Breslin Bound: Regional Preview

March 12, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Aside from Detroit Western’s early-week upset of Class A contender East English, the first few days of this season’s District boys basketball tournaments went by mostly as expected.

And then Friday happened.

Brackets were shaken up all over the state during the District championship round – we highlight below five games in particular that popped out most – and a number of Regionals have a much different look than many might have anticipated a week ago.

See below as well for a preview of three Regionals from each Class – powered by MI Student Aid. Host sites are bolded, and matchups shown are for Regional Semifinals. (Click for brackets for every Regional in all four classes.)

Week in Review

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

1. Grand Rapids South Christian 51, Wyoming Godwin Heights 46 – The Sailors won a Class B District Final against a Godwin Heights team that finished 21-2 and had won six straight District titles while making the Breslin Center twice during that time.

2. North Muskegon 37, Kent City 33 – Both were league champions, but Kent City also hadn’t lost a game and finished 21-1 after falling in this Class B District Final.

3. Flint Beecher 62, Flint Hamady 43 – These rivals shared the Genesee Area Conference Red title and Hamady had won the most recent regular-season meeting over the three-time reigning Class C champ.

4. Suttons Bay 45, Frankfort 42 – The Norsemen moved to 11-12 by eliminating a Frankfort team that shared the Northwest Conference championship and was expected to compete for a trip to East Lansing.

5. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 68, Grand Blanc 66 (OT) – The Cavaliers, winners of the Saginaw Valley League, slipped past the Kensington Lakes Activities Association overall champion.

Regionals at a Glance

These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:


Battle Creek Lakeview
Kalamazoo Central (19-2) vs. East Lansing (20-3), Coldwater (19-3) vs. Okemos (19-4)

Always in the mix, Kalamazoo Central quietly has won 15 straight and is eight points from being undefeated this season. The Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East champion gets East Lansing, which has had an unexpected last few weeks with a coaching change but still features Mr. Basketball finalist Brandon Johns. White the Kalamazoo Central/East Lansing game features two teams that have gotten much of the attention, the night’s second game features two league champions – and Okemos swept the Trojans during the regular season to win the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue. Coldwater has won eight straight and claimed the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title.

Grand Rapids Christian (14-9) vs. Muskegon (19-3), Holland West Ottawa (21-2) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (16-7)

Muskegon has run off 14 straight wins to reach a familiar sport for the annual contender, and avenged its earliest loss of this season by downing Grand Haven 50-41 in the District Final. The Big Reds next get reigning Class A runner-up Grand Rapids Christian, which went 3-7 during the second half of the regular season but faced a number of top teams and is capable of continuing this run. West Ottawa handed the Eagles one of their early losses and followed with an Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title – a Regional title this week would be a program first. Forest Hills Northern beat one of the teams that beat West Ottawa – East Kentwood – and will be up for the upset task tonight.

Ann Arbor Skyline (22-0) vs. Howell (14-8), Novi (14-8) vs. White Lake Lakeland (17-5)

Undefeated Skyline continued its perfect run through a competitive District and will play for its second Regional title in five seasons – but with some dangerous potential stoppers coming up. Howell emerged from a 2-6 stretch during the end of the regular season to claim a District title. Novi has been a new team since guard Trendon Hankerson returned from injury, putting together a nine-game winning streak that also include the Kensington Lakes Activities Association tournament title. Lakeland is another team to watch; the Eagles have won nine straight, and not counting two losses to Lakes Valley Conference champ Waterford Mott haven’t fallen to another since Jan. 16.


Dowagiac (16-5) vs. Wayland (10-12), Benton Harbor (22-1) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (19-4)

Benton Harbor, a semifinalist last season, has been among the handful of favorites expected to challenge reigning champ New Haven. The Tigers’ only loss was Feb. 3 to Class A Hazel Park, 77-70. But Unity Christian is a league champ, from the O-K Green, and has won 19 of its last 21 games. On the other side of the bracket, Wayland obviously is a surprise – but upset Wolverine Conference North champ Otsego (19-2) on the way to winning last week’s District. Dowagiac was the only other team to defeat Otsego this season, and the Wolverine Conference South co-champ surely will be eager for the challenge of avenging a 77-43 loss to Benton Harbor from opening night.

Gaylord (Semifinals at Clare/Petoskey)
Alma (18-5) vs. Standish-Sterling (13-9) at Clare, Ludington (17-6) vs. Boyne City (17-6) at Petoskey 

Tonight’s Semifinal at Clare features familiar foes: Alma shared the Tri-Valley Conference Central title and beat Standish-Sterling by 11 in their first meeting before losing the second by a point. Standish-Sterling finished sixth in the league but has won nine of its last 12. At Petoskey, reigning Class B runner-up Ludington has won eight of its last nine games and claimed the Lakes 8 Conference title. Boyne City provides an intriguing next opponent for a few reasons. The Ramblers, runners-up in the Lake Michigan Conference, are in Class B this season after many successful runs in Class C and are back downstate after downing three Upper Peninsula opponents in last week’s District.

