By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Just like that, we’re down to 128 boys basketball teams still playing, and only a week away from returning to the Breslin Center to crown this season’s champions.
Regionals begin across the state tonight, and you can keep up with all 32 brackets by clicking “Tracking the Tournament” on MHSAA.com. See below for some of the many District results that made headlines last week, plus a look at three of the most intriguing Regionals in each division.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Grand Rapids Northview 76, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern 75 (3OT) – After falling by 11 and 14 points to Forest Hills Northern to finish second to FHN in Ottawa-Kent Conference White play, Northview ended the Huskies’ season on a last-second putback in Division 1.
2. Wayne Memorial 55, Canton 50 – This may have been only a slight upset in Division 1; Wayne had shared the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title. But Canton had won the West and league tournament and hadn’t lost since its season opener.
3. Haslett 36, Williamston 33 – The Vikings had finished runner-up to Williamston in the Capital Area Activities Conference Red with losses of six and then 29 to the Hornets before avenging those in Division 2.
4. Traverse City St Francis 59, Maple City Glen Lake 44 – The Lake Michigan Conference champ Gladiators prevailed in Division 3 over the Northwest Conference title-winning Lakers.
5. Midland 63, Mount Pleasant 52 – Fourth-place Midland handed Saginaw Valley League Red champ Mount Pleasant just its second loss and after falling by nine and three (in overtime) in their regular-season meetings.
Regionals at a Glance
These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:
Holland West Ottawa
Hudsonville (21-2) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (18-4), Muskegon (20-3) vs. East Kentwood (14-9)
Northview took down unbeaten Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern in last week’s District Final, as noted above, and will look to avenge another regular-season defeat after falling to Hudsonville by 10 on Dec. 27. The Eagles went on to clinch the O-K Red title and have won 15 straight, including two over East Kentwood during that run. The Falcons did bounce back from four straight losses to end the regular season by winning their first District title since 2011. And now they get a rematch with Muskegon, which won their Dec. 27 meeting 55-53 and more recently is riding a 16-game unbeaten streak.
Coldwater (17-5) vs. Okemos (20-2), Mattawan (21-0) vs. DeWitt (19-3)
Mattawan is seeking to add its first Regional championship to an already-historic run that included a win over Kalamazoo Central to open last week’s District. DeWitt lived a little less comfortably last week with two overtime wins to stay in the running, but the Panthers have losses to only Okemos (twice) and another District champ Howell this winter. The Chiefs won the CAAC Blue ahead of DeWitt and have lost to only a pair of District champs as well – Haslett and Detroit Catholic Central. But are they catching Coldwater on a warm streak? The Cardinals have won five straight for the third time this season and would love to avenge last season’s Regional Semifinal loss to Okemos.
Detroit Catholic Central (16-6) vs. Wayne Memorial (18-5), Ann Arbor Skyline (15-7) vs. Ypsilanti Lincoln (18-4)
Lincoln is a major draw hosting this Regional, but the Southeastern Conference White champion must be careful starting with a Skyline team that has won eight of its last nine games and didn’t lose its first last season until the Regional Final. Wayne Memorial beat Skyline by five points in a Dec. 4 meeting and went on to share a league title and then stun Canton, as noted above. DCC enjoyed a similar win handing Okemos its first loss, at Okemos, on Jan. 11, and has bounced back after losing three straight heading into the postseason.
Coopersville (12-10) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (20-3), Muskegon Orchard View (15-7) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (20-2)
It would be easy to jump ahead and expect a Thursday matchup of O-K Gold champion South Christian against Blue title-winner GRCC. But Coopersville surely would love another chance against GRCC after finishing tied for third in the Blue, and Orchard View is surging after winning its first District title in 24 years. If South Christian and GRCC do meet, however, there is some recent history – the Sailors won their Jan. 19 meeting 54-42.
Ida (12-10) vs. Dearborn Divine Child (18-4), Chelsea (16-6) vs. River Rouge (19-2)
This is the next step for a River Rouge team that has been touted highly since making the Class B Semifinals a year ago. The Panthers have lost only to 2018 Class B champion Benton Harbor and Detroit Martin Luther King. But Chelsea has won six of its last seven and shown it can play with the elite with wins over multiple league champions. Ida bounced back from three losses over its final four games to win its District – avenging one of those late defeats against Huron League co-champ Carleton Airport in the process. Divine Child offers intrigue as well; the Falcons won a Regional title last year for the first time since 2011, and could seek some revenge as they went on to fall to River Rouge in the Quarterfinal.
Benton Harbor (21-1) vs. Otsego (23-0), Hudsonville Unity Christian (21-2) vs. Three Rivers (11-11)
The reigning Class B champion Tigers have been an absolute force, falling only to 2018 Class C champion Detroit Edison while seemingly taking on another state power every weekend. Up steps Otsego, a combined 42-2 over the last two seasons and coming off a league title and its first District championship since 2015. Three Rivers has a great story winning its District after finishing last in Otsego’s Wolverine Conference South. But Unity Christian will provide a formidable challenge after winning the O-K Green and 17 straight games dating back to a two-point loss to South Christian on Dec. 21. Unity also fell to Benton Harbor in last season’s Regional Semifinal.
