M.C. Burton, Jr.
BORN: SEPTEMBER 3, 1937, BLYTHEVILLE, AR
A member of the Muskegon Heights High School state championship
basketball team of 1954, M.C. Burton netted a school record 1,141 points
for the Tigers during his three‑year varsity career (this record was
later broken by his younger brother Ed).
In the fall of 1955, he entered the University of Michigan on an academic scholarship. As a senior in 1959, Burton became the first Big Ten player to lead the league in both scoring and rebounds, with 460 points and 379 boards en route to All‑Big Ten honors, and the Most Valuable Player award. Both totals established new Wolverine single‑season records.
Drafted by the Detroit Pistons following college graduation, Burton turned down an offer from the National Basketball Association squad to continue his studies in medicine. He remained active in basketball, playing 10 seasons of semi‑pro ball in the Midwest Professional Basketball League and the North American Basketball League, logging time with the Toledo Twisters, the Holland Oilers and the Grand Rapids Tackers. He led the MPBL in scoring in 1963-64 and earned NABL All-Star and league MVP honors during the 1967-68 season.
Burton was named to the University of Michigan Hall of Honor in 1988.
Chasing a dream
In the city of Ann Arbor, on the campus of the University of Michigan. In the building that Crisler Arena replaced - a temple christened Yost - a young man played basketball. Before the Fab Five, long shorts and scandal. Before the bright lights of today's NBA. Before Magic and Michael; Dr. J and Jabbar.
college, he was compared to one of the greatest ever to play the
"They can talk about this Cincinnati (Oscar) Robinson," said the coach of one of Michigan's opponents. "If this man ...were as well publicized and played for as hot a team, a good many experts would rate him the better of the two."
The year was 1958, and the young man was named M.C. Burton, Jr. Ask any young basketball fan you know, and they will not know the name. That's because he never played in the NBA.
But he could have. He might have even become a star.
Burton set Wolverine records in scoring and rebounding that season. The senior forward paced the Big Ten conference in the same categories. A first team selection on the All-Big Ten team, Burton capped his senior season with his team's Most Valuable Player award.
These were the days of territorial rights in professional basketball. Considered a solid prospect, Burton was selected by the only teams that could draft him - the Detroit Pistons and the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA. Each team offered him a contract. Burton said no thank you.
The Minneapolis Lakers acquired his rights, hoping that their star ball player, Elgin Baylor, could convince his college acquaintance to come out and play. Once again, Burton said no thank you. The offer remained open, but the promising player never looked back.
You see, M.C. always wanted to be a doctor. He studied hard for the chance.
A father sits
uncomfortably in the waiting room of a gynecologist office.
Surrounded by women, he is embarrassed and nervous.
Down the hall, a doctor emerges from his office and guides his patient toward the waiting room. Together, they made their way toward the man.
"Hi, I'm M.C. Burton," states the doctor as the expectant mother introduces the father of her unborn child. With sincere interest, the doctor shake hands with the man. "It's nice to meet you."
Despite his size, the doctor's voice is soothing. With finesse he communicates, building trust and confidence. Like magic, the father's displays of nervousness are gone.
The doctor continues, "Now you take care of her. She'll need your help."
Beaming with pride, the man escorts his pregnant wife from the building.
On the city owned asphalt courts, M.C. and his younger brother Ed
received their training. They gathered with a variety of other
youths from the area to play the game. Large crowds gathered
at the Baker Street courts to watch. They cheered the action
provided by the young men - Mert Johnson, Ossie and Willie McCarty,
Dr. Leon Smith, Kenny Howell, Ronald Robinson and many others.
The youth represented a seed that would develop and grow.
In the spring of 1954, under the watchful eye of Coach Oscar E. "Okie" Johnson, the seed would flower into a longstanding tradition at Muskegon Heights High School - championship basketball.
That year, Johnson's Tigers capped a 20-1 record with a thrilling overtime victory against Flint Northern for the school's first cage crown. The title was one of three Class A state basketball titles for the Tigers between 1954 and 1957.
