Western Takes Next Step to Make History

March 27, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Brailen Neely and his Detroit Western International teammates have heard plenty about Detroit Redford’s glories past.

Their coach, Derrick McDowell, coached Redford from 1993-94 through 2005 and took two teams to Class A runner-up finishes.

“When they win, I won’t mention Redford anymore,” said McDowell, of his Western team. “It will be all Western stories.”

This Cowboys’ season has been filled with historic accomplishments. But one more win will be the biggest of all – and definitely put this team in the same breath as the greats McDowell coached in the past. 

Western will play Saturday for its first MHSAA title, thanks to a 55-46 Semifinal win over Detroit U-D Jesuit on Friday at the Breslin Center.

“That’s a tremendous honor coming from Coach Mac,” Neely said of his coach's comment. “He always tells us how tough Redford (was), what they accomplished. To accomplish this under Coach Mac is tremendous.”

Western (25-0), winner of its first Detroit Public School League title since 1922, then its first Quarterfinal since 1974, will face Saginaw Arthur Hill to decide the Class A title at noon Saturday.

The Cowboys had beaten U-D Jesuit, the Detroit Catholic League A-B champion, 58-49 in the annual Operation Friendship game to close the regular season three weeks ago.

And McDowell and his team knew all the more that the key would be at least slowing down Jesuit junior Cassius Winston.

Winston had 27 points in the teams’ first matchup. This time, Neely and company worked to keep the 6-foot-1 shooting guard out of lane – and then, after Winston hit 7 of 9 free-throw attempts during the first half, off the line as well.

Winston did finish with 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals, but made only 4 of 12 shots from the floor.

Western led from start to finish, and by as many as 10 during the second quarter. The margin did fall to three points twice during the fourth – the final time when Winston drilled a 3-pointer that pulled the Cubs (22-4) to within 43-40 with 3:55 to play.

Neely led Western with 16 points, and senior guard Josh McFolley added 11 and five rebounds.

“We have been winning ugly, defensively, grinding it out at the defensive end,” Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly said. “We ended up shooting just under 29 percent from the field for the game, well below our average. Coming in we were averaging 46 percent from the field, but we struggled inside the arc, outside the arc and at the free-throw line.

"I thought we did a pretty good job defensively, and even through we struggled to score, we still had our opportunity.”

Only one starter returned this season after Jesuit made the Semifinals in 2014 for the first time in program history. But the Cubs anticipate eight of their top nine returning for 2015-16.

“They always had a lead, but I always felt we had a chance to win the game,” Winston said. “It was a great experience. … But that’s two years in a row we’ve made it this far and lost, and I don’t plan on going through this again.” 

Click for the full box score and video from the postgame press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Western International players celebrate Friday during the final moments of their first MHSAA Semifinal win. (Middle) U-D Jesuit’s Cassius Winston (5) ascends toward the hoop.

Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years Now as WWII Vets, Great-Grandfathers

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)