Kimmerer Sets Sights on Hale Record & More

December 9, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

HALE — Joseph Kimmerer’s heart swelled with excitement as he raced toward the basket on a fast break.

The freshman point guard appeared to be destined to record his first points with the Hale varsity boys basketball team on a layup. Unfortunately for Kimmerer, a hard-charging player from Posen rattled him just enough to cause Kimmerer to lose focus for a split second.

“There was somebody coming up behind me and a lot bigger at the time,” said Kimmerer. “I was scared of that, and I was excited for my first points and just blew it.”

Kimmerer has not had much trouble scoring since that miss. In fact, points have come in abundance over the past three years. He finished with 14 in that first game against Posen, reached the 1,000-point club midway through last season, and with a career total of 1,228 points stands just one 3-pointer from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer — surpassing the record set by Chad Brandt in 1992. His first chance to set the record will come tonight against Rogers City.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” said Kimmerer. “All the hard work and teammates who have helped me along the way. Coaches, family, everybody supporting. It’s going to mean a lot.”

Kimmerer’s dad, Joe, has seen Joseph’s scoring prowess up close as the head coach of the Eagles, getting a sideline perspective on his son’s physical and athletic development from being a 3-point marksman as a 5-foot-9 freshman to the complete offensive package now as a 6-foot-2 senior.

“He was a spot-up shooter,” said Joe. “Didn’t like a lot of contact. Always could make free throws but never got to the line much. Now he is a kid that goes to the rim hard, looks for contact, wants contact, wants to go make that three-point play at the free throw line. He’s also gotten to the point where his athleticism and his strength have caught up to the skills he had.”

Joe Kimmerer also understands the magnitude of what his son has done on the basketball court, having been a 1,000-point scorer during his own playing career for Hale as well as a 25-year coaching veteran for Hale’s boys or girls basketball squads since the late 1990s.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Joe said of his son’s pending school scoring record. “But the accomplishment that I think stands out even beyond that is there has never been a player at our school that has played for four straight league championships. We’re at three in a row now. We’ve got a very good opportunity to put our fourth in the book. That accomplishment might stand out more to me, maybe because I’m the coach. To be able to say you won four league championships. That’s a pretty good honor, and he would be the only one who could say that.”

Indeed, the Eagles have had a good run in Joseph’s first three years on the varsity, winning 17, 13 and 18 games, respectively, while capturing three straight North Star League Little Dipper division titles.

Joseph is young for his grade, having turned only 17 on Oct. 10, but he’s always done things earlier than most. He got his introduction to the gymnasium as a 2-year-old while his dad conducted practice. When he got old enough to start playing, Joseph could be found shooting off to the side of the gym as Hale’s high school teams played nearby. By the time he was in fourth grade, he was on the court at Hale’s practices, getting a chance to compete against much older junior varsity or varsity players.

Joseph was ready to suit up for the varsity squad when he got to high school. Joe thought so too, but he erred on the side of caution, not wanting it to appear that favoritism was the reason his son earned a varsity roster spot. So Joseph started the year on the junior varsity.

“I thought I could (play at the varsity level) the whole time,” said Joseph. “I just had to prove myself at JV and get the call up. I just believed.”

Joseph was dazzling in his two games with the JV as overmatched opponents struggled to guard him, making it even more obvious the Eagles’ varsity could use his services.

“I knew going into that season that we needed a shooter,” said Joe. “Someone who could score for us on a kickout. We went into our first two games of the year, and we proved as a varsity team that we needed somebody like that. At the JV level he was doing things in those games that the rest of the players could look at and say, ‘We really need that.’ I look back and I wish I would’ve pulled him up and had him part of the varsity for those two games also, but it was also kind of a stepping stone for him, too, to show the guys. When he came up he was second on our team in scoring as a freshman in a year that we won the league and Districts. It kind of stated for itself right there.”

Joseph averaged 12.1 points per game as a freshman, then saw that grow to 18.6 points per game as a sophomore and 25.5 per outing last year as his game continued to blossom. He also managed to lead the Eagles in rebounding from his guard position last season with 11.9 per game and is in line to set the school’s career record in that category as well if he pulls down 125 boards this winter. He had 275 last season. Defensively, Kimmerer always draws the opponents’ top player regardless of size.

Scoring, though, is where Joseph has really left his mark. He’s done it in an efficient manner, too. Last year he shot 42 percent from beyond the arc, 53 percent from the field and 88 percent from the foul line.

“He has a possibility of being a 30-point-a-game guy,” said Joe. “It’s not because he’s going to take 35 shots. It’s just going to come because that’s his game. His speed, his size — everything has increased over this past summer. I think the game might come a little easier than it has in the past even.”

With that kind of year Joseph could reach the 2,000-point plateau, a feat reached by only 41 players in state history.

Joseph set a career high with 40 points in a game against Mio last year. However, the Thunderbolts have been a thorn in the Eagles’ side the last two postseasons, including handing Hale a 51-49 loss in last year’s District championship game.

“We split with them both years in the regular season, but once it gets District time it just doesn’t go our way,” said Joseph.

Besides being a stellar basketball player, Joseph is also a model citizen and student. He has a 3.8 grade point average, is part of the National Honor Society and can often be found in the gym mentoring kids in the Little Eagles youth program. It’s just Joseph’s way of giving back to a community that has taken a keen interest in the Eagles boys basketball team.

“We’re packing the gym every night,” said Joe. “People in the community who have no connection to the team are traveling to away games. We’ve got people in the stands at scrimmages, and it’s not just because of him. Our team is strong, and people have kind of latched on. They like the brand of basketball we’re playing. (Joseph) involves everybody in it. Guys who are on that (1,000 point) scoring list are making it back to games. They haven’t been back in the gym in 20 or 25 years or longer and they were at his game because they want to see him do it. I feel that’s going to happen here when we go to Rogers City. ... We’re going to get that group of people who really don’t have a connection, other than they played in the past, were on that list, or like basketball. They’re going to be there because of what we’re doing with three straight league championships, and he’s a big part of that.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016.

PHOTO: Hale’s Joseph Kimmerer poses with the ball he received after scoring his 1,000th career point last season. (Photo courtesy of Sports in Motion.)

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.)