By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It's difficult to draw much from the first two weeks of a four-month basketball season.
But it doesn't take long to sense a turnaround coming (see Detroit Mumford below) or a new championship contender on the rise (hello Grand Rapids Catholic Central?). This week's installment includes a few more teams that quickly have made an impression, to carry us through the end of 2017.
Breslin Bound is powered by MI Student Aid, and will return during the first week of January. 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. Grand Rapids Catholic Central 73, Grand Rapids Christian 49 – The Cougars reversed a 39-point loss suffered last season to the eventual Class A runner-up.
2. Hazel Park 74, Detroit U-D Jesuit 63 – Last week a win over Detroit East English got Hazel Park on this list, and this time it’s a double-digit victory over the Cubs (20-4 last season).
3. Dansville 42, Pewamo-Westphalia 34 – The Aggies followed a win over Class B Detroit Osborn with this one over reigning Central Michigan Athletic Conference champion P-W, which beat Dansville by 18 and two points in their meetings last season.
4. Saginaw 69, Saginaw Arthur Hill 61 – The Trojans bounced back from an early-week loss to Detroit Renaissance to beat the rival Lumberjacks for the seventh straight time since falling to them during the 2014-15 postseason.
5. Warren DeLaSalle 77, West Bloomfield 67 – The Pilots have played two of their first three games against teams that made at least the MHSAA Semifinals last season, winning this one over the Class A Lakers.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Mount Pleasant (3-0) – The Oilers improved to post upper-division finishes in the formerly two-division Saginaw Valley League the last two seasons, going 15-9 overall last winter. All of the SVL will play in one division this winter, and Mount Pleasant is off to a nice start with three double-digit wins including a 22-pointer over a Midland Dow team it split with last season.
Troy (3-0) – The Colts play in a tough Oakland Activities Association Red that includes Clarkston, West Bloomfield and Hazel Park among others, but they could be in the mix after reaching the Quarterfinals (and falling there to West Bloomfield) last winter. Troy finished last week by handing rival Athens its first loss, 66-58.
Detroit Mumford (4-0) – With one more win, Mumford will be halfway to bettering last season’s 9-12 finish. The Mustangs have three straight double-digit wins after beating St. Clair Shores South Lake, Oak Park and Warren Michigan Collegiate on successive days over the weekend.
Spring Lake (3-0) – Back-to-back overtime wins over Class A teams has Spring Lake riding high. The Lakers got past Rockford 48-46 and Grand Haven 69-66 last week as they prepped for the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue season and powerhouse Grand Rapids Catholic Central – which Spring Lake eliminated in last year’s Regional Final after finishing third to the Cougars in league play.
Houghton Lake (2-0) – They are only two games win, but a 35-28 overtime win over Beaverton on Thursday should have the Bobcats’ spirits high. The Beavers were runners-up in the Jack Pine Conference last season and Houghton Lake came in fifth after losing to Beaverton by 29 and 23.
Iron Mountain (4-0) – The Mountaineers might be the favorites in the Mid-Peninsula Conference after finishing third last winter despite going 2-1 (including a District win) over co-champion Norway. The Knights left the league this year, but Iron Mountain surely still enjoyed taking a 48-40 win from them Friday.
Bear Lake (3-0) – Only two weeks into the season, the Lakers are making some noise in the West Michigan D. They sit atop the conference after opening with a 12-point win over reigning champion Baldwin, and that’s been by far Bear Lake’s closest game. The Lakers finished 15-7 overall and tied for third in the league last season.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (4-0) – As usual, Tri-unity will play a wide variety of opponents including many larger to prepare for the postseason, a strategy that frequently pays off. One of the losses it took last year on the way to the Quarterfinals was against Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, and Tri-unity avenged with a 49-41 win Friday.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Flint Hamady (3-0) at Flint Beecher (3-1) – The reigning Class C champion Buccaneers took three from their rivals last season, but one meeting by only four points.
Tuesday – McBain (2-0) at Buckley (1-1) – Although the Bears took a four-point loss on opening night two weeks ago, both of these teams were perfect for the regular season last winter and Buckley is the reigning Class D runner-up.
Wednesday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (3-0) at Wyoming Godwin Heights (2-0) – By early returns, these are looking like two of the best teams from Grand Rapids and two of the state’s best in Class B as well.
Dec. 26 – Detroit Martin Luther King (2-0) vs. Southfield Christian (2-1) at Cass Tech – Southfield Christian was a last-second basket from playing for the Class D title last season and can see how it stacks up against the Class A Crusaders.
Dec. 29 – Saginaw (1-1) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (2-0) at Detroit Renaissance – There are high expectations for the Technicians, making this matchup with an annual power arguably the most intriguing at the Motor City Roundball Classic.
PHOTO: Spring Lake got past Grand Haven in overtime last week to stay undefeated. (Photo by Tim Reilly)
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.)