By Ron Pesch

The Greater Muskegon area’s wild success in football has been celebrated on many occasions.

But what about basketball?

On 166 occasions, between 1917 and 2021, boys teams from schools in the Greater Muskegon area have advanced to the final rounds – the quarterfinals, semifinals, or championship game – of the state’s annual hoops tournament. During that span, we’ve won 30 state titles, and finished as state runner-up on 23 occasions. Western Michigan Christian’s Warriors lead the pack with 9 state titles, followed by the Grand Haven Buccaneers with 7, the Muskegon Heights Tigers with 6 and Muskegon’s Big Reds with 4. Shelby and little Muskegon St. Joseph – who consolidated with Muskegon St. Mary and Muskegon St. Jean following the 1952-53 school year to form Muskegon Catholic Central – each captured a pair of state titles.

The Heights has finished as state runner-up on 8 occasions, with WMC in second place with 5.

On 21 occasions, the area has advanced at least 3 boys teams to the MHSAA state quarterfinal round, most recently in 2015, when Muskegon, Spring Lake, and Shelby all survived regional play. It was, however, the final stop for all three.

In 2012, Muskegon Heights, Shelby, and Muskegon Catholic all advanced to the state semifinals before running out of steam.

The 1927 season still stands as the most successful, as the area sent representatives in all four classes to the final rounds. Muskegon, playing in Class A, and Grand Haven, in Class B, won their second state basketball titles that year. Muskegon, coached by C. Leo Redmond and led by Clair Helmer and Bill McCall, downed Battle Creek Central 32-24. Coach Gus Cohrs’ Grand Haven squad trounced Howell 28-7. Shelby finished as Class C runner-up to Reed City. The games were played in Detroit, with Classes A and D hosted at Detroit Central High School and Classes B and C at Detroit Northwestern. Grant had advanced to the state Class D quarterfinals.

The 1953 season was a pretty good one as well. Muskegon St. Joseph grabbed the state Class D title, defeating previously unbeaten Detroit All Saints 58-51 in overtime, while Ludington ended the season as runner-up to St. Joseph in Class B. Muskegon St. Mary, a Class C school based on enrollment, also fell in the title game to Saginaw St. Mary, 59-57.

The Tigers of Muskegon Heights have advanced to the final rounds of the action an impressive 32 times. WMC has made the trip on 21 occasions, followed by Grand Haven with 20, Muskegon 19, and Ludington 14, and Shelby and Whitehall, with 10 each.

Cohrs, head coach for each of the Buccaneers’ titles, is the area’s mentor with the most state championships. Winner of titles in 1924, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1934 and 1935 all in Class B, except for ’31. So talented was that team, Grand Haven, a Class B school based on enrollment, opted to play for – and won – the Class A title that season, defeating Battle Creek Central (41-30), Dearborn Fordson (24-9) and Lansing Central (31-15) along the way.

Western Michigan Christian’s 9 titles were split between Elmer Walcott (1958, 1962, 1965, 1970, all in Class C) and Jim Goorman (1992, 1999, 2008, 2009, and 2010, all in Class D).

The Buccaneers and the Warriors are the only two teams from the area to ‘three-peat’.

Muskegon Heights won titles under three different coaches. The 1954, 1956, and 1957 titles all in Class A, were won under coach Oscar E. ‘Okie’ Johnson. The Tigers won the 1974 Class B championship under the guidance of Ossie McCarty – a starter for the Heights in both the 1956 and 1957 state title games. Lee Gilbert led the Tigers to back-to-back Class B titles in 1978 and 1979.

50 Years Ago the Girls Join the Fun
Two teams, North Muskegon and WMC, advanced to the final rounds of the first MHSAA sponsored girls tournament in 1973. In total, 52 teams have played in the quarterfinals between that first year of championships and 2021.

Six girls teams, split between three schools from the area, have won state titles. In each case, the schools won back-to-back crowns – Newaygo in Class C in 1984 and 1985, Walkerville in Class D in 1987 and 1988, and Grand Haven in Class A in 2012 and 2013.

