Sawyer Legends: Michael Hasenbalg

Halsenbalg-HZTMichael Hasenbalg, a 2016 Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame inductee, can remember a very specific moment where he learned the importance of playing within the context of the game, a lesson that served him well through high school and college. That lesson, like so many others, came from his father, Ralph.

“It was one of those games where everything I threw up was falling in,” said Hasenbalg, recalling a Biddy Basketball game in the gym at Cahill. Just 12 years old, Hasenbalg was playing in one of his final Biddy league games before making the jump to the freshman team at Saugerties High. He was pulled with 45 points, and he’d hoped to hit 50. “We had a big lead, and Coach (Ray) Mayday took me out early in the fourth quarter, which I was not happy about. Then my father straightened me out in the car. He said, ‘Records are great, but you want to get them in the context of the game.’”

That simple lesson was manifested in Hasenbalg’s entire athletic career at Saugerties High, where he was a star point guard until an injury cut short his senior season. A member of the SHS Class of 1983, Hasenbalg was co-captain of the varsity hoops team during his junior and senior years; and played third base and outfield on the varsity baseball team, hitting .300 as a junior, served as co-captain as a senior, and played a key role over two undefeated Mid-Hudson Athletic League championship seasons.

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Hasenbalg was also a member of the SHS varsity golf team from 1981-83, serving as co-captain during his junior and senior years, and was co-MVP in 1983, the year the Sawyers were undefeated. He was team captain of the school’s bowling team from 1980-1981, recording the highest average among his teammates.

During his junior and senior seasons at Saugerties High, Hasenbalg’s teams lost just a single league game, a golf match during his junior year. It ended, too early, when he broke his leg seven games into his senior basketball season.

“It was against Fallsburg at home,” Hasenbalg said. “They were a very good team that year. It was a tight game; I think we were up five or six with a minute-and-a-half to go. We were going to spread the ball out and try to run the clock out. They came and double-teamed me, and I was able to split the defense, and they tripped me up and I was fouled. I got up limping pretty badly towards the foul line. I didn’t know the leg was broken, and I saw out of the corner of my eye Coach (John) Speirs bringing someone else in, and I waved him off. I made both foul shots to ice the game, and of course he pulled me out. And then the pain really kicked in. I went to the hospital, and the next morning the radiologist or doctor called to say I’d broken my tibia. I was out for the season, and the beginning of baseball season as well.”

The injury didn’t just put an end to Hasenbalg’s final varsity basketball campaign; it also stopped the flow of recruitment calls and letters from prospective college programs.

“I was starting to be recruited by some NAIA, some Division II schools, some Ivy League schools, at least in terms of letters and calls from coaches who’d had assistants come watch games,” Hasenbalg said. “After that happened, I only received one scholarship offer from an NAIA school, which I didn’t want to attend.”

Instead, Hasenbalg attended SUNY Oneonta to study economics, and he wound up being very low in the men’s basketball program’s legendary Coach Don “Flew” Flewelling’s rotation.

“They had an All-American center, they had some great seniors. And (Flewelling) needed a point guard to fill it out. One of the guys he recruited turned down a full ride to Wichita State; I’d played against him in camp, and he was head and shoulders better than me, at least offensively. I couldn’t believe when I showed up and saw him there. And there was another big point guard from Binghamton who ended up playing multiple positions. That first month or two the game was quicker than I was used to, and the skill level was better.”

Sensing that Hasenbalg was falling behind, Flewelling called the freshman reserve guard into his office and laid it on the line.

“He said, ‘Has, I love your attitude. You’ve got good skills. But you will never be my point guard here. But you can really help the program, and here’s what I want you to work on,’” Hasenbalg said. “I went back to the dorm and had one of those nights just kind of thinking about it. And I thought, he’s not wrong, but he’s not right. I thought back to all the things my dad said, and some of my coaches, and said, okay, I’m going to work on that. I want to contribute, I want to play. So I’m going to work on some of the other things that he thinks I should do to be a contributing factor in my college career. But I’m not going to give up on being the point guard here. Let’s see what happens. And by my senior year I was starting point guard, and it was great. It’s probably my biggest life lesson. Even if you don’t see a pathway, it doesn’t mean someone else’s opinion is going to dictate what you’re going to do.”

Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, Hasenbalg’s family moved to Saugerties when he was just 1 ½ years old after his father received a medical discharge from the United States Air Force, where he’d served as a pilot. Hasenbalg’s mother, Francoise, grew up in Montreal. Settled in Saugerties, Ralph Hasenbalg took a job with IBM in Kingston, and the family grew; Michael Hasenbalg has three brothers — Norm, Marc, and Scott Hasenbalg — and a sister — Linda Guske.

Hasenbalg described the family home as a makeshift sports arena, with ballgames played in the driveway and backyard, and a healthy sense of competition between he and his siblings.

Hasenbalg has spent most of his life in Saugerties, returning to the area in the late ‘90s after five years in the Charleston, South Carolina area, where he was Chief Operating Officer and vice-president of sales and marketing with LifeQuest, a fitness club chain.

“When I came back I realized what a great spot the Hudson Valley is,” he said. “And certainly for my marketing business, I was coming back to this area probably every three months (from South Carolina) because I still maintained my business here while I was there. I was back with a business focus. Two hours from the city, two-and-a-half hours from Boston. It really is a unique spot in the world.”

Michael and Elizabeth Hasenbalg were married in the Living Word Chapel in West Hurley on August 21, 2004.

“When I got back, I became very involved in church and ministry work,” Hasenbalg said. “My time when I wasn’t working my regular job or business, it was usually spent up at the church, sometimes with the youth, sometimes teaching bible study, or organizing Kingston Youth Live at the Midtown Neighborhood Center. Once a month we would open it up to the church youth, play basketball or volleyball, we’d have live music performed by the teens. It was a place for them to do something that was productive, social, and in a good environment, especially for some of the kids who weren’t good enough to be on some of the sports teams.”

Though he no longer goes to the Living Word Chapel, Hasenbalg teaches bible study independently. He is also still the owner of MCH Enterprises, a national sales and marketing organization. Though he does some small business consulting, Hasenbalg’s primary focus is on helping seniors and people with disabilities find the most suitable Medicare supplements or advantage plans.

“There’s a lot of cost-cutting programs that are available through the state, through the government, through the community, that a lot of people aren’t aware of,” Hasenbalg said. “Our services are free to seniors, but we get paid from the health plan whichever is most suitable to them. And we get paid a renewal on that. That’s the primary focus.”

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The early lessons of teamwork and the skills that made Hasenbalg ideally suited as a point guard on the basketball court are still with him today.

“Much later, in life and in business, there’s the phrase, ‘There’s no I in team.’ And I always believed that,” Hasenbalg said.” Losing teams don’t get recognized, winning teams do. It’s a matter of making the right play at the right time. Later on in life I realized there may not be an I in team, but there are two I’s in winning team. Individually, preparation and effort certainly go into that.”

 

The 2016 Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet will be held on Saturday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Diamond Mills, with a cocktail and welcoming hours beginning one hour earlier. Tickets are $25 and are available through Mark Becker at 518-641-9520 or halfink@verizon.net.