Cancer Free, Haske Pulls Double Duty

March 3, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

TRAVERSE CITY – Keith Haske calls coaching basketball “therapeutic.”

It’s a term that now holds more meaning for the 58-year-old Traverse City St. Francis basketball coach, who is recovering from a stage four throat cancer diagnosis two years ago.

“When you’re coaching you just kind of lose yourself,” he said. “You don’t think about how you’re feeling or what you went through.”

Coaching has been a major part of Haske’s life for 32 years – 13 at St. Johns, 13 at Charlevoix and six at St. Francis. Even when he felt weak and tired last season, Haske continued as the boys coach, using an amplified headset at practice to lessen the strain on his throat.

His health, he said, is continually improving. He’s cancer free. His energy and strength are returning – so much so that he added to his workload this season by taking on the girls varsity coaching duties, too.

“When you go through this stuff you almost have a renewed energy,” he said. “Your body fights so hard to beat the cancer, and you go through so much suffering, that when you come out the other side things really don’t faze you as much.”

This is a time of the year that will test Haske’s stamina because his schedule is busier than ever. He coached three doubleheaders last week. With the girls reaching Friday’s MHSAA Class C District Final, he’ll coach five games in five days this week. It could be a repeat next week if the boys and girls advance along the tournament trail.

“I can’t tell you how much fun that would be,” Haske said.

Another tough District matchup awaits, though. The girls team (21-1) played Elk Rapids (15-6) on Wednesday and will next face host Glen Lake (20-2). The boys (12-7) will face Johannesburg-Lewiston (16-2) – the team that knocked the Gladiators out last season– in their District opener Monday.

It’s a challenging schedule. But Haske, who’s taken four teams to the MHSAA Finals, is accustomed to challenges. None bigger than his battle with cancer.

The diagnosis came the day after Easter in 2014. Haske, who kept physically fit, couldn’t believe what the doctor was telling him.

“I said, ‘There’s no way,’” he recalled. “I never smoked, never chewed tobacco, things you would attribute (to throat cancer).”

He wasn’t the only one stunned.

“Most of the team started breaking down crying,” senior Dylan Sheehy-Guiseppi remembered when Haske broke the news. “We were so shocked. We couldn’t understand how it happened to him.”

Neither could Haske’s close friends.

“Your first take is that it’s pretty devastating because you don’t know (what to expect),” Adam Wood, who played for and coached under Haske at Charlevoix, said. “Cancer can run the gamut as far as severity. The one thing I did know is that he would fight it as hard as he could.”

Haske took his fight to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He, and his wife Barb, spent most of the summer there as Haske underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

It was on a return trip to Houston a few months later – he still goes back every four months for scans – when he learned he was cancer free.

“When I left (in July) they were still worried about one of the lymph nodes, whether they got it or not,” Haske said. “Sometimes it gets inflamed from the radiation, and they can’t tell.”

Turns out, it was inflammation. No cancer was detected.

On the way home, Haske received a call from principal Eric Chittle, who then revealed the good news at a school assembly.

“The whole student body went crazy,” Haske said. “It was cool.”

For Haske, the dean of students at the high school, it was a big hurdle to clear. But there was a side effect – Haske’s throat was still inflamed, and he struggled to eat.

“When I came back I went six months without eating a single morsel of food,” he said. “I lived on Ensure and ice cream.”

He ended up losing 53 pounds – and at one point inquired about a feeding tube.

“He (doctor) said, ‘You don’t need it. You’ve been through the worst. You’ll be all right,’” Haske recalled. “He was right. A couple weeks later it started to turn around.”

After the boys basketball season concluded last March, and as Haske’s health improved, the girls basketball job opened up. Haske had coached girls basketball at Charlevoix for three seasons, leading the Rayders to a 27-1 record and a Finals appearance in 2004. He stepped down when the girls season was switched from fall to winter.

St. Francis athletic director Tom Hardy thought about the possibilities and approached Haske, a member of the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Hall of Fame, about adding a second coaching job. After consulting with Barb, who he said has been “unbelievable” in his recovery process, Haske accepted.

Wood, who is now the boys basketball coach and athletic director at Lake Michigan Conference rival Harbor Springs, was among the first to call his former coach.

“He asked, ‘Adam, am I crazy?’” Wood said laughing. “My response was ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I’ve been getting a lot of that lately.’

“For him to take that on was beyond impressive. It was all about the kids.”

What about physically?

“When I saw him this year I told him he looked great,” Wood said. “He said he felt great. The difference between this year and last is quite dramatic.”

Haske – who is mentoring two young coaches in the system, Tyler Sanborn and Stephanie DeNoyelles – said the casual fan might not even realize what he’s been through.

“If you were looking at me across the gym you wouldn’t have any idea,” Haske said. “If you get closer, I still have some swelling in my jaw, and I talk a little funny sometimes.”

But he’s enjoying every minute.

“The kids here are great, and that makes it so much easier,” he said. “You just don’t have many problems.”

The players are thankful to see their coach returning to his old self.

“He’s not only a basketball coach, he’s a mentor,” Sheehy-Guiseppi said. “He wants to make sure you’re taking care of stuff outside the game of basketball first. He really cares about you as a person, and he looks forward to helping you grow as a person.”

St. Francis officials adjusted Haske’s work schedule during the winter to accommodate his coaching, and Hardy had to work out arrangements with league members to schedule more varsity doubleheaders.

“All the schools were great about it,” Hardy said. “We have not had an issue with Keith having to be at two spots at the same time.”

Now comes the challenge of March Madness. And for the girls, that means a showdown with Glen Lake.

“They’re a lot like us,” Haske said, when asked about the Lakers. “They don’t have any one person you can key on. They have five or six girls that all share the ball and are dangerous. They’re tough in the paint and they can shoot. They’re very balanced, very sound.”

So are the Gladiators, who have won 19 in a row. Senior Annie Lyman is the leader, averaging 14 points, eight rebounds, five steals and five assists per game.

“She does it all,” Haske said. “She’s a tough, aggressive player.”

Juliana Phillips, a 6-foot-4 junior who has committed to play volleyball at St. Louis University, and 6-foot senior Lauren McDonnell also average in double figures.

Haske likes the growth he’s seen in his team.

“I think we’ve made great strides in understanding the system and what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We have some pretty talented kids. We have some size, some quickness, some kids who can shoot it. It’s a well-rounded team.”

The boys, meanwhile, are trying to find some consistency. Haske thought the Gladiators were turning the corner when Gabe Callery hit a mid-court shot at the buzzer to stun previously unbeaten East Jordan earlier this year. But St. Francis dropped three consecutive road games in February.

“A lot of it is shooting,” Haske said. “There are nights we just don’t shoot it well. When we do shoot it well, we’re a really good team.”

How good will be determined in March.

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] 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) Traverse City St. Francis coach Keith Haske huddles with his boys basketball team during a game against Grayling. (Middle) St. Francis' girls team, here against Kalkaska, will play for a District title Friday. (Below) Haske speaks with a few of his players during a District game against Grand Traverse Academy. (Photos by Julie English.)

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.)