Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 8

January 21, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It’s all relative until they meet each other on the court, of course.

But there are some Michigan high school boys basketball teams absolutely dominating as we turn toward the final five weeks of the regular season.

A total of 22 teams remain undefeated. Bump that number to 55 counting teams that sit 10-2 or better. See below for crazy scoring stats for two of those high-achieving teams. And yet, every game is an opportunity – see Almont (8-3) handing Richmond (12-1) its first defeat Friday after Hemlock (6-5) did the same to Sanford Meridian (10-1) on Tuesday

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. River Rouge 66, Flint Beecher 61 – A matchup of two MHSAA championship favorites, Division 2 River Rouge improved to 10-1 while sending Division 3 Beecher to 11-1 at the Horatio Williams Freedom Classic.

2. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 63, Muskegon 59 (OT) – This is less an upset than a rarity because Reeths-Puffer is 11-1, but Muskegon won last season’s two meetings by 32 and 10 points.

3. Oxford 49, Pontiac 46 – Unbeaten Oxford gained a slight edge in the Oakland Activities Association Blue standings by handing Pontiac its first defeat; the rematch is Feb. 19.

4. Detroit U-D Jesuit 74, Detroit Catholic Central 62 – The Cubs made it a league season sweep of the surging Shamrocks and can clinch a share of the Detroit Catholic League Central title with a win Tuesday.

5. Detroit Martin Luther King 50, Detroit Cass Tech 48 – Both went on to lose Saturday showcase games, but this one pulled King into a tie for first in the Detroit Public School League Midtown after the Crusaders had fallen to Cass Tech by 14 on Dec. 18.

Watch List

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

DIVISION 1

• Clarkston (10-2) – The two-time reigning Class A champion graduated Mr. Basketball last spring and saw the third-winningest coach in state boys basketball history retire. But after opening this season with two losses, the Wolves have won 10 straight including over King on Saturday. 

• Walled Lake Northern (11-0) – After finishing fourth last season, Northern appears to be closing in on the Lakes Valley Conference title with five straight double-digit league wins including one against second-place Waterford Mott. The Knights also will equal last season’s overall win total with their next victory.

DIVISION 2

• Benton Harbor (12-0) – The reigning Class B champion continues to roll, winning big most nights but also showing it can hold on for close victories. The Tigers edged Ferndale 90-81 at the Mayweather Basketball Classic on Saturday and also have wins over Henry Ford, Saginaw and Indiana contender South Bend Riley.

• Otsego (12-0) – The Bulldogs are outpacing the competition by an average of 25 points per game. They sit first in the Wolverine Conference North after the first run through the league schedule as they look to repeat in the league and improve on last year’s 19-2 overall finish.   

DIVISION 3

• Madison Heights Madison (11-1) – Madison bounced back from starting last week with its lone loss, to Warren Lincoln, by beating Clinton Township Clintondale 88-84 in overtime to clinch a share of the Macomb Area Conference Silver title. It’s the Eagles’ second straight, and they can make it outright with a win over Eastpointe on Tuesday. 

• Pewamo-Westphalia (12-0) – The Pirates were supposed to trail at least Dansville this season in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference after finishing second to Laingsburg a league ago. But P-W made it a season sweep of the Aggies with a 60-56 win last week and beat second-place Laingsburg by 33 in their first meeting.

DIVISION 4

• Flint International Academy (6-4) – The overall record isn’t stunning, but the reigning champion Phoenix lead the North Central Thumb League Stars thanks to a 12-point win over two-loss Kingston in December. The four losses came to nonleague opponents now a combined 41-7, including undefeated Brimley and Division 2 Bridgeport and Richmond.

• Marcellus Howardsville Christian (11-0) – A 41-point win over second-place New Buffalo last week gave Howardsville a two-game lead in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference White. And that win has been the norm: the Eagles are winning by an average of 42 points per victory. 

Can't-Miss Contests

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

Friday – Beaverton (9-2) at Sanford Meridian (10-1) – Despite being stunned last week by Hemlock, that was nonleague and Meridian still leads the Jack Pine Conference with Beaverton just a game back. 

Friday – Athens (11-0) at Bellevue (12-0) – The Broncos finished three games ahead of Athens a year ago to win the Southern Central Athletic Association West. The margin looks to be closer this time regardless of which team wins the title. Bellevue’s wins are all by double digits, and Athens has 10 victories by 10 or more. 

Friday – Redford Thurston (7-4) at Redford Union (8-4) – They’re tied atop the Western Wayne Athletic Conference standings after Thurston won by eight in their first meeting in early December but fell Friday to Dearborn Heights Crestwood. 

Saturday – Benton Harbor (11-0) vs. Detroit Edison (7-4) at North Farmington – The headliner of the Prep Ball Classic showcases a matchup of reigning champs, Benton Harbor in Class B (as noted above) and last season’s Class C winner Edison.

Saturday – Detroit U-D Jesuit (9-2) at Flint Beecher (11-1) – Beecher just suffered its only loss (see above), and Division 1 Jesuit’s defeats have been pretty strong as well to Division 2 contender New Haven and Chicago power Morgan Park. 

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: Gwinn's Tucker Taylor (32) – who needs four points to reach 1,000 for his career – considers his options last week while Ishpeming's Darius Yohe (22) defends. (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.)