2017-07-06 / Front Page

‘77 championship team excels in life

Reunion planned
By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

RICK REECE stands at half court of Crisler Arena last week with Michigan basketball coach Jim Beilein. Reece, who lives in Laos and had been hoping to show his family where he won the 1977 Class D boys state championship with Glen Lake, said Beilein treated them to an impromptu tour of the facility. RICK REECE stands at half court of Crisler Arena last week with Michigan basketball coach Jim Beilein. Reece, who lives in Laos and had been hoping to show his family where he won the 1977 Class D boys state championship with Glen Lake, said Beilein treated them to an impromptu tour of the facility. Forty years ago, the “sand dune boys” flipped Michigan high school basketball upside down at Crisler Arena with a 70-68 win over Detroit East Catholic in the Class D title game.

This week, the boys are back in town.

Members of the 1977 Glen Lake team have traveled from across the globe to partake in the 40th anniversary of their dramatic state championship win — a game decided by a pair of Geof Kotila free throws with one second left on the clock.

Only two other teams, the 1942 Leland Comets and 1959 Lakers, had ever won a boys basketball state title, and only the 1988 Northport boys have won one since.


GEOF KOTILA (left) and Rick Baillergeon flank former Glen Lake coach Don Miller, who was 29 when this photo was taken. GEOF KOTILA (left) and Rick Baillergeon flank former Glen Lake coach Don Miller, who was 29 when this photo was taken. “If we play that team 10 times, we might lose eight,” said former Glen Lake point guard Rick Reece, who scored six of the team’s first 10 points in the 1977 title game, “but we put it all together in that final game.”

Against heavily favored Detroit East Catholic, the Lakers shocked the world.

They’ve been making it a better place ever since.

In fact, Hope College made Reece its 2017 Humanity Award winner for his efforts overseas.

The 1982 Hope graduate in 2000 founded Village Focus International, an international organization focused on enhancing local leadership development in an effort to bring about positive fundamental social change, in Laos — where Reece still lives to this day.


GEOF KOTILA knocked down a pair of free throws with one second left to seal the 1977 Class D state championship against Detroit East Catholic. GEOF KOTILA knocked down a pair of free throws with one second left to seal the 1977 Class D state championship against Detroit East Catholic. “We’ve done a lot of things in the last 17 years or so,” Reece said.

Reece and others have worked in hundreds of remote and vulnerable villages both in Laos and in Cambodia. They’ve rebuilt schools, installed water wells and helped farmers plant community gardens. Over the years, Reece said, the organization evolved into two major programs: One is focused on food tenure security; the other fights human trafficking.

“When people lose their land, quite often they have to leave their home and they end up in vulnerable situations,” Reece said. “They’re struggling to help their family to survive. Many have to ask the children to go off and find work in the cities or even in other countries. A lot of people end up in human trafficking in Thailand.”

Village Focus International operates shelters and education and awareness programs in an effort to help people develop skills to improve their livelihood

The organization helps fruit farmers, for example, learn to turn their fruit into juice, wine or candy.

“Rick is a hero,” said Don Miller, who coached the 1977 team with help of trusted assistant, “disciplinarian and tactician” Paul Christiansen. “The guy’s got a great story.”

Reece, who has family in Traverse City and Arkansas, returned to the Crisler Center last week with hopes of showing his wife and daughter, a basketball player, where he won his state championship.

The family got a peek at Michigan Stadium then moved inside in hopes of seeing the basketball court. A receptionist nearly turned the family away when a man stopped them and asked what they were doing.

The man was Michigan basketball coach Jim Beilein.

“He spent a half hour showing us around, taking us around on the floor,” Reece said. “We took photos with him at half court. It was a bit of good luck.”

Reece wasn’t the only member of the 1977 team to find huge success after basketball, however.

Kotila, for example, became a professional basketball coach in Denmark.

Rick Baillergeon, the star of the 1977 team, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army for 21 years.

“Coach always espoused the goals and roles piece,” said Baillargeon, the county’s all-time scoring leader. “That carried on in life with a lot of us.”

Team members have remained close without seeing each other over the years.

A Glen Lake “basketball family” email chain has helped keep those relationships in place.

Through it all, the lessons learned under Miller have stuck with the team.

“They still can’t call me by my first name,” Miller said, choking up. “It’s a form of respect.”

The team will reunite at a basketball clinic at the Glen Arbor Township Hall tonight at 5 p.m.

On Saturday, they’ll meet at Old Setters Park in Burdickville at 4 p.m.


Correction: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Crisler Arena.

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