The Heights played a high-scoring brand of ball, defeating their opponents by an average of 15 points a game. M.C. dominated the state basketball scene that season. Only a junior, he contributed a team-record 423 points - 35% of the Tigers' offensive output. His play in the state tournaments earned him a place on the Associated Press All-Tourney team as well as various all-state squads.
A year later, M.C. and the Tigers rolled through the regular season with a 15-1 record. Muskegon Heights advanced to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Benton Harbor. M.C. ended his three-year high school career as the Tigers' all-time leading scorer, with 1,141 points. (a mark later eclipsed by his brother, Ed). Again, all-state honors flowed his way.
However, Burton was not just a basketball player. He worked at a local hospital while in high school. An all-A student at the Heights, he graduated second in a class of 210. His academic and athletic talents offered the chance for a college education. In the fall of 1955, M.C. headed for the University of Michigan with an academic scholarship.
He didn't attend U of M for the Wolverine's cage prowess. Between 1950 and 1955, the school had finished no better than sixth in the Big Ten conference. It certainly wasn't for a lack of offers. Over fifty colleges and universities offered Burton an education in exchange for his athletic skills, but Michigan offered medical school. That's what he wanted - basketball was just an extra.
Standing in the lobby of the
office, he handed the woman a folded slip of paper. "This is
for you." He turned and began to walk away.
Obviously pregnant, the woman looked puzzled. Her eyes widened as she read the words. Quickly, she turned toward him. "Oh, Doctor Burton!" He smiled.
I didn't see the note, but I knew it was about the impending birth. The woman's desire for a son was well known to her doctor. However, somewhere along the way, he must have led her to believe that she would have another girl. Perhaps, it was a reminder that the choice of gender was not her decision to make.
Her words were unnecessary - her expression told the entire story. Her wish had come true.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in 1959, Burton was
accepted into med school at Michigan. Recently married, the
couple struggled financially.
"We were stealing money from Peter to pay Paul, and hoping Peter would wait," recalled Burton. Once again, his ability to play basketball and his love of the game were used as a means to an end. During the summer of 1959, he toured the Midwest as a member of an All-Star team playing against the Harlem Globetrotters. During his freshmen and sophomore years, he commuted to Holland on weekends to play for the Oilers of the Midwest Professional Basketball League. As a junior, he played for the Battle Creek Warrior franchise. In the fall of 1962, he joined the Toledo Tartans of the MPBL. As always, Burton continued his studies.
In June of 1963, at the age of 26, Burton received his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Michigan. A move to Grand Rapids for his internship meant a change in his basketball career. Burton requested and received a trade to the MPBL franchise in Grand Rapids.
He led the Tackers to the league championship in his first year in Grand Rapids. However, with the completion of his internship, Burton was inducted into the United States Navy as a medical officer. Stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, the 212-pound, 6-foot-5 Burton was allowed to play the 1964-65 season with the Tackers, members of the newly formed North American Basketball League. However, he was denied permission to play with the team during his second year of service.
He returned to the Tackers in the autumn of 1966. Signed to a three-year contract, Burton led the team to the NABL title in 1967-68. The league's leading rebounder and third-highest scorer, Burton was selected to the league's all-star team and was named the NABL's Most Valuable Player.
Following the 1968-69 season, Dr. Burton retired from the game. He opened private practice in Grand Rapids specializing in obstetrics, gynecology and infertility in Grand Rapids. His wish had come true.
I asked the question. He
had heard it before. He has seen it in the eyes of children -
inter-city and suburban. He understands their wonder.
He had grasped it in his hands - the dream of every kid that ever held a basketball. Paid to play the game they love, against the finest competition the nation had to offer. The NBA. The chance to be recognized, imitated and idolized. How could he turn it down?
The answer is simple. They do not understand the past.
Burton laughed as he spoke. Over thirty
years had passed since he turned down an offer of $15,000 a year to
play in the NBA.
