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Legends: Gerard was a big key to L’Anse title

L’ANSE — When members of the powerhouse L’Anse High School basketball team gathered a few years ago for their 50th reunion, they were unanimous on one thing.

Center Gerry Gerard was a big key to the great success they had.

The Hornets, who won a Class C state championship in 1966 and scored 39 straight games over a two-year span, were the most dominant team in the area.

And the husky 6-foot-6 Gerard controlled the inside for the Purple Hornets.

Bill “Sugar” Popp was the coach at LHS and he saw Gerard and others coming up as freshmen.

“Gerry was a very important player for us because he took care of the backboards and he could score,” Popp said a few years ago. “But he was also a great passer.”

Ironically, the L’Anse streak started early in the 1965-66 season after losses to Copper Country Conference foes Houghton and Hancock.

“After losing those two games, we had to take a look at ourselves,” Gerard said. “The conference was very good back then, you never could let up.”

There was an abundance of talent on the team, starting with forward Bob Fredrikson, who could really get off the floor.

“He (Fredrikson) was about 6-2 but jumped like a 6-6 player,” Popp noted. “He had very good offensive skills, too.”

Roland Swartz, the lone senior on the title squad, was another offensive threat. And at 6-1, he could play defense as well as anyone.

“A very solid player,” Popp said of Swartz. “He could really shoot from the sides and that made him a double threat.”

The fourth Hornet who made a big impact that season was sophomore guard/forward Deane Kent.

Kent was a great outside shooter and at 6-1, a key defender and rebunder.

“Kent made a big difference for them,” late Dollar Bay coach Harvey Filppula said. “He was the kind of player who could play inside or out.”

Junior guard Jim Hofbauer complemented the scenario with strong defense and ball handling.

One other factor was the loud gym they called the “Hornets Nest.” With overhangs on both sides, the home team could easily put on pressure, sometimes by merely putting up their hands. It was an intimidating place to be sure.

L’Anse finished the regular season strong and was assigned to the Iron River District, where they dispatched Stambaugh and Crystal Falls.

A tough Marquette Bishop Baraga team awaited in the regionals, but LHS posted a 79-69 victory.

The Purple Gang found tough competition downstate. But wins over Traverse City St. Francis and Scottville put the locals into the state title game against Flint Holy Redeemer.

With Swartz, Gerard and Kent all notching 20 points or better, the Hornets brought home a trophy with an 89-70 verdict.

Gerard’s long baseball passes to Kent for easy hoops broke the game open.

“It was something we had been doing all season,” Gerard recalled. “I know a lot of the media called them homerun passes.”

With everyone returning except Swartz the next season, most observers believed the Hornets would repeat.

While stretching their win streak to 39 games, the team wasn’t quite on track.

Popp said pressure of winning was a factor, but believed the defense wasn’t quite as good.

“Oh, we scored a lot of points,” he recalled. “But we were not sharp as we had been the year before.”

After winning the district, L’Anse defeated a solid Houghton team by an 80-56 score. That set up a meeting with undefeated Wakefield, which featured 6-6 center Al Inkala.

Before an overflow crowd of 5,500 at C.B. Hedgcock Fieldhouse, Wakefield was a 70-59 victor.

Gerard, who averaged more than 30 points a game that season, received an offer to play at Michigan Tech. He played for two seasons before injuries sidelined him.

Kent went on to play at Lake Superior State and finished his career as one of the all-time scorers for the Lakers.

Gerard, whose 1,706 points remains a career mark at LHS remembers 1966-67 as a “special time for all of us.”

“I’m just grateful I had the physical talent and was able to put it to good use,” he later said.

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