The gold basketball shaped fixture is mounted on top of a platform and placed on the coffee table of Dalton Michaud’s East Greenbush apartment, the Town of Kinderhook Basketball Summer League championship trophy, also known as “The Walt” is in its rightful place.
The trophy is named after Walter Michaud, who passed away from suicide in January of 2016.
At the surface, Team Michaud’s twenty point victory on Monday, August 14th made them the 18th TOK Summer League crowned champion, but from the first dribble to the final whistle, the season was much more than just basketball.
“It was more than just a basketball game, it was about bringing this trophy home, it belonged to me and I was going to do whatever it took to win it,” Dalton said.
“I didn’t see a single game this year but I know the tenacity, leadership and mentality that I saw from my Dad was on display when Dalton played this year,” Ian Michaud, Dalton’s older brother said “Those two are a different breed.”
Dalton is Walter’s youngest son and looked up to his father, called him his “best friend.” For the 28-year-old, life will never be the same.
“My point of view has changed a lot, I look at things very differently now,” said Michaud “I question a lot of things and I’m not the same person, it has a very big drastic measure on someone that if you haven’t gone through it, it’s very hard to relate and communicate with people.”
The only person that feels what Dalton feels is his older brother Ian; they’ve been inseparable since childhood and was equally close to his father. Ian’s life has taken him to Austin, Texas, nearly 2,000 miles from Valatie.
“Being away from [Dalton] is difficult, but it is what it is,” Ian said “We both miss each other, but its growth for both of us.”
Despite the distance between them, they’ve never been closer. Dalton believes Ian has “stepped up” since their fathers passing and guided him in his father’s absence.
“Ian has taken over the role of father figure, obviously he’s my brother and he’s only 18 months older than me but in terms of helping me get a job, go back to school to get my degree, those are all things I couldn’t do by myself,” said Dalton.
Other than his white mustache and goatee combo, Walt was known for being a great basketball and soccer coach after being a pretty good player in his own right. He played both sports at Hartwick College in the 1970’s (Division I soccer and Division II basketball). But most importantly, he was a dad of two boys that could do no wrong in his eyes.
“He was a phenomenal father; he was always there for them no matter what,” Shane Morris, a close personal friend of the Michaud’s said.
Morris played on Dalton’s championship team and considers Walt a father figure and Dalton and Ian brothers.
“He felt like a second father and a coach, he was awesome,” Morris said.
Dalton and Ian were always around sports because they were always around their father. They were heavily influenced to play sports because of their parents.
“We have pretty good genes, my mom was a track star and my dad played two-three sports in college,” said Dalton “We were always around the game, seeing and learning from others and I think we took full opportunity to hop on that train and go.”
“These two boys [Dalton and Ian] he had them on strings, he would talk to them and they would do exactly what he said and I couldn’t even hear him talk,” said TOK Summer League Commissioner John White.
White was the inaugural commissioner of the TOK Summer League in 1998, created the league and runs the league today. When White decided to resume responsibility again in 2016, it was for his lost friend.
“I did it because my heart was broken,” White said “I was crushed, a lot of people were.”
With a heavy heart and a little help from Morris, White created a tribute to the multi-time TOK Summer League champion in trophy form, aka “The Walt.”
Before Ian and Dalton were setting records at Ichabod Crane High School and Hudson Valley Community College on the court, their father created a brand for them that focused on hard work off the court.
Underneath where the TOK Summer League trophy says “The Walt” it reads “No Hype Needed,” NHN meant that they didn’t need new shoes, headbands, fancy uniforms or sweats. “Our motto was, roll the ball out let’s go,” Dalton said.
Their confidence was dubbed “cockiness” at a young age, but they knew how hard they worked to be successful basketball players and people.
“Maybe it got to my head when I was younger and I didn’t know any better but we put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes, we were raised to not drink, not do drugs and I’ve stood by that as best I could,” said Dalton “When other people were going to parties, we were in the gym.”
The work they put in earned Ian and Dalton recognition they thought they deserved, Ian won Patroon Conference MVP at Ichabod Crane in 2005-2006 and Dalton was named Patroon Conference MVP in 2006-2007.
Ichabod Crane won the Patroon Conference title in back to back seasons, 2005-2006 (Ian’s senior year) and 2006-2007 (Dalton’s senior year).
Dalton would be named a News Channel 13 All-Star, the only player in Patroon Conference history to earn the honor and only ten players from section II were ever recognized.
Through being honored with the likes of a top-10 NBA draft pick (Jimmer Fredette) to nearly 1,000 varsity points scored, there was a familiar face in the stands for every game.
“I would go to Dalton’s games and Walt was at every single event that had his son apart of it, it didn’t have to be sports,” Morris said.
In making collegiate decisions, it was important for Dalton to remain close to his family so they could watch his games, like they always had before.
After one season at Columbia-Greene Community College where he set the single-season scoring record with the Twins (666), Dalton transferred to Hudson Valley Community College to play with his brother, who transferred after two seasons at Herkimer Community College.
