Film Fills In Picture of 'Fennville Flash'

December 28, 2017

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 peschstats@comcast.net 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.

Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

March 25, 2023

EAST LANSING – One team was going to end a long championship drought in Saturday’s boys basketball Division 2 Final.

Ferndale’s was especially lengthy, and spanned more than five decades.

And now it is no longer.

The Eagles won their first Finals championship in 57 years with a 44-38 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian at Breslin Center.

Ferndale had last won a state title in 1966.

“The drought is over,” Eagles coach Juan Rickman said. “That’s big time, and the biggest part about making it down here was seeing how charged up the community was and the school was so charged up. It’s the greatest feeling to see how vested our community was in our success.”

Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim.Ferndale senior Christopher Williams led the way with 16 points and four rebounds.

“It feels great,” Williams said. “Especially since the past four years we’ve been to the same place and lost twice in a row to the same team, and now it feels like weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“We started off the season 1-5, and going till now we knew if we stayed together through adversity then we could do it. And it made it more impactful that it was our coach’s first state title, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Added senior point guard Cameron Reed, who had a game-high seven assists: “It’s incredibly special. I wasn't born back then, my teammates weren’t born and my coaches weren’t born. It definitely rejuvenated the whole city and community.”

Ferndale led 8-4 at the end of the first quarter, and both teams shot poorly in the first half. The Eagles connected on a paltry 24 percent from the field, and South Christian on 35 percent of its attempts. Nate Brinks drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sailors a 16-14 halftime lead. 

Junior guard Jake Vermaas opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it 19-14, but Ferndale made a charge.

The Eagles sliced the deficit to one (25-24) on a 3-pointer by Trenton Ruth, and Cameron Reed tied it at 28-28 with an acrobatic layup.

“Our team was mentally strong, and I’m so proud of them for their accomplishment,” Rickman said. “Just so committed to the process and just being resilient.”

Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.An 8-2 spurt by Ferndale over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter made it 36-30.

“That was extremely important, and we always want to win the first four minutes,” Rickman said. “And we tried to open up the fourth quarter with what we call a kill; we want to get five straight stops and score on two or three of those possessions so we can build a lead. We did that fairly well against a good team.”

South Christian was attempting to win football and basketball Finals championships during the same school year, and was looking for its first basketball title since 2005.

“It was a really hard-fought game and I thought we played at our speed, but it got away from us a little bit,” first-year Sailors coach Taylor Johnson said.

“But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year. We’ve been through it all, including three season-ending injuries, and to still make it to the state finals is an incredible feat.”

Senior Jacob DeHaan and Vermaas led the Sailors with 14 points apiece, while senior Sam Medendorp added seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale raises the Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim. (Below) Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.