By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This week will see many of Michigan’s high school boys basketball teams cross the midpoint of their seasons, and things are starting to move quickly.
Most will finish Saturday at least 10 games into their schedules and with Districts beginning six weeks from tonight – which seems a long way off until you consider this season is already eight weeks old.
Expect to see District brackets added to the MHSAA Website this week and first-round games added to team schedules. 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. Detroit Catholic Central 69, Okemos 57 – The Shamrocks handed Okemos its first loss after a 10-0 start, and on the Chiefs’ home court, as they prepped for this week’s Detroit Catholic League Central clash with first-place Detroit U-D Jesuit.
2. Kalamazoo Central 46, Grand Blanc 43 – The Maroon Giants are just a two-point loss to Detroit Martin Luther King from undefeated and earned another impressive win in this one over the leader in the Saginaw Valley League Blue.
3. Hudsonville Unity Christian 63, Holland Christian 42 – Two-time reigning champ Unity Christian has the early upper hand in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green after handing rival Holland Christian its first loss of this winter.
4. Belleville 81, Westland John Glenn 78 (OT) – These two remain among four tied for first in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East after a matchup that saw Connor Bush score 26 for Belleville and Joe Moon IV score 44 for John Glenn to go over 1,000 for his career and break the school record for points in a game set in 1966.
5. Bellevue 57, Camden-Frontier 47 – Bellevue remains undefeated and atop the Southern Central Athletic Association West, while Camden-Frontier took its first loss this season but holds a slight lead in the SCAA East.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
• Mattawan (9-0) – The Wildcats have gone one better than their 8-0 start last season, and now will look to best their final 15-7 mark from a year ago. Mattawan leads the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West thanks to a 56-50 double-overtime win over second-place Stevensville Lakeshore on Friday. The Wildcats last season finished second in the SMAC East last season to Kalamazoo Central; those two meet in a nonleague game Feb. 5.
• Oxford (9-0) – These Wildcats have bested already last season’s final 8-14 record. And instead of tying for last in the Oakland Activities Association White like last season, they are tied for the lead in the OAA Blue. Oxford has won five straight games by double figures and takes on league co-leader Pontiac on Thursday.
• Bridgeport (8-0) – The Bearcats, Class B quarterfinalists a year ago, are pursuing their third straight Tri-Valley Conference East title and beat rival Frankenmuth 70-41 last week to kick off the league schedule. That big win followed up an impressive 82-69 victory over Detroit Renaissance at the Detroit Public School League Holiday Hoops Classic, and Bridgeport also owns a notable win over Detroit Henry Ford.
• Richmond (11-0) – Known most as a wrestling school perhaps, Richmond also boasts a boys basketball team that has won at least 16 games four straight seasons and is the reigning champ in the Blue Water Area Conference. This start has outdone any of the others from recent seasons, and the Blue Devils already own a one-game lead in the BWAC thanks to a 60-44 win over second-place Yale on Dec. 14.
• Clinton Township Clintondale (9-1) – A 12-point loss to league leader Madison Heights Madison on Dec. 18 is all that’s kept Clintondale from a perfect start and first place in the Macomb Area Conference Silver – and the Dragons get a second chance against Madison on Thursday. An opening win this season over Royal Oak Shrine is one of only two losses for the Knights and looking more and more like a good indication Clintondale will improve substantially on last year’s 12-10 finish.
• Quincy (9-0) – The two-time reigning league champ Orioles have charged into first place in the Big 8 Conference with wins against both second-place teams, Union City and Homer. Quincy finished 18-5 a year ago but lost to Homer in the District Final. The Orioles also have dealt nonleague foe Adrian Lenawee Christian one of its two defeats this winter.
• Bellevue (9-0) – The Broncos are a combined 54-4 over the last two-plus seasons and have won three straight league titles. As noted above, they lead the SCAA West and handed Camden-Frontier its first defeat last week; the Broncos then knocked Pittsford out of first in the SMAC East with a 10-point win Saturday. Circle Jan. 25, the first of two meetings between Bellevue and also-undefeated league rival Athens.
• Pellston (9-1) – The Hornets are tied for first in the Ski Valley Conference with Gaylord St. Mary, and will face the Snowbirds for the first time Wednesday after last week’s schedule meeting was postponed. Pellston’s defeat came by just two points to Division 3 Mancelona, and seven of its nine wins were by 30 or more points.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Macomb Dakota (8-1) at Roseville (9-1) – Coming off a big win over Sterling Heights Stevenson last week, MAC Red leader Dakota must continue the surge after beating Roseville 55-52 last month in their first meeting.
Thursday – Pontiac (11-0) at Oxford (9-0) – As noted above, these two are tied for first in the OAA Blue, and Pontiac obviously also has had a noteworthy start including an early victory over OAA Red leader Clarkston.
Friday – Detroit Cass Tech (7-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (9-1) – The Technicians lead the PSL Midtown division by a win over King, with this their only meeting before a potential PSL Tournament rematch.
Friday – Okemos (10-1) at DeWitt (8-1) – Okemos can’t let the sting of last week’s first loss last long, as DeWitt is tied with the Chiefs for first in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue.
Saturday – Flint Beecher (9-0) vs. River Rouge (7-1) at Warren Fitzgerald – The most intriguing of a strong slate at the Horatio Williams Freedom Classic pits strong statewide contenders in Divisions 3 and 2, respectively.
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: Although Clinton Township Chippewa Valley made the stop on this drive, Utica Eisenhower went on to a 44-33 win in the MAC Red last Tuesday. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
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.)