Reunited after a two year absence, Ian and Dalton would help lead the Vikings to a 32-4 record in the 2008-09 season and make it to the National Championship game.
“The most special season of basketball I’ve ever been a part of. The true definition of a winning team,” said Ian. “Being able to play with not only my brother, but a collection of brothers meant a lot.”
“Ian and I brought the toughness to Hudson Valley and I take pride in that, I still have scars from taking charges on my lower back,” said Dalton, who holds the Hudson Valley single-season record for charges drawn in a season with 49.
Drawing a charge is the true definition of what NHN was and what their father taught them. Hustling back to get in position and sacrificing your body to stop a fast break or get a stop, a smart basketball play is what Walt preached to his boys.
Winning was the main objective and drawing charges certainly helps that but, the most memorable win from that season was the Region III Championship game, where Dalton hit the game winning shot against Finger Lakes.
“Unreal,” Ian said “Man, it was my favorite year of playing ball.”
“For me it was about making memories that will last a lifetime that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” said Dalton.
That season was the best record in program history and furthest the basketball program at Hudson Valley has ever gone. Dalton would win Region III MVP as well as being named MVP of the team, but playing together is what the brothers wanted the most.
“That was a big thing for us, we really wanted to do that,” Dalton said.
“It’s like having a second set of eyes and seeing the floor from another player’s perspective,” said Ian “He knows what I’m looking at and knows what I’m thinking, plus he’ll always throw down for me.”
“There are no other people I’d rather have on my team than Ian and my father, I’d go to war for them, with them, if we were stuck in a trench, there’s no one I’d want behind me more than those two,” Dalton said.
That would be the last full season of organized basketball the two would play together.
Ian would play at a few different colleges to end his career after Hudson Valley: Herkimer Community College, St. Edwards College in Austin, Texas and Sage College.
Dalton had several offers from Division II and Division III schools like American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, Southern Vermont College and Nichols College in Dudley, MA. He decided to stay local and play the remainder of his college career at Sage College.
“It was important for my family to be able to watch my games,” said Dalton who doesn’t regret his decision “I made great friends that I still have today and I still play with today.”
Now Dalton plays in recreational leagues in Texas with his brother and back home in the Capital Region, depending on where he is at the time. He wants to continue playing for as long as his body lets him however, he leans less on his athleticism and more on his maturity.
“I won’t stop playing, obviously I’m not the player I was but I will continue to play as long as I’m willing and able,” Dalton said “Now it’s my turn to teach what I’ve learned from who I think is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen, my father.”
As he’s gotten older and aged as a person and a basketball player, Walt’s wisdom is rubbing off on Dalton and his teammates.
“Dalton’s biggest strength is that he’s a leader and I know I’m older now, but I still learn things every time I watch him play,” said Morris.
Walt is not only Dalton’s motivation to play basketball, but also his inspiration for life itself.
“He loved coaching, he loved being around kids, teaching what he knew and I think that’s the best thing for me is to carry that on and off the basketball court,” Dalton said “I live through him and I think that’s the best thing I can do to honor his name.”
“Alive right now, there are a lot of young men who were really influenced in a positive way by Walt,” said White.
There are many stories of Walt as a basketball player, as a coach and as a person, some humorous, some serious, but all with a good heart. But people who knew him would want you to know that he genuinely cared about everyone.
“If I can help someone in basketball or in life, I want to do that, it will mean a lot to me because I know he did that for me and he did it for my friends and people we didn’t even know,” Dalton said.
Perhaps the biggest influence Dalton has had is on Morris, where he would stay the night in a hospital room with Morris and his mother when he had to work the next morning.
“He didn’t have to do that, he really didn’t,” said Morris “It’s just like, you never gave up on me so I’m never giving up on you.”
Morris is not blood related, but from the tattoos to the style of play, he’s practically a Michaud.
“My real brother isn’t really ever around so he [Dalton] kind of filled that void for me,” Morris said “To me, he’ll always be my big brother and I’ll look up to him no matter how old I am.”
Dalton is in the process of finally getting his college degree, like he promised his father he would. For motivation, Dalton has several tattoos on his body to remind him of his dad and to not give up.
One tattoo is on his bicep of one man and two small children that says “Walt’s Sons,” another is on his left wrist and reads “WWWD” for “What Would Walt Do” and one on the inside of his arm that says “my story; isn’t over yet.”
The semicolon represents suicide prevention and mental health struggles.
“I’ve had this man in my life for 26 years, now that I haven’t for almost two years, I’m learning what it’s like not to have that,” said Dalton.
Ian and Dalton want to spread awareness of mental health struggles and suicide prevention and aspire to travel the country to save even one life by sharing the story of their fathers.
Dalton said “I know he’s looking down and I know I can’t do wrong in his eyes and I’m going to continue to be the best person I can be with anything in life.”
Visit https://projectsemicolon.com/ to support Dalton, Ian and share Walt’s story.
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, the national suicide prevention lifeline is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255.