By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
One of the best parts of boys basketball season is how quickly the state’s elite teams begin testing themselves against each other to get an idea where they stand coming into the winter.
As during last season, the weekly Breslin Bound report – powered by MI Student Aid – will look at five results from the previous week that particularly popped, plus a few teams to keep on your radar during the months ahead and five games during the week to come that you might want to check out.
These reports are based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com – to offer corrections, email me at Geoff@mhsaa.com.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Rapid River 65, Powers North Central 43 – The Rockets put an end to North Central’s MHSAA-record 84-game winning streak, which began on opening night of the 2014-15 season.
2. Canton 65, Belleville 61 – This opener shook Class A quite a bit with Canton losing to Belleville by 23 last year and the Tigers expected to contend for a spot at Breslin this upcoming March.
3. Detroit Cass Tech 84, Flint Beecher 53 – The Technicians are expected to be among Class A contenders after winning 19 games a year ago, and this was a great sign as reigning Class C champ Beecher no doubt will be in that mix again as well.
4. Clarkston 65, Wayne Memorial 55 – The reigning Class A champ got a nice win over another expected contender before finishing the week with a five-point victory in another test, against Flint Carman-Ainsworth.
5. Hazel Park 86, Detroit East English 72 – The Vikings may have taken a step toward joining the elite with a big win over one of the anticipated best from the Detroit Public School League.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Canton (2-0) – The Chiefs opened 0-2 a year ago with losses to Detroit Country Day and Belleville, the teams they beat last week. Canton plays in a Kensington Lakes Activities Association Black with expected favorites Wayne and Westland John Glenn, but showed last week it should be right in the mix after finishing third and 13-8 overall in 2016-17.
Mattawan (2-0) – The Wildcats were 7-14 a year ago and haven’t had a winning season this decade. But they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, opening with a 55-54 win over Paw Paw after falling to the eventual 18-win Redskins by 16 a year ago.
Escanaba (2-0) – Coming off a banner football season, the Eskymos provided some early excitement on the basketball court last week after winning 12 games last winter. Escanaba avenged last year’s 20-point opening night loss with a 60-45 win over Negaunee, which won 20 games last season.
Essexville Garber (2-0) – The Dukes’ 5-16 campaign last winter ended with seven straight losses including by a basket to Bay City John Glenn in the District. The bounce-back began last week with a 25-point win over Pinconning followed by a 14-pointer over the rival Bobcats.
Bad Axe (2-0) – An ability to win close games surely would be beneficial as Bad Axe looks to build on last season’s 10-10 finish. The Hatchets beat both Imlay City and Harbor Beach by three points last week; both opponents finished with winning records last winter.
Detroit Pershing (1-0) – The Doughboys have had three middling seasons since their last 20-win run in 2013-14, but they’re expected to be among the state’s best even as they will play a mostly Class A schedule. Last week’s 81-74 overtime win over 2017 Class D semifinalist Southfield Christian was an impressive way to start.
Ewen-Trout Creek (2-0) – The Panthers’ 6-foot-7 senior Jacob Witt is probably one of the most unknown standout all-around athletes in the state, but he could finish this season with his team making some noise. Ewen-Trout Creek went 14-9 last season and last week avenged a 2016-17 loss to Hancock with a 38-point win.
Rapid River (2-0) – The Rockets not only ended North Central’s streak, but opened with a 56-53 win over Carney-Nadeau, which is coming off a 15-win season. Rapid River was 11-13 last winter after opening with an eight-point loss to Carney-Nadeau and a 53-pointer to the Jets, but the Rockets did close 2016-17 on an 8-4 run.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Dansville (2-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (1-0) – The Pirates regularly are among contenders statewide in Class C, but Dansville and 6-9 Caleb Hodgson surely would love to take their place starting in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference standings.
Thursday – Rapid River (2-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (2-0) – These look like early contenders to go after the top Class D spot from the Upper Peninsula as reigning MHSAA champion North Central is expected to fall back toward the pack.
Friday – Saginaw Arthur Hill (0-1) at Saginaw (0-0) – This one rarely disappoints; all three meetings went Saginaw’s way by double digits last season, but that third one did come in a District Final.
Friday – Hazel Park (1-0) at Detroit U-D Jesuit (2-0) – The Cubs are off to another strong start and have a tough game against East English on Tuesday before Hazel Park comes in looking for another big early win.
Sunday – Detroit Pershing (1-0) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (2-0) at Ecorse – This looks to be the premier game of the Hoopz 4 Hope Classic, as the Eaglets also have a pair of double-digit wins to start this winter.
PHOTO: Lansing Everett was among teams that began 2-0 to start the season last week. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)