Friday, the current varsity coach who also played for Hancock during the early 1990s – a time when Hancock briefly stepped in to fill a varsity coaching vacancy after the sudden departure of the previous head coach.
Friday, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, is not at all surprised his former coach is still in the game. It became a factor in Friday’s decision to take over the boys program three years ago.
“If you're a boy who grew up in Cheboygan, there's a good chance that Scott coached you in something,” Friday said. “He has a grandson who is in eighth grade, and he wants to coach him.
“So yes, I knew he was going to be around for several more years.”
And next week, Friday will be thrilled to have Hancock alongside him on the court as Cheboygan opens up with the Falcons.
“Today, I don't look at Scott as one of my former varsity coaches — he's a friend,” Friday said. “We're friends more than anything, and that makes coaching even more fun for me.
“Most importantly, having someone on the bench that you can trust is invaluable.”
Hancock, who was helping with the boys program when Friday was coaching the Cheboygan girls team, began expecting to coach with his former player some time ago.
“I was very fortunate to have both my sons be assistant coaches for our varsity program,” said Hancock, who also has served decades coaching baseball and keeping stats for the football program. “But as far as being head coach, I always thought Jason would take over at some time.
“It’s awesome to have a former player running our program, but it is no surprise,” he continued. “Jason has always been a student of the game and is very detailed, and what he does, our program is in great hands.”
The mutual trust the coaches share has really benefited the Cheboygan student-athletes.
“I think it is important to have a JV coach who the head coach can trust that he has bought in to all of the beliefs of the head coach’s program,” Hancock noted. “Being loyal to your varsity coach and doing what’s best for your program is the most important aspect of JV coaching.
“And, getting kids to buy in to what it takes to play the game the right way.”
That’s one of the strengths Hancock brings to the basketball program, Friday singled out.
“Coach Hancock does a tremendous job teaching the fundamentals, but also does a great job communicating with the boys, making each one feel valued, even those who don't play as much,” Friday said. “He's at every practice.
“If there's an emergency and I need to step out for a minute and put my AD hat on, he can run practice and we don't miss a beat,” Friday continued. “He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and is a coach anyone would love on their bench.”
Hancock, who assists another former player, Kevin Baller, coaching the baseball team, has no thoughts of getting back into a varsity coaching position.
“I have no plans to coach at the varsity level, and the reason is because I have the best of both worlds by coaching JV,” said Hancock, who sees the 3-point shot as the biggest change in the game during his tenure. “Every coach that I have worked for lets me be involved with the varsity, so really I get to be involved in both.”
Friday recalls wishing as a player that Hancock had stayed at the helm when he took over temporarily. But, he loves having him coach with him today.
“After our junior season, we were told he was going back to JV,” Friday said. “We tried to convince him to stay for one more year, but he wanted to go back.
“There's no way I could be varsity basketball coach and athletic director without having a JV coach like Scotty.”
Off the court successes in life are just as importance as athletic endeavors, Hancock indicated. In fact, those give him the most pride.
“Probably helping kids with off-the-court issues makes me feel better than anything,” he said. “Also hearing from the kids that I’ve coached after they graduate and how much they enjoyed their JV year.”
There aren’t many – if any – parent, player or community member names on a complaint list from Hancock’s first five decades, and there’s not likely to be any more in however many years are ahead.
“When you’ve coached in the same small town for nearly 50 years, you’d expect to have a few people upset with you, but not Scotty,” said Friday. “You can’t find a person who says something bad about him.
“He’s extremely well-respected,” he continued. “You absorb his passion and love of the game just by being around him, and all of Cheboygan should be thankful (for) how much he's done for our community.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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) Cheboygan assistant boys basketball coach Scott Hancock offers some pointers during a scrimmage last week. (Middle) Hancock, second from left, confers last season with assistant Matt Mylnarchek, head coach Jason Friday and player Dylan Balazovic. (Photos courtesy of Jared Greenleaf/Cheboygan Daily Tribune.)