Along the walls outside of the Marshall High School gymnasium sit reminders of the school’s great athletic achievements.
On one wall, there is a photo of the 1944 state champion boys’ basketball team. On the other side of the hallway is a trophy case that includes the program’s 1998 state runner-up trophy and game ball.
The display serves to remind Redhawk fans and visitors of the school’s proud athletic tradition — one that intertwines with that of the school’s former regional and league rival, the Albion Wildcats.
The Albion boys’ basketball program rivals that of Marshall’s in terms of success — with the Wildcats winning a state championship in 1939 along with runner-up finishes in 1937, 1991 and 1998. But the last chapter in the story of that program has likely been written, as Albion High School closed its doors this school year to avoid a projected $1.2 million budget deficit for the district.
However, the basketball tradition continues for students from Albion, who now add to the legacy of the Marshall program not as rivals, but as Redhawks.
“I’m disappointed for their community and the school they don’t have any more, but gosh, I’m glad those guys are coming here,” said Marshall boys’ coach Nick Dent. “They have been a phenomenal addition to our program. They have a ton of talent and there was a ton of tradition and history there, and I’m glad it’s blending with our tradition.”
In basketball, chemistry can be as important as talent. With only four returners from last season’s squad, Dent figured it may take some time for his team to click.
And that made for a busy offseason for the Redhawks, who did the usual camp circuit while bringing up to speed the six players from Albion (including two transfer students) on the 13-man roster.
Among the team’s former Wildcats is senior guard Davonte Burch, who impressed his peers and coaches enough this summer to be named a co-captain.
“I think it was kind of weird how easy it was for us to get chemistry just starting off the bat,” Burch said. “We kind of struggled with it a little to start off the season, but as the season goes on, we’re going to be a great team.
“I feel really comfortable with the Albion guys on the floor. Some of the Marshall guys I’m still getting to know and I’m getting really comfortable with them now compared to the first part of the season.”
Seniors Landry Reynolds and Angus Bennett make up the other two team captains, with Bennett also hailing from Albion.
After both schools left the Twin Valley Conference in 2001, Marshall and Albion continued to keep the rivalry alive on the hardwood. Last season, Dent got a good look at some of his current players when Marshall defeated Albion, 45-39.
“We got kind of lucky because Angus got in foul trouble early,” Dent said. “We were glad to get him in foul trouble early, and now we’re hoping to keep him out of foul trouble.”
With Bennett now wearing a Redhawks jersey, he said things are starting to come together on his new team.
“It’s a different transition. It’s different coaches and everything and a different system, but it’s good,” Bennett said. “At the start it was a little bit bumpy, but it’s getting better every day. We’re taking steps in the right direction. We’re getting there.”
Regardless of how the remainder of the season plays out, Marshall Athletic Director Dan Coddens said he is proud of all of Marshall’s student-athletes for how they have handled a unique situation.
“Absolutely there is some pressure on these kids. They are doing something that every other high school in the state of Michigan isn’t doing,” Coddens said. “Four sophomores on varsity and almost a 50/50 split (between Albion and Marshall) and that equals kids that haven’t played together. In the history of all the great teams at Marshall, it’s because they played together for a long time. There’s being a lot asked of them, and I think they are responding the right way.”
With many former Albion students choosing to attend Marshall, it’s hard not to think about how the two boys’ basketball programs separated 12 miles apart had area hoops fans buzzing for much of the 1990s and 2000s.
Albion made two trips to the state finals in the 1990s, with only Detroit Country Day and Chris Webber (1991) and then Shane Battier (1997) preventing the Wildcats from claiming a pair of Class B state titles. The 1997 Albion squad still resonates in the area, as that team featured former Butler University standout and current University of Michigan assistant coach LaVall Jordan.
That season also happened to be the first for Coddens in his 16 years as Marshall’s head basketball coach.
“People still talk about that team from Albion that lost to Shane Battier and Country Day in the B championship,” said Coddens. “We lost seven times that first season, and three were to the state runner-up. And then the next year, we went 20-0 and won the Twin Valley and made our run to the state championship game.”
In 1998, a senior-led Marshall squad turned the tables and defeated a new-look Albion team three times. The Redhawks would advance to the Class B state championship game where they lost to River Rouge.
“I was unaware being new to Marshall, but people talked about the old Albion-Marshall rivalry,” Coddens said. “It was definitely an exciting game. Loud, full gyms whether it was here or there. Then when Durant took over, we kept playing twice a year because we wanted to keep that rivalry alive.”
Durant Crum was the Albion boys’ basketball coach for 11 years — including the final season in 2012-13. His tenure included a Class C state quarterfinal appearance in 2004, and a trip to Breslin Center for the 2005 Class B state semifinal, where Albion lost to eventual state champion Olivet. The Wildcats also won five straight district titles from 2007-2012.
“(Albion) experienced quite a bit of success, going back as far as you have records to look into. We have a pretty rich history of tradition as far as basketball is concerned,” said Crum, who teaches for Battle Creek Public Schools. “I can’t put a finger on what exactly has allowed that to happen, but there have been pretty decent athletes to come through Albion through the years.All high school programs have their ups and downs, and we were fortunate to put some teams together that were pretty much able to consistently compete at a high level”
Crum explained that the tradition of the Albion basketball program likely helped create a cycle of success on the hardwood.
“You look at the history and tradition and you always try to get the kids to realize what happened before them and to get them to create their own pieces of history,” he said. “We were fortunate to have some good teams and have some good runs in the state tournament and be a part of that great history.”
While not all of his former players chose to attend Marshall, Crum said that all present and future high school athletes from Albion will have the city’s connection as part of their identity.
“Nothing can change the fact that they are born and from Albion, but now attending schools outside the city limits,” Crum said. “They will always be Albion students, but their success will be shared. They will be a part of helping our Albion natives to flourish and to experience whatever success their school experiences.”