Five teams – Kent City, Newaygo, North Muskegon, Scottville, and White Cloud – have finished as state runner-up. Nine teams have seen their dream run end in the semifinals. That’s happened twice for three schools – Grand Haven, Christian, and Scottville Mason County Central.

Grand Haven, Kent City, WMC, and Scottville Mason County Central have each advanced to the final rounds of the MHSAA girls tournament on 5 occasions. In both 1989 and 2018, the Greater Muskegon area qualified three teams for the final rounds. In each case, the squads were defeated in the quarterfinals.

The last few years of final rounds action have been exciting with Muskegon’s back-to-back qualifiers in 2018 and 2019, and Kent City advancing in both 2018 and 2021. Oakridge advanced to the quarterfinals in 2018 and Newaygo (and Kent City) both finished as runner-up in 2021.


Who coached North Muskegon and Western Michigan Christian in that first MHSAA girls tournament?

Carol Jansen led WMC to the Class C quarterfinals in 1973. North Muskegon finished the 1973 season as state runner-up in Class D guided by Ann Neuman.

When did ‘Okie’ Johnson start and end his coaching career at Muskegon Heights?

Okie’ coached at Mt. Pleasant for two seasons before taking the Heights job in the fall of 1927. He officially retired from coaching following the 1963-64 school year. (However, he did have one last fling in the fall of 1979, leading the Baldwin Panthers to three football victories during a teacher’s strike.) His final coaching totals show a 209-106-28 record on the football field and a 408-241 record on the basketball court.

Name the most recent girls team to win a MHSAA basketball state championship? What about the boys?

Grand Haven won the Class A girls title in 2013. Muskegon won the Class A boys title in 2014.

When did Muskegon Catholic open its doors?

According to their first yearbook, “Catholic Central became a reality (Tuesday,) September 8, 1953, when approximately 800 students entered its doors.” (Monday was Labor Day.)

How many teams have won three or more boys state championships in a row?

18 –Crystal Falls won six Class C Upper Peninsula titles – 1938-1942 then again in 1944 when the MHSAA sponsored separate Lower Peninsula and U.P. tournaments. No MHSAA Finals were played in 1943 due to World War II. River Rouge won five straight between 1961 and 1964, then four consecutive between 1969 and 1972. There are 15 instances of schools winning three in a row.

What about the girls?

7 – Flint Northern won four straight between 1978 and 1981. Six teams have won 3 in-a-row, the more recent being Detroit Edison between 2017 and 2019.


MHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament            
School   Championships Runner-up Semi Quarter Totals
Fremont     1 1 3 5
Grand Haven   7   4 9 20
Grant         2 2
Hart       2 2 4
Kent City     1 1   2
Ludington     2 5 7 14
Ludington St. Simon       1   1
Montague       1   1
Muskegon   4 2 3 10 19
Muskegon Catholic Central       1 1 2
~ Muskegon St. Joseph   2     1 3
~ Muskegon St. Mary     1     1
Muskegon Heights   6 8 9 9 32
Muskegon Orchard View         1 1
Muskegon Reeths-Puffer       1   1
Muskegon Western Michigan Christian   9 5 2 5 21
Newaygo       1 2 3
North Muskegon         3 3
Pentwater         1 1
Ravenna         1 1
Scottville       1 2 3
Scottville Mason County Central     1 1 1 3
Shelby   2 1 1 6 10
Spring Lake         2 2
White Cloud         1 1
Whitehall     1 3 6 10
Totals   30 23 38 75 166
MHSAA Girls Basketball Tournament            
School   Championships Runner-up Semi Quarter Totals
Grand Haven   2   2 1 5
Hart         1 1
Kent City     1   4 5
Ludington       1 3 4
Mona Shores         2 2
Muskegon       1 1 2
Muskegon Catholic Central         3 3
Muskegon Heights         3 3
Muskegon Oakridge         2 2
Muskegon Orchard View         2 2
Muskegon Western Michigan Christian       2 3 5
Newaygo   2 1   1 4
North Muskegon     1   1 2
Ravenna         1 1
Scottville Mason County Central     1 2 2 5
Shelby       1 2 3
Walkerville   2       2
White Cloud     1     1
Totals   6 5 9 32 52