Sanford Meridian (21-1) vs. Manton (17-4), Oscoda (23-0) vs. Beal City (13-8)
Manton is coming off the Highland Conference co-championship and seeking its second Regional title in three seasons, while Sanford Meridian won the Jack Pine Conference and is seeking to repeat as Regional champ. Theirs is a titanic matchup, but Oscoda may be the favorite this week after entering the postseason as one of four undefeated teams in Division 3. The Owls are seeking their first Regional title since 2000. Beal City can’t be overlooked – the Aggies beat the other Highland co-champ McBain in the District Final to advance.
Madison Heights Madison (20-3) vs. Capac (15-8), Detroit Edison (15-7) vs. Clinton Township Clintondale (16-6)
Last season’s Class C champion Edison is much better than its record might indicate – the Pioneers have played many larger powers this season with wins over Benton Harbor and Canton among others. Clintondale has won seven of its last nine games and hopes to play spoiler, while its Macomb Area Conference Silver rival – and the league champion – Madison Heights Madison is playing for its first Regional title after edging Detroit Pershing 73-71 in last week’s District Final. The Eagles take on a Capac team that has won eight of its last 10 games.
Cassopolis (21-1) vs. Union City (16-7), Niles Brandywine (20-2) vs. Schoolcraft (19-4)
Southwest 10 Conference champion Cassopolis hasn’t lost since Dec. 20 and is on a mission after suffering its only defeat last season in the Regional Final. But opponent Union City has turned around from a 7-14 finish last season and is riding high with eight wins over its last nine games. Brandywine is another league champion and just seven points from a perfect record after falling by four to Coloma and then one to Parchment in its regular-season finale. But to reach Thursday, it must take down a Schoolcraft team that bounced back from a couple of late losses with a pair of close District wins before claiming the championship with a 38-point victory.
Bellevue (22-1) vs. Webberville (16-5), Athens (20-3) vs. Pittsford (20-2)
Bellevue and Athens are plenty familiar with each other after finishing first and second in the Southern Central Athletic Association West – Bellevue winning the first meeting and Athens the second, on Feb. 22. But Webberville will try to spoil the rematch after building much of its record against larger opponents, and Pittsford won the SCAA East and beat Athens by 14 on Feb. 8 (and lost to Bellevue by 10 on Jan 12).
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (19-3) vs. Marcellus Howardsville Christian (22-1), Muskegon Heights Academy (12-7) vs. New Buffalo (13-9)
Dylan Jergens is making a run at the MHSAA career scoring record but must get Howardsville Christian past an annual power in Tri-unity Christian – both have a loss to Wyoming Potter’s House Christian, and Tri-unity’s losses all were to Division 3 teams. On the other side, New Buffalo finished second in Howardsville Christian’s league and no doubt would like a third try at the Eagles. But Muskegon Heights Academy might be the most overlooked team in this entire division. While the Tigers’ record might not be stunning, they’ve won 11 of their last 12 games and the Lake Michigan Conference title over all larger opponents.
Cedarville (17-5) vs. Posen (15-7), Brimley (23-0) vs. Pellston (21-2)
Brimley finished the regular season as the only undefeated team in Division 4 and is seeking to win a Regional title for the first time since 1995. But Pellston, like Brimley a league champ, has been considered the best in Division 4 at times with its defeats to Division 3 teams that sit a combined 30-13. Posen is surging with nine wins over its last 10 games, and Cedarville has won 11 straight since losing to the league rival Bays for the second time Jan. 15.
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PHOTO: Marquette's Marius Grazulis holds up his team’s Division 1 District championship trophy as his classmates rush the court to congratulate the team on its win over Gaylord. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
GRAND RAPIDS – Bob Schichtel always pauses when he comes across the ancient black and white photo long enough to ponder whatever became of the two youngsters adorned in Grand Rapids Union basketball uniforms.
The posed shot shows two players facing each other in a local gymnasium in a photo apparently taken four days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that launched the country into World War II. Only a handful of fans today would recognize the players' striped, ultra-short shots and simple sleeveless shirts with "Union" emblazed across the front as recognizable basketball uniforms. One holds a battered-looking basketball, while the other looks on. The two players, whose uniform numbers are "4" and "9," aren't really smiling, but still seem as close as any teammates, whether 81 years ago or today.
In fact, it's the look the youngsters share that intrigues Schichtel, whose thankless, pro bono job it is to identify the two players.
"Once you start," said Schichtel, a former longtime Grand Rapids basketball coach, "it's like looking down a deep rabbit hole."
Schichtel works as a volunteer for the Grand Rapids Public Library trying to identify mostly former Grand Rapids City League basketball players from approximately 1938 through the early fifties. The online photos are mostly from the Robinson Photo Studio Collection taken in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Herald newspaper. The library says the unique collection spans some 950 basketball negatives from the entire Robinson/Herald collection that totals well over 900,000 Grand Rapids photos.
