By BURT ANGELI
HARRIS – Hermansville’s Bob Whitens joined his high school basketball coach in the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday.
The late Don Hill compiled 400 wins coaching Hermansville and Norway high school basketball teams. Whitens played on Hill’s 1957 Hermansville squad that won the Class E state title.
“The most influential person in my coaching career has to be Coach Hill,” Whitens said during his acceptance speech. “Not only was he a great basketball person from an X’s and O’s standpoint, but he was such a great motivator.”
Whitens along with nine others comprised the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame’s 42nd induction class.
“This is certainly a great honor for me and my family, and really much appreciated,” Whitens said. “This Hall of Fame honor is icing on the cake.
“It doesn’t get any better than this. This is certainly something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Whitens, who described himself as a “young kid growing up on a small farm just outside the greater metropolitan area of Hermansville,” played on a state championship basketball team and later coached North Central in Powers to the 1984 Class D state title.
In the eighth grade, Whitens met Don Hill and the rest is history.
“Coach Hill really instilled in us the idea of playing sports,” said Whitens, noting Hill also coached baseball. “He taught us you could have a lot of fun playing the game.
“He let us play basketball the way he liked to play – shoot the ball. Don Hill said you don’t get any points for dribbling, you don’t get points for passing. You put the ball in the basket we’ll have fun and win games.”
During his basketball coaching days, Whitens also took something away from going up against top teams and programs.
“I had the privilege, or misfortune, coaching against a lot of Hall of Famers like Don Benzie, Stu Smith, Paul Polfus and Paul Miller,” he said. “It was a learning experience for me. I tried to steal what I could from these gentlemen. If it fit into our program, I would use it. If it didn’t, I would store it in the back of my mind.”
Whitens also thanked God, his wife Lois of 53 years and the players.
“After all, it’s really about the players,” he said. “I never made a basket or rebound. The guys did all the work and I just steered the ship.
“It was a fun ride.”
Paul Miller, Escanaba, state championship basketball coach at Stephenson; John Vasseau, Marquette, hockey star; Ron (Satch) Englund, Menominee, coached on state championship football (Menominee) and girls basketball (Marinette Catholic) teams; the late Ronald (Wimpy) Nettell, Houghton football and track standout who went on to Michigan Tech; Rick Comley, Marquette, coached Northern Michigan University and Michigan State University to national hockey titles; Pat Groleau, Nahma, basketball star at Nahma and Lake Superior State; Deanna (Sutton) Kreski, Rudyard, basketball standout at Lake Superior State and NMU; Deke Routheaux, Ironwood, guided Gogebic Community College to the nationals twice, Bob King, Manistique, California high school track and cross country coaching great, also entered the U.P. shrine with Whitens.
Sarah Cullip, St. Ignace; Tara Kiilunen, Calumet; Kenner Broullire, Manistique, and Ross Michaels, Chassell, earned college scholarships from the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame.
The ceremony took place at the Island Resort & Casino in Harris.