While Zach Mack is thrilled to see his old friend, Aaron Dean, lead the program to new heights, Bob Nardi can’t get past the tragedy that struck the Bucs the night after their regional championship victory back in 1992.
“I knew the team was making its way to the state semis, and I decided to Google Adam (Provencal) just randomly, and I saw that they had won their semifinal game,” said Nardi, an all-conference forward who graduated in 1994.
Adam Provencal, a key member of the Bucs’ 1992 team that advanced to the state semifinals, was tragically killed the night following the team’s regional championship victory.
It was Halloween night, and Provencal, who had stumbled upon a group of friends pulling pranks on an aquaintances’ house, went up to the house in an attempt to clear his name of any wrongdoing. Provencal knocked on the front door and was greeted by the business end of a shotgun, which (intentionally or not) was fired, taking Adam’s life.
“I got emotional thinking about it. It was stunning that we were faced with that highest of high’s, winning regionals, then literally that night, having that happen to Adam,” Nardi said. “I remember that next day ending up at Aaron’s house. That was the rallying point. I feel like we were there for hours, not saying anything.
“I only vaguely remember the game. I don’t know if that’s the result of what we were going through or the fact that I am 35 now and it’s been a while.”
Many of the current Buccaneers weren’t even born when Provencal died, although they see Adam’s father, Grand Haven athletic director Jack Provencal, at most of their games.
Dean, also a 1994 Grand Haven graduate, said he doesn’t remember much about that state semifinal game.
Spring Lake varsity coach Jeremy Thelen, a 1993 Grand Haven grad who has guided his Lakers to the Division 2 state championship game, was also a member of that Buccaneers’ team in the fall of 1992.
“I pull out my medal every once in a while,” Thelen said. “I told my guys after the semifinals, this is as far as I’ve been. When this happened in high school, I never thought I’d get back to that. It’s fun just to talk to the guys about it, how, man, I remember that, and now we’re better than that.
“The Provencal thing, I think about it a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily tie into soccer as much as it’s more a part of my life story. When I see Mr. Provencal, I think about it. When I see Mrs. Provencal at church, I think about it. It’s definitely overwhelming, but I’ve separated my Spring Lake world from that. I don’t think about that right now. I just want this to be for these kids.”
Mack, another 1994 Grand Haven grad who now works as a lawyer in the Detroit area, was thrilled and surprised to see that his alma matter has established itself as one of the top programs in the state.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mack said. “I honestly hope the kids realize the success they’ve had, and the experience they’re about to have. I don’t have a great memory of everything that happened in high school, but I remember the games we played, especially when we made it to districts and regionals. Not to be like Al Bundy, but those were the good times.”
Mack isn’t surprised that Dean is the one who has built Grand Haven’s program into a state powerhouse.
“I can honestly say that Aaron, and his father, Earl, they deserve to go to a state final,” Mack said. “Aaron was the most dedicated player from the time he started playing that Grand Haven has ever seen. Aaron cared about the game, and he cared about practicing. He put so much time and effort into it. I don’t know if the kids now understand where the program came from, but it’s neat how Aaron stuck with it. He maybe didn’t get to see what he deserved while he’s playing, but it’s great that he’s there now, and the same with Jeremy. It’s pretty impressive.”