Members of the Whitehall Sports Hall of Fame induction class of 2012 pose with their plaques following the Nov. 10 ceremony. From left are, Jeff DeLong, Tia Brandel-Wilhelm, Bud Longnecker, Harry Barrett, Jerry Jacobson, Jay O’Connell, Rex Funnell, Dave A
It may have been the second annual Whitehall Hall of Fame Banquet Saturday evening, Nov. 10, but there were several firsts.
The first female inductee, Tia Brandel-Wilhelm, a three-sport prep starter who graduated in 1986 and has become a successful collegiate volleyball coach; the first coach inductee, Jerry Jacobson, who coached five sports over a span of 36 years; and the first team, the 1959 state championship boys golf squad. Also inducted was 1996 Whitehall graduate Jeff DeLong, who led his team to a state track title his senior year and later set records at Central Michigan University and ran professionally for Nike.
The Hall of Fame committee also recognized Rex Funnell, a three-sport star athlete at Whitehall in 1933, who later was a football announcer for the Vikings in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with a Lifetime Service Award.
“Whitehall is number one, A-number one all the time,” Jacobson said in his acceptance speech.
Jacobson told of a time when his basketball team wore blazers and hats to games. He elicited howls of laughter from the audience when he came to the conclusion that most of his fellow coaches during his career, some of whom were in attendance, are now dead.
Jacobson was a star basketball player at Muskegon Heights and went to Hope College, where he was an MIAA all-conference player for three years on the court.
Jacobson began his coaching career as a junior varsity basketball coach under Lou Iverson and the junior varsity baseball coach under Walt Finkbeiner.
After three years, he became the varsity baseball coach, a position he held for 12 years. He also coached golf, and led the Vikings to a state championship in 1968.
In 1957, the Hall of Famer began an 18-year term as varsity men’s basketball coach. He compiled a 206-115 record, with two West Michigan Conference championships, four Seaway Conference championships, six district titles in the late ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, and regional titles in the 1962-63 and 1964-65 seasons.
He stepped down from the varsity job after the 1974-75 season, but nine years later he came back to coach girls varsity basketball and boys junior varsity basketball. He held those jobs until he retired after 40 years of teaching in 1993.
Tia Brandel-Wilhelm, a 1986 graduate of Whitehall High School, was a three-sport athlete for the Vikings, completed in volleyball and track at Alma College, and began a volleyball coaching career at Ferris State University, where she is now the all-time winningest coach.
Before coming to Ferris, Brandel-Wilhelm coached volleyball three years at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where she had a 118-20 record.
Last year, her Ferris State team earned an NCAA tournament bid with a 27-4 record. She’s coached seven All-Americans while at Big Rapids.
“It’s truly a blessing and truly a gift from God,” Brandel-Wilhelm said in her acceptance speech. “The opportunity to grow up in Whitehall was unique and really special. I feel it definitely defined who I was as a person growing up - the friends I had, the teachers I had. I feel really blessed to have this opportunity. “
She thanked her husband, Dale, and two children, Ivy and Isaac, for their support. She singled out her volleyball coach, Mary Ruth Morningstar, for showing her “a passion for excellence.”
Jeff DeLong was the next former Whitehall star athlete to accept his Hall of Fame plaque.
“Nothing that I accomplished in my high school career or after that happened without my family or my wife,” he shared with the audience.
In high school, DeLong led his Vikings to a state championship in 1996 by running the anchor leg on the winning 1600-meter relay team, which set a school record, second-place finishes in the 800 and 1600-meter runs, and anchoring the 3200-meter relay team, which finished fourth.
At Central Michigan University, DeLong had an unbelievable career which included indoor and outdoor 800-meter school records at 1:48.23 and 1:47.3. The outdoor record still stands.
While at CMU, he was a two-time MAC champion and NCAA All-American in 2001 and 2002.
After graduating from CMU, DeLong ran professionally for Nike in California. He qualified for the 800-meter U.S. championships, indoor and outdoor, from 2001-2004. Then he fulfilled the dream of every young runner by qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials in 2004. At the trials, coming off an injury, he was a semifinalist and ran the fourth fastest time in the first round. DeLong traveled with Nike and competed internationally, posting his lifetime best record of 1:46.23 in Dubendorf, Switzerland.
DeLong later coached track and cross country at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri.
The coach and four members of the 1959 state championship golf team were at the banquet to receive their Hall of Fame plaques. It was the first Whitehall team to win a state title.
Under Coach Lou Iverson, the golf teams entered an era of dominance. Whitehall was state runner-up in 1957, and state champions in 1959, 1964 and 1968. However, Iverson resigned as coach just before the 1959 season and Longnecker took over.
On the march to the state championship in the spring of 1959, the team set a school record with a score of 305. They also knocked off Grand Haven, which had won 26 consecutive dual matches.
In the rainy, windy conditions at the state finals on a course in Port Huron, the Vikings shot a 330, 10 strokes better than defending champion Hillsdale.
Four former Whitehall athletes who moved on to play at Division I universities were presented with framed jerseys from college. They will be displayed at the high school. The recipients were: DeLong, Tad Evans (football at Western Michigan), Jeff Bourdon (football at Eastern Michigan), and Erik Sanford (golf at Tennessee-Martin).