Bear Lake – Check. Onekama? You bet. Traverse City West? Yup.
Glen Lake? Absolutely!
Chances are if you played basketball at one of these schools over the last decade or so, you were coached by a very special educator named Bradford. Perhaps not the same Bradford, but it definitely was a member of the Onekama-raised family with a long line of special education teachers.
While growing up on the farm of parents Arden and Lynn in Onekama, the future educators picked up the love of the game of basketball. Some went on to play college ball, and all reportedly did some coaching.
March Madness has always been a lot of fun in the Bradford family.
“Our family has had a lot of success in March Madness, and it is fun to be able to talk about it with each other and with our kids,” said Nathan Bradford, currently the boys basketball coach, athletic director and special ed teacher at Onekama. “As a player, I also played at the Breslin Center and in the state Semifinals.
“It was an experience that I will never forget,” he continued. “My sisters have also made it to the state Semifinals.”
Nick Bradford joined Nathan’s staff as the junior varsity boys coach. The Portagers ended their season Thursday night with a hard-fought loss to Brethren after leading most of the way.
One of the sisters, April, had a long run as the Bear Lake girls coach. She still teaches special ed there.
Jason Bradford, whose undefeated Glen Lake girls squad plays for the District championship tonight against Elk Rapids, has fond memories of March Madness on the Bradford farm.
“The one that got into it the most was probably Nate,” Jason said. “We’d go back and forth picking different teams.”
“We were on the living room floor cheering – it was a friendly competitive thing,” he continued. “We were Michigan State fans. Whenever they were in the mix, we were always cheering for them.”
While the father of five doesn’t have the Spartans to root on any longer this year, he does have the Lakers. All the Bradfords will likely be cheering on the Lakers as they try to move on from last season’s abrupt end.
Jason’s oldest son, J.J., is now a freshman in college. He saw his senior season at Glen Lake come to an end with the pandemic outbreak halting tournament play last March as he was preparing for a District Final game.
His daughters, Grace, now a junior, and Maddie, a sophomore, advanced to the Regional Final against Manton last year and were pretty much boarding the bus when things stopped.
Season-ending losses have always caused sleep deprivation for Jason. They have a bigger impact when his own kids are on the team.
“It might be tougher on them,” Jason acknowledged. “Maybe I put more pressure on them. (The season ending) still hurts, but you learn to deal with it.
“You want the success for them,” he continued. “Maybe I am a little more anxious for games ... it’s the pressure.”
But it is a great and fun time of year, Nathan noted.
“I always look at throwing records aside and showing up, giving it your all because you always have a chance to win during tournaments,” he said. “I have experienced both ends of the spectrum with teams with high expectations and getting upset and teams with nothing to lose and making a run.
“You always hope your team is peaking at the right time and you can advance in the tournaments.”
Jason and Nathan have never coached against each other. They both have young boys so that could change. The sibling rivalry has presented some competitiveness.
They started coaching girls varsity basketball the same year and their teams were in different conferences at the time. Nathan moved to boys before Onekama and Glen Lake competed against each other in the Northwest Conference.
“We always set up a few (girls) scrimmages and I have to admit that Jason usually got the better of me at that time,” Nathan said. “I would say we really help each other out and talk coaching strategies quite a bit.
“Usually after games we call each other and get the run down on each other's games,” Nathan added. “It helps having another sibling in the family that coaches a varsity sport to talk to and bounce things off of.”
The summer breaks helped lure the Bradfords into teaching so they could help out on the farm. Their upbringing paved their way. Coaching is a bonus.
“While playing I always thought that it would be great to give back to the sport that gave me so many opportunities, and this led to me wanting to become a teacher and a coach,” Jason said. “Our dad taught us great work ethic and discipline growing up on a farm. Our mom is the most patient and caring individual you can meet and would do anything to help another individual.”
Tonight Glen Lake will take the floor without three seniors from last year’s team but with a lot more experience Jason hopes that bodes well for the Lakers.
“I feel we have a little more depth,” he pointed out. “We’re another year older, and it helps with confidence too.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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) Nathan Bradford (kneeling) and assistant and brother Nick Bradford huddle with their Onekama boys basketball team this season. (Middle) Jason Bradford guides his Maple City Glen Lake girls basketball team through an inbounds scenario, with daughters Grace inbounding and Maddie setting up to receive the pass. (Below) Clockwise from top left, Nick Bradford, Nathan Bradford, Grace Bradford, Jason Bradford and Maddie Bradford. (Onekama photos by Paul Cunningham. Glen Lake photos by Liz Moeggenberg.)
We are down to the final four weeks of this MHSAA boys basketball season – and while the entertaining part is detailed below in our regular Monday report, there’s some major data crunching underway behind the scenes as well.
Seeding the top two teams in every District requires thousands of data points – and a season-long process of collecting them all. More than 720 varsity teams are playing this winter, and we’re in the midst of a process of checking their schedules one by one – about a 24-hour task by itself to make sure all scheduled games are showing, league standings are set up correctly, etc.
Additionally, daily we’re sorting through disputed scores, changes to schedules because of weather or teams that have discontinued their seasons, and other adjustments. But we’re always striving for perfection – and when Districts are drawn and those top teams seeded Feb. 26, we hope to have every schedule up to date and every score filled in.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. North Farmington 68, Muskegon 55 These two have lived at or near the top of Division 1 MPR all season, making this win by the Raiders (12-1) at the 2K23 Showcase at Aquinas College arguably their best, especially considering it also was the first loss for the Big Reds (13-1).