"The money made my decision easier," he explained. "Even the Pistons general manager at the time admitted that a degree in medicine would be worth more to me in five years than a career in basketball."
But that was then.
Today kids without a minute of NBA action under their belt sign contracts for more money than Burton has earned in his entire medical career. He knows his decision would be different.
"In my case, I was always going to be a doctor," said Burton when asked what he would have done if yesterday were today. "I would have played professionally, saved up some money to make med school a little easier on my family and then I would have still gone back. I was intelligent enough to know that basketball was a five to 10 to 12 year segment of your life.
"It was a love affair with basketball, but I had the perspective and the priorities correct. Today, I'm in my early fifties and no longer play basketball, but I can still practice medicine for years.
"I go to the games now and I imagine how it once was, but there comes a time when you have to be into a different phase of your life.
"That's why I lecture at schools. The thing that you find so difficult to get through to the kids is that for every Magic Johnson there are millions of kids that never get out of high school. You don't want to kill the dream, and yet you want enough realistic value in them that they're prepared in case their dream is not fulfilled.
"Kids need more varied role models. The TV inundates them with Mr. Football, Mr. October in baseball, Mr. 360 degrees in basketball, Mr. Hockey. This is O.K. to a degree. However, everybody goes out and buys a $180 pair of Reeboks and thinks that is what is going to happen to them. Instead, maybe they should buy the old $30 pair of tennis shoes and two books by Hemingway or someone else just in case things don't work out.
"You can have two dreams. Politics, education, the science fields, the computer age is here - there are so many dreams that these kids can have. If they turn out to be Larry Bird along the way - fabulous."
-- Ron Pesch
BORN: APRIL 9, 1932, BIG RAPIDS, MI
DIED: AUGUST 5, 2008, MUSKEGON, MI
Local product Kenny Lane gave the Muskegon area its most legitimate
contender for a world professional boxing title in the lightweight
division during the 1950's and 60's. A crafty southpaw with
lightning speed, Kenny honed his skills under the watchful eye of one
time Muskegon professional boxer Pete Petroskey, who also managed many
other promising local fighters.
Lane's amateur career was climaxed
by a victory in the 1952 Grand Rapids Press Golden Gloves competition.
He turned pro in 1953 and soon began to attract national attention. In 1956, the Chicago Boxing Writers and Broadcasters named him the most improved boxer for that year. His upward surge in the lightweight rankings finally earned him a title match against champion Joe Brown in 1958. Kenny lost his bid with a controversial one-point, 15‑round decision that many observers believed he had clearly won. Calls for a rematch were ignored.
He continued to maintain his top‑ranked challenger rating for several more years and won the Michigan version of the World Lightweight crown in a 15-round battle with Paul Armstead. In 1964, five and a half years after the first fight, Lane finally earned another title shot against Carlos Ortiz.
Once again, the southpaw lost a close 15‑round decision. Lane fought for one more year. On October 25, 1965, at the age of 33, after losses to future Junior Welterweight Champion Carlos Hernandez and former Junior Welterweight Champion Eddie Perkins, he called it quits. He finished with an impressive record of 79-15-2.
In 1982, he startled the boxing world by coming out of retirement at age 50 and proceeded to win three of four matches against younger opponents. As a result, Lane became the oldest professional boxer to appear in his 100th professional bout. In 2004, he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Lane still remained active in boxing after retirement from the sport. He dedicated much of his free time to assisting area youth at the Muskegon Area Boxing Club, training, sparring with and working the corner for some of the area's boxing talent.
Harry E. Potter
BORN: FEBRUARY 10, 1901, MANISTIQUE, MI
DIED: OCTOBER 26, 1980, MUSKEGON, MI
A graduate of Manistique High School in Michigan's Upper Peninsula,
Harry Potter pursued a college career at Western Michigan University
(then called Western State Normal). In the mid‑1920s Harry was a
three‑sport star at Western in football, basketball and baseball (his
favorite sport). His teammates at Western included future
Muskegon-area coaches C. Leo Redmond and Oscar "Okie" Johnson.
