Team-First Comets Charting Perfect Path

By Wes Morgan
Special for

February 6, 2018

When Coloma varsity boys basketball coach Paul Marfia was asked to dissect the Comets’ undefeated season up to this point, he said the bruises his players consider badges of honor tell most of the story.

The Comets, who are tied for 9th in The Associated Press’ Class B state rankings, may not be the most athletic or talented team on the west side of the state. But their tenacity, toughness, heart and unselfishness have propelled them to a 13-0 overall record and 8-0 mark in the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Lakeshore division.

The program hasn’t won a conference championship since 2004 and now is positioned end that drought, having already pulled off confidence-fortifying wins over SAC Valley powers Kalamazoo Christian (12-1) and Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep (12-2) after trailing the latter by as many as 16 in the third quarter.

This winter has been the culmination of five years of Marfia preaching that, in the words of Aristotle, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, junior point guard Zach Goodline, who’s averaging 27 points per game this year and adding to the program’s career points record with every bucket, plays a particularly big part for the Comets.

“We know if we don’t play the way we should play, we can take a loss,” Goodline said. “But it’s nice finally winning a bunch of games.”

As do a host of others, including a core group of seven seniors, some of whom were on varsity in 2015-16 and experienced a five-win season. They endured some hard knocks.

“It’s a process; I’m an Italian and I grew up as a farmer. I know things take time, and it’s not done in a day,” said Marfia, who experienced a 13-9 first campaign at Coloma in 2013-14 with a solid senior class, though he started from scratch in Year 2. “I was actually finding kids in the hallway. ‘Hey, I heard you used to play in the seventh grade. Why don’t you be my power forward?’

“There wasn’t a culture there. In the past it was there. But it’s been a long time since then. There was a big dip because of the culture and understanding what it means to play basketball the right way and understanding what that commitment is. It’s starting to go in the right direction, and this group of seniors are the ones that are committed to that.”

It was only a couple years ago the Comets were hopelessly lost on the defensive end, sometimes showing as many as six different looks in a game in a desperate effort to find something effective.

Now Coloma sticks mostly to man-to-man and the basic principles of “attitude and effort,” holding opponents under 47 points per game.

Four-year varsity player Levi Wilkens is certainly committed, and he’s going to make sure everyone in a Coloma jersey is as well. Wilkens was asked to shoot less last year and focus on leading the team defensively. It took him a while to accept that role, he said, and now he revels in it.

“I think I’ve matured a lot more,” Wilkens said. “We’re going chapter by chapter. We’re on chapter 13. We don’t look ahead, and we focus on each team.”

“It’s awesome to see,” Marfia said. “Here’s a kid who was all-conference and only averaged 2.5 points per game. Levi is a kid who’s been a captain, a point guard and a defensive kid. I’ve never seen a kid score zero points in a game and yet control a game as much as he does.”

Just a few hours after being interviewed for this story, Wilkens left Monday’s game at Niles Brandywine in the first quarter with a broken nose and a gash that required 16 stitches.

“He’s a tough kid,” Marfia said of Wilkens after the Comets held on for a 73-65 victory. “He had a face for radio anyways. He’ll be back tougher and uglier than ever. He understands that’s what separates us from the other team.”

Seven players have scored in double figures this year for Coloma, proving they’re just as unrelenting on the offensive end of the floor. Goodline fouled out with a minute left against Brandywine after scoring 19 points. Junior forward Phillip Caldwell shouldered a bigger load and finished with a career-high 27. Prior to the contest, Caldwell was averaging eight points per game.

Sophomore forward Michael Dancer worked his way into the starting rotation and produced 72 rebounds, 15 blocks and 5.5 points per game prior to the matchup with Brandywine. Senior Robbie Schroeder is the team’s center and is averaging just a hair under 10 points per game with a disruptive presence on the defensive side.

“We’re focusing on the big goal and working toward one thing,” Schroeder said. “We’re not all good scorers like Zach, so we realize if we want to win, we have to do our part on the defensive end. That’s what we believe in.”

Senior Chris Brown has been an invaluable sixth man for the Comets, and fellow classmates Tevon Blazier, Brendan Lute, Willie Donald and Adam Hearn have helped reshape the culture.

“It’s been a long journey,” Hearn said. “I’ve been playing with some of these kids since third or fourth grade and have seen everybody grow. Coming together as one and being a solid team is amazing.”

“You have to have kids that understand what it means to be part of a team,” Marfia said. “I see that in these kids. They play the way you want them to.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Coloma's Robbie Schroeder puts up a shot in the post against Watervliet. (Middle) Leading scorer Zach Goodline elevates for a jumper for the Comets. (Photos courtesy of the Coloma athletic department.)

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.)