Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 12

February 19, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

We’re almost there. In fact, by delaying this week’s Breslin Bound report until Tuesday, we’re a day closer to the end of this boys basketball regular season and beginning of District play Monday.

But a few league championships remain undecided, and there is still plenty to cover before we switch gears to the postseason.

Next week, we’ll preview the most intriguing District brackets in every division. Click here to get an early look at those matchups.  

Breslin Bound is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com. To offer corrections or fill in scores we’re missing, email me at Geoff@mhsaa.com.

Week in Review 

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:  

1. Benton Harbor 72, River Rouge 62 – The Tigers won again in this rematch from last season’s Class B Semifinals – and possible preview of a Division 2 matchup coming next month.

2. New Haven 64, Roseville 55 – The Rockets won the Macomb Area Conference Red/White Tournament title by defeating one Red co-champ in this game after defeating the other Sterling Heights Stevenson in the semifinal.

3. Detroit U-D Jesuit 63, Detroit Catholic Central 54 – The Cubs finished a perfect run through both the Detroit Catholic League Central and then A-B Tournament bracket, with DCC finishing second in both.

4. Detroit Cass Tech 80, Detroit Renaissance 56 – The Technicians have won nine of their last 11 games and with this victory added a Detroit Public School League Tournament title to a shared Midtown championship.

5. Muskegon 66, Kalamazoo Central 59 – The Big Reds claimed this matchup of league leaders to extend their winning streak to 11.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:

DIVISION 1

• Detroit U-D Jesuit (17-2) – The Cubs have won 11 straight games, with the most notable of the run against DCC twice and Flint Beecher by a point on Jan. 26. The only losses this winter came early, against New Haven on Dec. 1 and then Illinois championship contender Chicago Morgan Park on Jan. 5. Jesuit has reached the MHSAA Quarterfinals five straight seasons and could be on the verge of running that streak to six.

• Ann Arbor Pioneer (17-2) – The Pioneers, 11-10 a season ago, have locked up the Southeastern Conference Red title in a league where four of six teams have winning records. They added an impressive 56-44 win over the weekend against PSL Midtown co-champ Detroit Martin Luther King. The only losses came before the new year, against eventual league winners Canton and Wayne Memorial.

DIVISION 2

• Fremont (16-1) – A 60-59 overtime win over Grant on Friday clinched the Central State Activities Association Gold title, Fremont’s second straight after sharing last season with Big Rapids. This championship is outright, ironically after the Packers opened league play with their only defeat Dec. 7 to Reed City. Next up, Fremont will go for a second straight District title as well.  

• Ovid-Elsie (15-1) – The Marauders have clinched a share of the inaugural Mid-Michigan Activities Conference championship, avenging their lone loss of the season Friday with a 69-66 double-overtime victory over second-place (tied) Mount Morris. Ovid-Elsie can clinch outright against the other second-place team, New Lothrop, on Thursday. The Marauders entered the new league coming off last season’s Tri-Valley Conference West title, and they too will play next week for a second straight District trophy.

DIVISION 3

• Iron Mountain (17-0) – The Mountaineers have followed up on last season’s Class C Quarterfinal run with the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Iron title, plus a repeat championship in the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference. Three of Iron Mountain’s first four games this winter were decided by single digits – they haven’t had another closer than 10 since Dec. 7.

• Maple City Glen Lake (16-2) – The Lakers clinched an outright Northwest Conference title with a win over Benzie Central on Saturday and have won six straight since falling to Division 2 Williamston at Saginaw Valley State on Jan. 21. The only other defeat was to another strong Division 2 opponent, Holland Christian, on Dec. 28. Both losses no doubt served as great prep as Glen Lake looks to get back to Breslin after finishing Class C runner-up a year ago.

DIVISION 4

• Dollar Bay (16-3) – After making the Class D Semifinals coming off a perfect regular season in 2018, the Blue Bolts started this one slowly (relatively speaking) at 4-2. But they’ve won nine straight and clinched a share of the Copper Mountain Conference Copper Country championship, with a chance to finish the title outright Friday if they can avenge an earlier loss to Chassell. Dollar Bay also won’t see nemesis Bessemer (the other two defeats) until possibly the Regional if both advance next week.

• Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (15-3) – The Defenders sit second in the Alliance League thanks to a one-point loss Jan. 22 to Division 3 and league leader Potter’s House Christian. But Tri-unity could make another of its usual long postseason runs, especially with Potter’s House in a different division after eliminating the Defenders in the District a year ago. Tri-unity’s only other losses were to Division 3 Pewamo-Westphalia and Grandville Calvin Christian.

Can't-Miss Contests

Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:  

Tuesday – McBain (14-3) at Manton (13-4) – McBain’s 45-42 win on Feb. 5 has the Ramblers still sitting atop the Highland Conference standings, but a Manton win could result in a shared championship when this week is done.

Thursday – Howell (14-5) at Canton (18-1) – The overall Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship game pits the top two teams from the West division.

Friday – DeWitt (16-2) at Okemos (17-1) – The Chiefs own a share of the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue title thanks in part to a 41-35 win over the Panthers on Jan. 18, but DeWitt can grab a share by winning this rematch.

Friday – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (18-0) at Grand Rapids Northview (14-3) – FHN won the first meeting 64-53 on Jan. 25, but a Northview win could mean a shared Ottawa-Kent Conference White title or more if Northern gets upset Tuesday.

Friday – Detroit Cass Tech (14-5) vs. Detroit U-D Jesuit (17-2) at Calihan Hall – The annual Operation Friendship game pits PSL and Catholic League champs and likely Division 1 state contenders as well.

Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO: Iron Mountain's Marcus Johnson works to get to the basket during a Feb. 1 win over Ishpeming. Iron Mountain is one of 14 unbeaten teams left statewide. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)

Longtime Coach Researches Photos to Tell Story of Grand Rapids Sports' Past

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

September 16, 2022

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."

Longtime area coach Bob Schichtel researches hundreds of photos that are part of the Grand Rapids Public Library archive. 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.

Schichtel has identified these 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horn (left) and Chuch Reynier. 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."

Schichtel identified Grand Rapids South High’s “Fireman Five” of, from left, Fred Esslair, Lee Morrow, Jack Carroll, Bob Youngberg and Bruce Bigford. 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.)