Don’t bet against North Central

By Paul Peterson

Just the other day, a local sports fan asked me if there was any chance that North Central High boys basketball team might not break Chassell’s 65-game win streak.

I thought for a moment, then told him there was little or no chance the Jets wouldn’t break the esteemed Michigan prep record set between 1956-58 by the Panthers.

North Central won its 59th game in a row on Monday evening, a 70-59 verdict over Menominee. It was the closest game NC has played this season.

Now, Class B Menominee was virtually the only team on the schedule with any chance to upsetting the Jets. The two teams play later in the season at Powers, but that game will likely come after the record falls.

Unlike the unbeaten Miami Dolphins on 1972, players from those great CHS teams haven’t celebrated every time a challenger for their record came up short.

Tom Pokela, the center on two of those Chassell teams, told me he was aware whenever the milestone was in peril.

“Back in the early 1980s, Flint Northwestern was about four or five wins short,” Pokela recalled. “But they went down to Ohio for a Christmas tournament and lost. I might have celebrated with a drink or two after that.”

Don Mattson, the architect of the streak, started all three years of the long string. He almost singlehandedly kept things going in his senior season when he was the lone returning starter on the squad.

One of the first high school All-Americans from Michigan, Mattson said a few years ago he takes a philosophical view of the streak.

“I figured some team would come along some day and break it,” he commented. “But I guess I’ll feel a twinge or two of regret when it happens.”

Knowing the two Panthers aces, I’m sure the fact that an Upper Peninsula team breaking the record will help with any regrets.

After all, this is an exceptional group of athletes at North Central. They’ve won two eight-person football state titles in a row, and are the defending two-time champs in basketball.

The Jets of 2016-17 are very similar to the Chassell teams of more than a half-century ago.

They had the talent to win and they knew how to win, and that’s what is required to establish a dynasty.