By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half
We’ve been here before, but not in this way.
The last time was for a retrospective, covering one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring prep careers in Michigan high school history. That time was in print, and included a handful of still images that tried to illustrate the unbelievable.
But this time, the story is in documentary form. It’s woven together from grainy, scratched, faded silent film, a format of capturing memories familiar to thousands of people from generations past, as well as a series of modern-day high-resolution interviews.
Here, the basketball life of the athlete known as the “Fennville Flash” delivers on many levels. Yes, there is a Richie Jordan.
JordanVille, a documentary by John Mooy & Anne Colton, recalls a time when legend spread via word of mouth, newsprint and AM radio.
While it’s hard to comprehend for many today, the exploits of our athletic heroes were formed by “poets in the press box” who sat with pencil and paper, a typewriter, a microphone or a telephone, and described to their audience what they witnessed. On the receiving end, readers and listeners conjured up visualizations based on the facts, phrases and superlatives designed to create an image.
“Traveling left to right on your radio dial” helped listeners feel they were a member of the crowd, seated in the stands, in on the action and a witness to the mayhem. “Packed to the rafters,” reminded fans the importance of what was happening. An exciting game, presented by those with skill, created an event you longed to see. If a broadcast couldn’t be picked up on a transistor or tube radio, the final result might not be known, at the earliest, until the following day’s newspaper arrived.
I’ve told Jordan’s story via the MHSAA before; how he latched on to athletic training, weights and repetition to mold himself into a well-rounded athlete, able to leap to heights unexpected for a kid with a 5-foot-7 frame. The tales of his unfathomable accomplishments slowly leaked beyond the city limits of Fennville into Kalamazoo and greater Southwestern Michigan, then to Detroit. When Detroit Free Press writer Hal Schram relayed Jordan’s feats, the secret traveled across the state and beyond its drawn borders.
From there the legend of Jordan’s accomplishments grew. In Fennville, as in many small towns across the country, the city shut down when a game was played. The Jordan story was so enticing that thousands would travel vast distances to see him play with their own eyes. Today, his single season scoring average of 44.4 points per game during the 1964-65 campaign still remains the top mark in the MHSAA record book.
JordanVille runs just shy of a half hour. Contained within is insight into the athlete that is challenging to relay in print form. Thanks to access to home movies and a series of interviews with Jordan, former teammates, past opponents and his high school coach, the determination, dedication and drive of a kid who wouldn’t let physical size be a deterrent from achievement radiates from the screen. On display is small town America at its finest, and perspective formed over 50+ years.
For Mooy, it completes a filmmaking journey started six years ago. But the story of Jordan, in his eyes, date back to his school days. Mooy first heard about Jordan as a 7th-grader from a math teacher. A second-team all-St. Joseph Valley League selection, Mooy played at Marcellus High School and scrimmaged against Jordan and the Fennville Blackhawks.
He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Everyone wanted to see this kid play,” said Mooy in 2011. “He was the first high school player I saw sign an autograph.
Today, with the interviews complete, and the film ready for viewing, Mooy sees more than just a sports story:
“With the benefit of years now passed, I look at the Rich Jordan story with a new respect. JordanVille created a place that was welcoming no matter who you were, or what color your skin happened to be. It was the 1960s. Rich was growing up Jewish, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and the Vietnam War was on everyone's mind. And in Fennville, Michigan, from 1961 to 1965, the Jordan high school years, there were lessons beyond sports being learned by everyone that would last a lifetime. The Jordan household, under the guidance of (his parents) Tuffy and Sylvia Jordan, is where the story begins."
The film speaks of a time that has departed. Competition for our attention was less focused; phones hung on walls or sat on tabletops, communities were tighter, the training table featured peanut butter and chocolate milk instead of protein powder. A city could easily be renamed for a day.
The film also reminds us that those days were far from perfect.
If all goes as planned, the public will see the finished product come the flip of the calendar. In West Michigan, JordanVille is scheduled to show on New Year’s Day at 6 p.m. on WGVU, and will repeat on WGVU-Life at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 5.
Seek it out, and spread the word, just like in days of old.
Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.
PHOTOS: (Top) Richie Jordan runs Fennville's offense during his thrilling high school career in the 1960s. (Middle) Jordan memorabilia, as captured by Bill Williams.
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)