Calvin basketball and Broenesa family tradition
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Standing just outside the three-point arc along the left baseline, Calvin College sophomore Kevin Broene took a pass from point guard Jon Potvin and lofted a high-arching jump shot over a Ferris State defender. Sitting in a reserved seat in the Calvin Fieldhouse balcony just above the floor, Gene Broene watched his grandson's three-point shot float through the air. Just over a second later, the shot splashed through the net as the home crowd erupted and Gene Broene grinned from ear-to-ear.
As the young sophomore guard ran back on defense, he passed his father Greg Broene who nodded his approval from his seat three rows behind the Calvin bench.
Combined, the Broene family snapshot featured the first three-generation family in Calvin basketball history.
The story actually goes back a fourth generation to Gene Broene's father Albert (A.E.) Broene. A language professor at Calvin during the school's athletic infancy in the 1920's, and 30's, Albert Broene and his wife Ann would often invite the Calvin men's basketball team over for dinner while Gene was just a young boy.
"I can remember having the team over for dinner and what a thrill that was for me," said Gene. "At the time, Calvin had a 6-9 center by the name of Feike Feikema from Pella, Iowa. That was an unheard of height for a basketball player in those days and I can remember how he had to duck to get through the doorways in our house."
Although Gene's father Albert was a strong follower of the Knights, it was his mother who was the most rabid fan. "My mother was a tomboy who came to Calvin from Sioux Center, Iowa," said Gene. "She was an avid sports fan who even had a special place to sit at all of the Calvin and Grand Rapids Christian basketball games which were played at Burton Gymnasium."
With seating for 2,000, the Burton Gymnasium was considered the finest venue in town at the time. "It had seats for 2,000 fans and it had a regulation court," said Broene. "It was a fine place to play."
Gene began college at the old Calvin campus on Franklin Street in September of 1939. Later that fall, he joined the men's basketball team which at the time was led by legendary head coach Albert Muyskens, a man who had previously coached at Holland Christian High School and led the Maroons to a pair of Class C State Championships.
Gene Broene remembers his Calvin basketball days fondly. As a sophomore, Broene was a part of Calvin's 1940-41 team that captured the Michigan Ontario Collegiate Conference (MOCC) championship with Broene averaging better than 16 points a game. Apart from the records and numbers however, Broene remembers the players and personalities. "During my sophomore year we took a Christmas trip to play a pair of teams in Iowa (Central and Simpson College) and we were undefeated at that point," he said. "In those days we traveled by car and the starting five always rode in the car driven by Coach Muyskens. We ended up losing both of those games and we got a lecture on why we lost those games all the way home from Iowa," he said with laugh.
The following year, Broene was drafted into the U.S. Army. It was after the war that Broene was able to join the Calvin men's basketball team for the second semester of the 1945-46 season. In just 11 games, Broene racked up 202 points including a then school-record 31 points in a victory over Alma College.
By the late 1950's, Gene Broene had a budding family that included a young son named Greg. It did not take long for Gene to introduce Greg to Calvin College basketball. "My dad would take our family to a lot of the Calvin games which were played at the Grand Rapids Christian gymnasium on Franklin Street," said Greg. "I can specifically remember watching Calvin's 1960-61 team that went undefeated (20-0) with players like Ralph Honderd and Carl DeKuiper. I was eating that up pretty good as a young boy."
Broene chose to attend Calvin College where he would play for his boyhood hero-Coach Ralph Honderd. Before his college career could get underway however, Broene's playing days came to a halt as he suffered a torn meniscus in his knee in a pre-season drill. The knee injury slowed Broene during his freshman and sophomore years of college, relegating the 6-1 guard to sideline duty.
As a junior, Broene's knee had finally healed and he was able to work his way into the starting line-up on a Calvin team that would share the 1972-73 MIAA title with Olivet. The following year, Broene captained a Calvin squad that posted a glittering 21-2 overall record including a perfect 12-0 MIAA mark as the Knights claimed their second straight league title. One of Broene's biggest contributions was at the free throw line that year as he connected on 92 percent of his attempts which remains a Calvin single-season record.
Also a standout on the Calvin men's tennis team and a student representative to the MIAA athletics committee, Broene was honored with Calvin's Beré Memorial Award near the conclusion of his senior year.
Former Calvin College teammate and dorm suitemate Tom VanderLaan recalled playing with Greg. "Greg was as fierce a competitor as they come," said VanderLaan. "He was so smart and so basketball savvy. He was the kind of player that made his teammates better."
Nearly 30 years later, Greg's son Kevin is now making his own mark in a Calvin basketball uniform. A 6-3 sophomore guard, Broene is averaging nearly 13 points a game as a shooting guard on a Calvin team bidding for its fourth consecutive MIAA title. In addition, the sweet-shooting sophomore is connecting on 40 percent of his three-point field goal attempts.
According to grandfather Gene, his grandson has his eyes set on breaking Greg's single-season free throw record. "Kevin wants to break that record and he has the ability to break it too," said Gene.
When asked for a comparison between the three generations of Broenes, Gene smiles and says, "Greg was a very good outside shooter and so is Kevin. As for me, I had a line-drive shot that defied gravity because people wondered how it went in. I grew up learning how to shoot in an alley behind our house with tree branches that were only eight feet off the ground. I could get away with that shot because I played in a double-post offense where I usually got the ball inside."
Having his father and grandfather there to watch him at nearly all of his games is something that Kevin appreciates. "It's a special thing to have my dad and grandfather at my games," said Kevin. "We have guys on our team that are from farther away so their families do not always get a chance to see them play. I grew up watching Calvin basketball as a little kid and one of my dreams was to be able to play in college. To have my family members there to support me is wonderful."
The support is also a Broene family tradition, said Jean Broene who has been married to Gene Broene for 59 years and has watched the family grow. "We've had a very happy life and we have all rolled along with our children, watching them participate in athletics," she said. "It's been something that has always been a part of our family."
Gene Broene agrees, "Our family has really been blessed. There have been plenty of good times and our family has been able to live a real meaningful, spiritual life. We're so happy that our children have been following in our footsteps and we credit a lot of that to the Christian schools they have attended and to Calvin College."