When Grand Haven’s varsity boys basketball team lost to Muskegon in the Class A district championship game back on March 8, it marked the end in a memorable chapter for the Carter family.
For nearly two decades, the Carter brothers — Nate, Josh, Brett, Jake and Mackenzie (Mac) — have been synonymous with Buccaneers’ basketball.
The Carter family infusion began in the 1997-98 season, when Nate joined the Buccaneers’ varsity team as a junior, and lasted until earlier last month, when Mac wrapped up his senior year.
“It’s a huge sense of pride for me to have watched all of my brothers play,” said Nate, who now lives in the Detroit area. “Because of where I live now, I definitely did not get back to as many of the games for Mac and Jake as I did for Brett and Josh, but I am really proud of not only their accomplishments as basketball players, but to see each of their unique situations and to hear their experiences, their frustrations, their joys and then see how they grew and handled each of those experiences.
While Nate, who graduated in 1999, was the first, it was Mac who grew up watching his older brothers play ball and dreaming about following in their footsteps.
“I was just a little baby but I remember going to Nate’s games,” Mac said. “It’s funny, because my brothers always say they can still beat me, but I have to put that down real quick. Sometimes, like over Christmas, we’ll get together and play. We’ll all go play (at the YMCA or the high school) as the ‘Carter 5.’”
The one who might miss seeing the Carter boys wearing the Buccaneers’ blue and gold the most is their father, Jeff. He’s worn out the bleachers at both the old Pirate’s Pit and now at Grand Haven Fieldhouse, as well as countless other gyms across West Michigan.
“It’s been so many years, with a lot of ups and downs, a lot of fun,” Jeff said. “I’ve enjoyed watching all the boys. Nathan graduated in ’99, and we started coming to games when he was in elementary school.”
While he loves to watch, Jeff learned early on how to conduct himself in the stands.
“Nate told me in my early years of watching that my job was to keep your mouth shut and enjoy the game,” Jeff said. “He told me, don’t yell at the coach, the ref or me, win or lose.”
The boys’ mother, Lynn Carter, said she’s also sad to see her little boys grow up, but it won’t break her heart not to spend every Tuesday and Friday night in the gym next winter.
“In one sense, it’s sad seeing it come to an end, but it’s time for someone else,” she said. “We’ve been to thousands of games, 3-on-3’s, AYBT, AAU.”
Through those games, several stand out to Jeff, including some monumental wins and a few crushing losses.
“The regional loss to Rockford Jake’s junior year, and Nate’s senior year, they had a tough loss to Muskegon,” Jeff recalled. “And of course, the wins Jake had his senior year were pretty exciting.”
That year, the Bucs beat Rockford in the regional final — a contest highlighted by Nate VanArendonk’s backboard-breaking dunk.
Another memorable game saw Josh lead the Buccaneers to a victory over rival Holland in 2002 — back when Holland was a rival. Josh had a monster game, scoring 24 points and pulling down 16 rebounds as the Bucs beat the Dutch for the first time since brother Nate’s senior season several years earlier.
“The crowd rushed the floor (after the game) and Brett jumped on my back,” Josh recalled. “The Tribune had a photo of it in the paper the next morning.”
That year, Brett had been cut from the team as a junior, so Josh dedicated his senior season to his little brother.
“I wrote his initials on the tops of my shoes with the word “Believe” and every time I was bent over tired, I would look at that and push harder,” Josh said. “I had a great year because of him. A lot of people never knew that.
“After we won districts that year and we were presented with our medals, I walked over to the student section, found Brett in the front, gave him a hug and gave him my district medal. I told him it belonged to him and I couldn’t have done it without him.
“Our family is very tightly woven.”
While Nate remembers plenty of wins and a few losses form his playing days, he maintains the game of basketball has been very good to his family.
“I think we have all learned a lot of life lessons from playing basketball at Grand Haven, and it makes me happy to see how they carry those lessons into their adult lives,” Nate said.
And as they enter their adult lives, the five Carter sons are already working on the next generation of Carters. Chances are, they’ll be on the basketball court for the Buccaneers at some point.