HOUGHTON – In a period between 1955 and 1970, the Houghton High boys basketball teams enjoyed one of the greatest runs ever by a local school.
In addition to winning a state Class C championship in 1955, the Gremlins finished runner-up in the finals twice and won several regional titles.
On Thursday night, members of the 1962-63 state runner-up HHS team feted their coach, Fritz Wilson.
“A bunch of us got together and decided it would be a nice salute to Fritz on his 80th birthday,” Fred Hagen, a starter on the 1963 team commented. “We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did without his coaching.”
The Gremlins got off to a 2-3 start that winter before reeling off 17 straight victories behind first-year skipper Wilson.
After clipping favored Harbor Springs and Perry in state quarter and semifinal play, HHS came up against a tall New Buffalo squad for all the marbles.
In the title game versus New Buffalo, Houghton was ahead 25-7 midway through the first half and led most of the game.
But the loss of starters Jon Fryxell and Chuck Noetzel on some questionable officiating allowed New Buffalo to come back and win by a 59-58 score.
“We led the entire game,” Noetzel said last night. “We were up by 18 points at one point in the second quarter. But losing Jon (Fryxell) four minutes into the third quarter really hurt us because he was our floor leader.”
The 6-foot-2 Noetzel, Houghton’s tallest player, fouled out with four minutes left in the game.
Wilson said the New Buffalo coach, whom he knew, called him afterward and told him questionable officiating cost Houghton the game.
“I really thought we were the best team on the floor that night,” Wilson said. “But those things happen sometimes.”
In an ironic twist, 6-5 Jerry Kissman, who led New Buffalo with 26 points and 20 rebounds in the final game, had a son, Mike, who played at Michigan Tech many years later.
Hagen said nine of the 11 players on that team came in from seven different states for the get-together. Fryxell and John Croze have passed on in recent years.
“It would have been nice to have had everyone here,” he said. “But that’s beyond our control.”
Wilson, a standout at John D. Pierce High and Northern Michigan University, coached basketball at Houghton for 14 years.
Also a noted official for many years, Wilson said the event was a complete surprise to him.
“I can’t tell you how nice it was to see these guys after all these years,” he said. “It’s an evening I’ll remember for a long, long time.”
Another former Houghton player, Phil Jose, hosted the get-together at his home in Point Mills home.