2. Saline 57, Ann Arbor Huron 47 The Hornets (11-4) saw an eight-game winning streak end three days later, but in this one handed Huron (13-1) its lone defeat of the season.
3. Ann Arbor Huron 67, Benton Harbor 55 The River Rats, meanwhile, rebounded immediately with a 13-point win over Dexter and then a 67-55 victory over Benton Harbor (13-3) at Aquinas.
4. Warren Lincoln 52, Grand Rapids Northview 37 The Abes (12-3) just keep impressing, this time with a big win over a Northview team matching their 12-3 record, also during the 2K23 Showcase.
5. Iron Mountain 64, Powers North Central 58 This matched arguably the best in the Upper Peninsula in Divisions 3 and 4, respectively, with the Mountaineers moving to 13-1 and the Jets to 11-2.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) The Cubs have won outright or shared the last two Detroit Catholic League Central championships, and they’re hoping to run that streak to three by winning Friday’s rematch with first-place Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1). A 68-53 defeat to the Warriors on Jan. 24 and a 67-64 loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on Jan. 6 have left Jesuit a game back, but the Cubs do have a sweep of reigning Division 1 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate plus early impressive nonleague wins over Clarkston and Ferndale.
Kalamazoo Central (13-2) After just missing the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago – losing to Northview by two in a Quarterfinal – the Maroon Giants are ahead of their 16-win pace from that finish with their only losses to Brother Rice and Battle Creek Lakeview (11-3), the latter by a point. They also defeated Lakeview in the teams’ first meeting, handed Mattawan its only loss and most recently defeated Detroit Renaissance at the 2K23 event.
Ferndale (7-6) Few if any have played a tougher schedule, especially considering Ferndale is Division 2 playing most of the Division 1 powers. The Eagles are No. 5 in Division 2 MPR despite a 1-5 start including losses to Brother Rice, Jesuit, St. Mary’s and Muskegon, and then a two-point loss to North Farmington last week. Meanwhile, Ferndale has defeated Grosse Pointe South (13-3), Flint Beecher (12-3), Clarkston (11-5) and River Rouge (10-5). The North Farmington rematch is Feb. 24, and a Feb. 11 matchup with Port Huron Northern should also boost MPR.
Grand Rapids Christian (10-4) The Eagles may be in fourth in the Ottawa-Kent Conference White, but they are No. 6 in Division 2 MPR. Three of the four losses were to league opponents, but Christian is coming off a 55-53 double-overtime win over Warren Michigan Collegiate (13-2) on Saturday at Aquinas. An early win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central and a Jan. 21 victory over De La Salle also stand out.
Flint Beecher (12-3) The Bucs are off to another big start after last season’s finish at the Division 3 Semifinals, losing only to Detroit Cass Tech (17-0), Benton Harbor and Ferndale as Beecher also has loaded up its nonleague schedule. Beecher also has four wins over teams with double-digit victories, with an 80-71 defeat of Flint Hamady (14-2) on Jan. 10 putting the Bucs in first in the Genesee Area Conference Red. The Hamady rematch is Feb. 18, before a major regular-season finish against Goodrich (13-1) and Grand Blanc (14-2).
Napoleon (14-0) The Pirates aren’t sneaking up on anyone after going 19-3 last season, but they are dominating nonetheless. All but one win have been by eight points or more, and Napoleon leads the Cascades Conference after finishing second last year with a pair of losses to Vandercook Lake. The Pirates not only defeated Vandercook in their first meeting, by 40, but next defeated Michigan Center by 17 after the Cardinals ended their season last winter. Napoleon also has a 63-45 win over Big 8 Conference co-leader Concord.
Baldwin (13-1) The Panthers are coming off an 18-5 finish and second place in the West Michigan D League, and they lead it this time by two games and with a win over Mesick after losing both meetings to the eventual league champ a year ago. Baldwin also has avenged a 2021-22 loss to Mason County Eastern and could avenge another hosting Traverse City Christian on Tuesday. The Panthers also have given Marion (11-4) half its losses.
Powers North Central (11-2) As noted above, the Jets are at least among the handful of elite small-school Upper Peninsula teams, No. 4 in statewide Division 4 MPR although second in D4 in the U.P. with Painesdale Jeffers in the top spot. Those two wouldn’t see each other until a Regional Final, where North Central’s 19-5 run ended last season. The Jets only defeats this time are to Division 2 Kingsford and Division 3 Iron Mountain, which stand a combined 25-3.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Goodrich (13-1) at Corunna (12-2) – They’re tied atop the Flint Metro League Stars with Goodrich winning the first meeting 69-54 on Jan. 10.
Friday – Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1) – As noted above, the Detroit Catholic League Central title will be on the line, as Jesuit can force a shared championship.
Saturday – Hamtramck (10-5) vs. Kalamazoo Central (13-2) at Benton Harbor – The Cosmos have faced their share of statewide elite as well, and will be seeking what would be one of their most notable wins in this Wilson Chandler Shootout matchup.
Saturday – Flint Hamady (14-2) at Davison (10-5) – Old rivals meet again as Davison is coached by longtime Beecher leader Mike Williams.
Saturday – Saginaw Arthur Hill (7-9) at Saginaw (14-4) – They’ll still have 2023-24 left before one the best rivalries in state history ends with a school merger, but this year’s rematch comes after Saginaw won 57-55 on Jan. 14.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Saginaw player gets to the rim during Friday's 59-54 loss to Mount Pleasant. (Middle) A Montabella player goes to the basket during his team's 43-28 win last week over Carson City-Crystal.(Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)