Grand Rapids West Catholic
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (20-2) vs. Spring Lake (19-4), Grand Rapids South Christian (16-7) vs. Fremont (17-6)

GRCC is another of the forecasted few expected to give New Haven a run, and the Cougars have done everything to back that up winning the O-K Blue and losing only to West Ottawa and another former Class B contender in Wyoming Godwin Heights. Two league wins came over Spring Lake, which beat GRCC in last season’s Regional championship game. The other side of the bracket features a pair of teams eager to take advantage if GRCC/Spring Lake III turns exhausting. Fremont shared the Central State Activities Association Gold championship, and South Christian has won 12 of its last 14 – beating Grand Rapids Christian along the way and then upsetting Godwin Heights in last week’s District Final.


Houghton Lake
McBain (19-3) vs. Maple City Glen Lake (20-2), Whittemore-Prescott (17-5) vs. Elk Rapids (13-9)

McBain opened this season 13-0 and retained a share of the Highland Conference championship. But the Ramblers most recent loss was Feb. 27, 50-37 to Glen Lake, which should make for an intense opener tonight. The Lakers shared the Northwest Conference championship, their only losses this season to reigning Class D runner-up Buckley. On the other side, Elk Rapids has won six of its last eight games and moved on after falling to Glen Lake in District games the last two seasons. Whittemore-Prescott has an opportunity to stun some unfamiliar foes after finishing second in the North Star League Big Dipper to undefeated Class D contender Hillman. The Cardinals have won 11 of their last 13.

Madison Heights Bishop Foley
Detroit Edison (12-10) vs. Detroit Pershing (12-10), Detroit Loyola (12-11) vs. Madison Heights Madison (18-4)

Records here are deceiving for three teams and even more impressive for the fourth, given the shared circumstances. All four of these teams play in leagues with nearly all larger schools. Edison and Pershing both play in the Detroit Public School League East Division 1 with two Class A and a Class B team – and Edison went on to win the overall PSL tournament championship. Madison won a Macomb Area Conference Bronze as the only league member not in Class B. Loyola is the only non-Class B in the Detroit Catholic League AA, and all of its defeats came to Class A or B opponents. Edison reached the Class C Semifinal last season despite finishing 14-12; this time the Pioneers will have to fend off a Pershing team that won their two meetings during the regular season by nine and seven.

Napoleon (15-7) vs. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (22-0), Hanover-Horton (20-2) vs. Ann Arbor Greenhills (15-4)

A pair of league champions anchor this Regional – St. Mary from the Huron League and Hanover-Horton from the Cascades Conference. The Falcons beat Tri-County Conference champion Ottawa Lake Whiteford in their District Final and are 46-1 over the last two seasons – losing last year only in the Quarterfinal. Up steps Napoleon, fourth in the Cascades this winter, after bouncing back from three losses to end the regular season with three victories last week. Hanover-Horton is riding a 16-game winning streak as it plays for its third Regional title in four seasons. But the Comets must be cautious. Greenhills repeated as a District champion last week, downing three 15-win teams to claim the title.


Battle Creek Harper Creek
Wyoming Potter’s House Christian (18-5) vs. Marcellus Howardsville Christian (18-5), St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (17-6) vs. Bellevue (21-1)

Four league champions will take the court at this site. Potter’s House won the Alliance League handing regular-season and District Final losses to annual Class D contender Wyoming Tri-unity Christian. Howardsville Christian and Lake Michigan Catholic were two of three teams to share the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference White title. They split their regular-season meetings, LMC winning the first by 12 and Howardsville claiming the rematch by seven. But Bellevue is likely the favorite this week. The Broncos won the Southern Central Athletic Association West, and 19 of their wins were by 10 or more points. Their only loss was to SCAA East champ Hillsdale Academy (21-2). 

Flint International Academy (21-2) vs. Kingston (20-3), Fulton (12-11) vs. Bay City All Saints (12-11)

This Regional provides an interesting opportunity for probably the winningest third-place team in the state. Kingston finished third in the North Central Thumb League Stars division as International Academy won the league title and beat Kingston big twice. FIA has won 16 straight. Fulton lost five of its last six to end the regular season but bounced back with three wins last week and eliminated rival Fowler (16-6) in the District Final. All Saints actually rebounded from an 0-5 start against nonleague opponents, including FIA and Kingston, to finish second in the NCTL Stripes. 

Carney-Nadeau (15-7) vs. Ewen-Trout Creek (22-1), Rapid River (19-3) vs. Dollar Bay (23-0)

Rapid River and Carney-Nadeau might be considered favorites in other Regionals, but are stuck as just really strong underdogs hoping to shake up a possible rematch between Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay. Those two met in one of the Upper Peninsula games of the year Feb. 7, a 51-42 win for Dollar Bay at Michigan Tech. But Carney-Nadeau eliminated three-time reigning Class D champ Powers North Central 53-40 in its District Final after falling to the Jets twice during the regular season. Next up is an E-TC team that has won seven of its eight games since the Dollar Bay loss by double digits. Rapid River knocked out a league champion in Munising during its District run, and aside from a pair of losses to Class C Norway is otherwise unbeaten since Jan. 18. Dollar Bay has been more or less unstoppable. The Blue Bolts downed Ontonagon 69-46 in the District Final after squeaking out one and five-point wins over the Gladiators during the regular season. No other opponent has gotten closer than nine.

PHOTO: A Carsonville-Port Sanilac player gets his hand on a shot, but Kingston went on to win last week’s Class D District opener. (Click for more from Varsity Monthly.)

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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.)