While the work – which amounts to a ton of patience combined with a detective ability – can be exhausting, it's still what Schichtel describes as a labor of love. For example, there's the shot of the two still-unidentified Union players. Schichtel looks at the photo and can't help but wonder whatever happened to the kids. Were they exceptional athletes? Did they leave their marks on Grand Rapids history, whether it was in education, politics, business, industry, the arts or another field? He doesn't even know, as in many photos from this era, whether the two entered the military and thus even survived World War II.
Schichtel has searched everywhere for the answers, but has come up short. Too many times, in fact.
Which isn't to say he'll quit looking or chalk up his research as inconsequential. Schichtel said the foremost reason he spends hours on the project is that many of the athletes he identifies deserve the recognition for achievements far beyond basketball. In many cases former City League basketball, football, baseball, track and tennis athletes became the foundation on which Grand Rapids was built. If Schichtel can uncover an old photo which depicts these youngsters during their high school careers, so much the better, he said.
"It's important to recognize Grand Rapids sports history, and I don't know if we've given enough attention to their past," Schichtel said. "They are what got us here, and I'm a firm believer they need to be recognized for it."
Figuring out that history, however, ranges from, at the least, extremely time consuming to – in too many frustrating cases – virtually impossible. The City League was formed in the late 1920s and featured original schools Grand Rapids Central, Creston, South, Union, Ottawa Hills, Catholic Central and Davis Tech. The league was eventually folded into the Ottawa-Kent Conference in 2008.
"It was a long, evolving league," Schichtel said.
The identification tools available to Schichtel are actually more numerous than most would suspect. For starters, he's formed an impressive database of information by pouring through old City League yearbooks and programs, photos from other collections and microfilm of old newspapers, And then there's also the knowledge gathered by Schichtel himself, a 1968 Grand Rapids Catholic Central graduate. After playing in many old City League gymnasiums, Schichtel went on to compile a 389-197 record in 27 years as the Cougars girls basketball coach. He uses countless City League contacts as both a player and coach to identify athletes. In all, Schichtel taught in the Grand Rapids school system for 34 years.
He also uses the game itself to identify the photos. For instance, he can pinpoint some photos simply by the styles of the uniforms worn by players. He also figures out who is who by other clues such as what the players are doing in the photo. If a player is taking a set shot in the photo, it's likely pre-World War II. The beginnings of the jump shot, or what Schichtel calls "elevation while shooting," is probably mid-1940s. In addition, Schichtel can identify photos through pure basketball athleticism. Players can look a bit awkward in shots from the thirties as compared to players from the late 1940s who were beginning to play with a more obvious flare.
Put all the information together and Schichtel, who has uncovered more than two dozen personal connections to subjects in the photos, believes he has a reasonable shot at identifying them.
Since he signed on with the project, Schichtel figures he's identified about 10 percent of the photos he's viewed. Among the City League athletes he's found shots of Central's John Lavan, who was born in 1890 and played Major League Baseball during the Babe Ruth era and became a military hero who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery; Creston basketball player Roger Wilkins, an assistant United States attorney general during the Watergate hearings; Art Spoelstra of Godwin, a former NBA player and member of the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame; and Grand Rapids native Bill Cutler, who turned a chance post-World War II meeting with then-American League president Will Harridge into a position as commissioner of the Pacific Coast League,
Schichtel said gaining information through photos on the people who became the bedrock of Grand Rapids should be celebrated.
"I think it's a great approach for the community; they shouldn't be forgotten," Schichtel said. "Who else is going to do this? Why do I do it? I see a certain, for lack of a better word, a nobility. These kids played for the love of game, and they became the “Greatest Generation.” These kids did great things. It's not just, 'Well, there's No. 58,’ in a photo.
"You want to know more about them. That's the real intrigue for me."
Tim Gloege of the Grand Rapids Public Library said the collection of photos – and their identification – is continually growing. As more people log onto the library's website, more people want to either add to the collection or have information that leads to an identification. The library estimates about 1,200 photos are searched monthly. But as time grows, many of the original photos are disintegrating. The library is in a constant state of preservation, Gloege said.
"It's a massive project, and we're working to get as many photos online as possible," he said. "The numbers (of photos) we have are rising pretty significantly as people post them on social media.
"When you think of the past and now, you need to realize these are people, kids who used to play basketball and did other things. The work is hard and very time-intensive, but it brings a whole new dimension to history."
Schichtel said he's "kind of picked the low-hanging fruit" on many of the easy photos to identify. But the work will continue.
"Yes, it can be frustrating," he said. "There are limitations if you want it to be accurate. Sometimes you look at a photo and you know it's not going to happen, and you move on. But this a chance to learn about people who made Grand Rapids what it is. That's important to me."
PHOTOS (Top) Two Grand Rapids Union basketball players stand for a photo taken Dec. 12, 1941. (2) Longtime area coach Bob Schichtel researches hundreds of photos that are part of the Grand Rapids Public Library archive. (3) Schichtel has identified these 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horn (left) and Chuch Reynier. (4) Schichtel identified Grand Rapids South High’s “Fireman Five” of, from left, Fred Esslair, Lee Morrow, Jack Carroll, Bob Youngberg and Bruce Bigford. (Historic photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library.)