Redmond had signed on as football coach at Muskegon High School and
persuaded Potter, his college teammate, to come to Muskegon as an
assistant coach in 1927.
Between 1927 and 1942, Potter handled the football and basketball second-team coaching duties at Muskegon High School, compiling an 84‑14‑3 mark on the gridiron and a 154‑62 record on the cage court.
In 1943, he moved up to the varsity basketball position, posting a 36‑26 record in three seasons, before succeeding Redmond as head coach of the Big Red football squad in 1947. His 1951 team, under the direction of quarterback Earl Morrall, went undefeated and was named Class A state champions. Potter guided the Big Reds to a 57‑24‑8 mark and three Southwestern Conference crowns in his 10 years at the helm.
But possibly Potter's proudest personal achievement at Muskegon was the establishment of a baseball program in 1937 to represent the Port City in Southwest Conference competition. He coached the Big Red baseball team for 30 years, including a then-record streak of 55 consecutive victories between 1941 and 1945. Potter remained as athletic director at Muskegon until his retirement in 1966.
John Thomas "Jack" Tighe
BORN: AUGUST 9, 1913, KEARNY, NJ
DIED: AUGUST 1, 2002, POMPANO BEACH, FL
Jack Tighe enjoyed a lengthy baseball career as a player, coach, scout
and successful manager at all minor league levels, plus a brief stint in
the majors as pilot of the Detroit Tigers in the late 50s. His
long association with baseball spanned 46 years ‑ from 1936 to his
retirement in 1982.
Tighe was a promising catching prospect in the Detroit organization in the late 30s. But Tiger management also recognized his leadership potential and assigned him to be catcher/manager of their class C Muskegon Reds of the newly formed Michigan State League in 1940. Tighe proved to be a crafty, aggressive manager admired by his players and by Muskegon fans alike. His young Reds of 1940‑41 failed to win pennants but were an exciting and talented club. Several of his players went on to major league careers, notably Johnny Lipon and Stubby Overmire. During his tour as Reds' manager, Jack met and married a local girl, Beverly Yeager, and the couple decided to make Spring Lake their permanent home.
World War II put the Michigan State League out of business, but the parent Tigers retained Tighe as a bullpen catcher and coach. He resumed his managerial career with the Cleveland organization, managing their Batavia, NY club from 1944‑47. He returned to the Detroit system in 1948 to manage the Flint Arrows, a member of the newly formed Class A Central League. After two winning seasons in Flint, he moved on to Williamsport, PA, Toledo, and Buffalo, the latter being Detroit's Top AAA farm club. He became the Tigers' minor league field director in 1954 and then joined the Detroit coaching staff under Bucky Harris. For 1957, Jack was appointed Tigers' manager to replace Harris. He led the Bengals to a somewhat disappointing 78‑76 record, and the following year, after another dismal start, he was replaced by Bill Norman.
Tighe remained active as a scout with several clubs, including Detroit. He resumed his managing career in 1967 and led the AAA Toledo Mud Hens to a championship in 1968, he was honored by The Sporting News as minor league manager of the year for his efforts. He retired from baseball in 1982 and relocated to Florida.
BORN: AUGUST 29, 1925, ZEELAND, MI
Over a span of 26 years, Elmer Walcott guided the basketball squad at
Western Michigan Christian to a 299‑163 regular season record. In
post‑season play, Walcott's teams notched an impressive 101‑22 mark en
route to six visits to the state cage finals. His 1958, 1962,
1965, and 1970 squads earned Class C state crowns, while his team
finished as runner‑up in Class C in 1959, and in Class D in 1979.
Walcott's career total of 400 cage victories rank him among Michigan's
top prep coaches in the state.
His success continued on the tennis courts, where his Warriors grabbed the 1958 Class C‑D tennis crown. Walcott retired from coaching following the 1978‑1979 season. He served as Mayor of Muskegon from 1982 through 1985. In 1992, he returned to coaching at Western Michigan Christian High School, handling the Warriors girls cage squad.