Muskegon High School’s historic Hackley Stadium was not an easy place for Gene Young to navigate in recent years, with his hulking 6-foot-6 frame slowed by neuropathy in both feet and worsened this past fall by a nasty infection on his left heel.
But few people have ever been more positive than Young, a giant – literally and figuratively – in the Muskegon area sports, broadcasting and education communities who died on Jan. 2 at the age of 76.
Young was determined to make it up to the Hackley Stadium press box back on that August day last fall, to broadcast the Big Reds’ opening game against Ann Arbor Pioneer with myself and play-by-play man Larry Taylor on Muskegon radio station WMUS-FM 107.9 – kicking off his 39th year as the voice of high school football on the lakeshore.
The first challenge was parking.
“Tommy, pull into that lot across from the gate. I know the people working there,” said Young, who seemingly knew everybody, everywhere.
Gene rolled down his window and I couldn’t hear his exact words, but I know he gave $10 instead of the $5 charge (the proceeds were going to help out Muskegon’s minor sports programs). He also put a smile on that parking lot attendant’s face and made him feel like the most important part of the entire game-day operation.
That’s the Gene Young magic.
The next hurdle was crossing Sanford Street and getting into the stadium.
Back in his heyday, Gene was a fantastic athlete, a standout big man and 1959 graduate of Muskegon Heights High School, who accepted a basketball scholarship to Central Michigan University and played on the varsity basketball team as a freshman. He transferred to Otero Junior College in Colorado for one year, before playing his final two years for Weber State University in Utah, coached by NBA legend Dick Motta.
But this past fall, crossing the street was getting to be a challenge.
The gate attendant spotted him making his way slowly across Sanford with his cane and began undoing the padlocked gate. Young never needed to show a press credential in the Muskegon area, as he and his buddy Jim Moyes had been the voice and the spirit of Muskegon-area high school sports since they first started working together in 1978. The two filled their broadcasts with memories and insights brought in from their deep knowledge of Muskegon’s sports history.
As Gene and I were let in, many of the fans who still had to wait snickered a bit. Gene diffused the situation quickly, as only he could.
“We’re big time; we’re with ESPN,” he deadpanned.
The next part of the journey is walking down the dark tunnel and up a short ramp where you then experience that first glimpse of the hallowed ground at Hackley Stadium – it’s a moment that Muskegon locals would equate with going around “the curve” near Pere Marquette Park and seeing that first view of Lake Michigan, or an 8-year-old’s first visit to Disneyland. As he plopped down on the handicap bench up front to rest, no one knew it would be his final time to experience that thrill.
Shame on me for not appreciating that moment as I should have, because I was nervously scurrying up the bleachers to set up our radio equipment.
When I glanced down, Gene was holding court on that bench as a steady stream of folks stopped by to shake his hand.
Some of them were old education friends like Roger Hoekenga, a retired Muskegon Public Schools administrator who stopped to talk about retirement. Gene began his teaching and coaching careers at Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, but is best known for his 26-year run as the Director of Community Education, Adult Education and Recreation at Fruitport. Upon his retirement, he specialized in helping school boards make good hires for superintendent and other administrative positions.
Terri Clock, the lone woman on the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame board, then stopped to visit for a few moments. One of Gene’s crowning achievements had been his tireless work for the local sports hall, taking over as president in 1994 and serving in that role until his death.
“He is the hall of fame. When Dick Hedges (the first president of the MASHF) passed away, Gene took over and that was his baby,” said Moyes, who delivered a powerful eulogy at Young’s funeral service on Jan. 6. “He put hours and hours into making our hall of fame the best one. Everything was always first class with Gene.”
The equipment was all set up, and I had already done a test call with the station – and my partner was still sitting on that bench.
I just shook my head and smiled. His friends and family (and especially his wife, Sandy) were used to “Gene speed” – whether it was making his way past all of the characters at the bar to get to our table for lunch every Friday, or visiting with each of the workers on his way to the pool at the health club, or shaking everyone’s hand after church on Sunday.
Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield also stopped quickly to chat, thanking Gene for sending him a note of encouragement all four times his teams lost in MHSAA championship games (Fairfield told me at Gene’s visitation that he received another note this year after the Big Reds won the Division 3 title). Then, finally, Gene had a brief word with Muskegon star quarterback La’Darius Jefferson, who experienced Gene’s handshake grip, which he kept locked on until he was ready to let you go.
Only then did he start his trek up the 28 concrete rows to the Hackley Stadium press box, which included two or three more stops to rest/visit with Muskegon and Ann Arbor Pioneer fans, before he finally got to his spot at 6:25 p.m. – 5 minutes before air time.
“Tommy Kendra, I picked up some good information down there,” he said.
Those words struck me that day, and I learned a valuable lesson. As I sat there alone in the middle of the press box, sweating profusely, bored and isolated, poring over relatively meaningless stats that I already knew by heart, I realized that he was doing it the right way.
I’ve determined that the best way to honor and remember my dear friend and mentor is to never be in too big of a rush to get into the press box, to get a seat at the lunch table or a treadmill at the gym. Take it a little slower. Be interested in other people. Figure out a way to use your God-given gifts to help them. Brighten their day. And, in the process, learn a few things and gain a new perspective.
That’s the Gene Young magic.
Tom 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.
Ludington’s Beckman Came Home, Gave Back
Rod Beckman never really got away from high school sports.
Beckman, who died on Dec. 20 at the age of 69 after a five-year battle with cancer, is remembered as one of the best all-around athletes to ever come out of Shelby High School – good enough to earn a Division I basketball scholarship to Oklahoma State University and later shift gears and play three years of professional baseball in the Detroit Tigers organization.
Then Beckman went back to high school, in a way, as the voice of Ludington High School sports for 40 years, from 1972 to 2012, at radio station WKLA in Ludington, where he worked as a popular disc jockey by day.
Beckman also made an impact on high school sports as a well-known and respected baseball and softball umpire in Mason County for more than 25 years.
Ultimately, Beckman stayed involved in sports throughout his life as an outlet for his competitive nature and a way to spend quality time with family and friends. His passion for basketball and baseball later gave way to fast-pitch softball and golf, but he also did his share of bowling, hockey and racquetball. Beckman is a member of the Mason County Sports Hall of Fame.
Beckman used his popularity and name recognition to help others right up until his death.
In September, Beckman hosted the Rod Beckman Cancer Charity Golf Classic, which raised more than $70,000 for the Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital Cancer Patient Assistance Fund and The Optimist Childhood Cancer Campaign.
Beckman is survived by his wife of 21 years, Traci.
– Tom Kendra
PHOTOS: (Top) Gene Young, left, with his most recent broadcasting team of Larry Taylor (second from left) and Tom Kendra, and halftime guest Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings, during a 2016 game. Young was working for iHeart Media station WMUS-107.9 FM in Muskegon. (Middle) The legendary broadcast duo of Young, left, and Jim Moyes, call the Class D championship game in 2002. (Below) Young poses in front of the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame displays at the L.C. Walker Arena in downtown Muskegon. Young served as president of the MASHF for the past 24 years.
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)