By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
To say some of last week’s boys basketball results shook things up around the state might be an understatement.
Contenders in all four classes took defeats as others looked to fill their spots among the elite. Those that made our just-miss list this week included impressive upsets – like East Kentwood over Grand Haven and Ravenna over Whitehall – and the titanic Bridgeport win over Saginaw Swan Valley. But take a look at the games we did note, and more, as we move within four weeks of the start of this season’s MHSAA Tournament.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Clarkston 70, Hazel Park 39 – The reigning Class A champion Wolves are still the team to beat after handing Hazel Park its first loss of the season.
2. Holland West Ottawa 45, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 27 – The most intriguing matchup of the Redhawks Showcase at Grand Rapids Union saw Ottawa-Kent Conference Red leader West Ottawa down the first place team in the Saginaw Valley League.
3. Hazel Park 77, Benton Harbor 70 – Hazel Park rebounded quickly from the Clarkston loss with two wins, including dealing this first defeat to Class B contender Benton Harbor also at Grand Rapids Union.
4. Detroit Henry Ford 76, Detroit Cass Tech 73 (OT) – A Cass Tech win would’ve led to a shared Detroit Public School League West Division 1 championship; instead, Ford finished first alone.
5. Flint Hamady 77, Flint Beecher 71 – The Hawks avenged a one-point loss to their rival from Dec. 19 and now sit with Beecher as the only Genesee Area Conference Red teams with only one league defeat.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (11-2) – The Rangers opened the season with back-to-back losses on consecutive days by a combined three points. Since, they’ve been nearly unstoppable, with Friday’s 54-45 win over East Grand Rapids (9-4) the most recent of solid outings. Forest Hills Central finished perfect over the first half of the O-K White schedule and also earned impressive late December wins over Wyoming Godwin Heights (13-1) and Spring Lake (11-3).
Petoskey (12-1) – The Northmen took a two-game lead in the Big North Conference with a buzzer-beating 51-49 win over Traverse City West on Friday. The only loss was to host Grand Haven at the Buccaneers’ Invitational in late December. With size and experience, Petoskey will be dangerous emerging from the north during tournament time.
Parchment (9-3) – The Panthers can clinch a share of the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red championship with a win over fifth-place Comstock on Friday after surviving back-to-back scares against league foes. They’ll take it after finishing 4-17 overall and sixth in the league only a season ago.
Parma Western (10-3) – The Panthers are back on top of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference after sharing the championship with Marshall a year ago. Last week’s loss to Mason was the team’s first since Dec. 15 – but Western then closed the week Friday by avenging that first defeat with a 51-43 win over league foe Coldwater.
Bath (7-5) – The Bees’ overall record isn’t that impressive, but they’ve won six straight with victories over Pewamo-Westphalia and Fowler over the last two weeks to stir up the Central Michigan Athletic Conference standings. The last loss before the streak came against league leader Laingsburg, which has to be more cautious heading into the rematch Wednesday.
Madison Heights Madison (10-3) – The Eagles clinched the Macomb Area Conference Bronze title last week and added to a seven-game winning streak. Madison should be plenty prepared for Class C teams when the tournament begins coming out of a regular-season schedule featuring mostly bigger teams. The three losses were by a combined six points to Royal Oak Shrine, Class A Berkley and Class B Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard.
Dollar Bay (11-0) – For good reason, undefeated Ewen-Trout Creek has gotten the majority of Upper Peninsula hoops attention this winter. But Dollar Bay shouldn’t be sneaking up on anyone and has a chance to snag some of the spotlight playing the Panthers on Wednesday. Dollar Bay leads the Copper Country division of the Copper Mountain Conference.
Mio (9-3) – The Thunderbolts trail undefeated Hillman and Oscoda in a strong North Star League Big Dipper division that has five teams with at least eight wins. They added to the league’s reputation with a 59-51 defeat last week of Ski Valley Conference leader Johannesburg-Lewiston, which is in Class C. Mio hosts Hillman on Tuesday.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Wayne Memorial (11-3) at Canton (14-0) – Among the most impressive wins of Canton’s perfect start was a 27-pointer over Wayne, which sits second behind the Chiefs in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association Black.
Tuesday – Ewen-Trout Creek (14-0) at Dollar Bay (11-0) – As noted above, this matches two of the most intriguing teams in all of the Upper Peninsula, with the Panthers also a Copper Mountain Conference leader in the Porcupine Mountain division.
Wednesday – Rapid River (9-1) at Powers North Central (9-3) – Not only is North Central chasing only leader Rapid River in the Skyline Central Conference small-schools division, but Rapid River on Dec. 7 ended the Jets’ 84-game winning streak.
Friday – Buckley (9-3) at Maple City Glen Lake (12-1) – Glen Lake holds a narrow lead in the Northwest Conference with one more league game played and won, but Buckley won the first meeting Jan. 9 by 14 points.
Saturday – Muskegon (10-3) at Ypsilanti Community (10-1) – The leader in the O-K Black and the co-leader in the Southeastern Conference White, respectively, should be among Class A teams to watch at tournament time.
PHOTO: Muskegon, here against Muskegon Mona Shores in a 63-49 win on Jan. 26, takes on Ypsilanti Community in one of this week’s most intriguing matchups. (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.)