Twins X 2 Boost Unbeaten Mattawan

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 22, 2019

MATTAWAN — With two sets of twins on his team, seeing double is nothing new for Mattawan boys basketball coach Ward Helakoski.

Jaden and Kelby Mabin are fraternal twins, but Matthew and Luke Pelak are identical. Telling the latter two apart was never much trouble for Helakoski, a Mattawan Middle School counselor who has known them since sixth grade, because Matthew and Luke were different sizes.

Then this year happened.

“Matt’s caught up (to Luke) this year, so that’s created some confusion,” Helakoski said. “They came in off the summer both tan from golfing,

“Hair was exactly the same. You’d almost have to look at them to see which was which. That was tougher for a while.”

Helakoski has figured it out, and the two sets of twins have found their best ways to contribute to Mattawan’s 10-0 start this winter.

The twins are four of eight seniors on the team and keys to the Wildcats’ success so far, said Helakoski, in his sixth year coaching the team. The Mabins and Matthew Pelak are starters, while Luke Pelak is first off the bench.

Between them, the Pelaks average 14 points, five rebounds and three assists per game. The Mabins combine for 13.2 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

And being a twin has its advantages, all four say.

Jaden Mabin said it is not so much the double looks he and his brother get, but “It’s just fun having a brother who’s been there with you for years right by your side.

“We always want to see each other do the best. We’re always competing. I want to get more points than you, I want to make more shots than you. It’s kind of a friendly rivalry.”

Kelby Mabin, quick with a quip, does not quite agree.

“He might think we have competition, but we don’t,” he said of his twin. “It’s a one-sided battle if it is.

“I do outscore him; I do outplay him. It’s not competition,” he added, laughing.

The Mabins have three older siblings, and Kelby is the youngest of the two by three minutes. The Pelaks are the middle two of 11 children and the only twins, with Matthew the older of the two.

The Pelaks use their friendly rivalry to keep each other sharp on the court. “We always guard each other in practice and take it at each other,” Luke Pelak said.

But being identical can be confusing to opponents and referees.

“It’s obviously a lot of fun,” Luke said. “Even my parents confuse us sometimes if we’re facing the other way.

“Kids on the court actually confuse us, too. They’ll get in arguments about who’s guarding who.”

Mattawan is anchored by 6-foot-10 Division I college prospect Nolan Foster, and has been augmented this season by the addition of 6-4 senior guard Dexter Shouse, another Division I recruit whose father Dexter played a season in the NBA and overseas.

Mattawan has a one-game lead on Stevensville Lakeshore in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West and finishing second to Kalamazoo Central in the SMAC East last winter. Jaden Mabin said a key is the team has really stepped it up on defense – the Wildcats have allowed only Lakeshore to score 50 points, and that was in a double overtime win earlier this month. He added that the team has upped its tempo as it looks to improve on last season’s 15-7 finish.

Luke Pelak adds a boost off the bench, and brother Matthew said he admires his brother’s composure as the sixth man.

“It was kind of tough seeing him not being able to start because I know how good he is, but I think he took it really well and he’s playing his role this year,” he said.

While all four enjoy the twin thing, all four are going to different colleges this fall. Of the four, only Kelby Mabin is hoping to play basketball.

“I love the talent it requires,” said Mabin, who has not yet settled on a college destination. “I feel that unlike other sports, you have to play defense and offense but you also have to have the IQ.

“It’s not just running the ball up and down the field and whoever has the most endurance, but who has the most skill and talent and athleticism.”

Jaden Mabin grew up thinking he would play basketball in college and beyond. But he opted for a football scholarship to Grand Valley State University instead although he received Division III basketball interest.

“It would be cool (to go to the same school as Kelby), but I want to be myself,” said Jaden Mabin. “I don’t want to be referred to as ‘Jaden-Kelby.’ I want ‘Jaden.’ I’ve been with him long enough.

“It’s been 17 years, so I think it’s time for us to be apart. A lot of twins dress alike. That’s not us. I want to be as opposite him as possible.”

The Pelaks are both headed to college on golf scholarships, Luke to Wayne State and Matthew to Eastern Michigan.

“It will be the first time we’re separated,” Matthew Pelak said. “It was more just wanting to have our own experiences with college, but we’re still close enough where we can hang out sometimes.

“We just wanted to have our own individual college experience.”

Tanner Knapp and Thomas Unold are the other two seniors on Mattawan’s boys basketball team. Juniors are Michael Lampos, Drew McNulty, Jalen Jones and Parker Miller. Luke Kerrins is the lone freshman on varsity. Assistant coach is Josh Brown.

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mattawan’s Jaden Mabin (32) looks to make a move in the post. (Middle) From top left: Matthew Pelak, Luke Pelak, Kelby Mabin and Jaden Mabin. (Below) Luke Pelak works to get a shot up Friday against Portage Northern. (Action shots by Erfan Pirbhai, head shots by Pam Shebest.)

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)