EAST LANSING - The chants from the Menominee student section said it all during the final minute of the first Division 3 Boys Basketball Semifinal on Thursday at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.
“U.P. power! U.P power!”
Indeed, Menominee represented the Upper Peninsula loud and proud, taking a big early lead, withstanding a furious second-half rally, and then pulling away late for a 74-56 win over Ecorse.
Menominee advanced to its first MHSAA Finals championship game since it won the Class B crown in 1967.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said Menominee senior Brady Schultz.
It was a balanced effort for Menominee, led by Schultz, who had a game-high 26 points to go along with seven rebounds.
Senior Cooper Conway had 18 points and nine rebounds, senior Aidan Bellisle had 12 points and 10 assists and senior Brady Badker added 10 points for Menominee (23-3).
The Maroons showcased their ability to handle what a quick Ecorse team threw at them, displaying their length, ball movement and athleticism.
“That’s been something that’s been our trait and our characteristic all season long,” Menominee coach Sam Larson said. “We are fairly long, and we think we are pretty athletic. I know there is probably a difference in athleticism most times when the U.P. teams come down to play Lower Peninsula teams. But we think we match up athletically with most teams in the state in our division.”
Schultz said a game earlier in the season against Milwaukee Bradley Tech helped his team simulate the quickness and defensive pressure Ecorse offered.
“When we handle the pressure well, we get open shots and dump offs,” Schultz said. “Bradley Tech pretty much helped us with that game.”
Ecorse scored the first five points over the opening 1:34 of the game. But Menominee responded with a 12-0 run over the next three minutes and never looked back.
The Maroons held a 19-13 lead going into the second quarter, and with a 7-2 run took a 36-18 lead with 1:56 remaining until halftime.
Menominee ended up taking a 41-23 lead into the locker room at the break, shooting 51.7 percent from the field overall (15 of 29) and making 7 of 14 shots from 3-point range.
The Maroons also forced 12 turnovers during the first half.
Ecorse came out with more urgency in the second half, employing full-court pressure, hitting some shots and getting back in the game.
The Raiders scored almost as many points during the third quarter (22) as they did in the first half, cutting the Menominee lead to 53-45 entering the fourth quarter.
The lead continued to shrink, with Ecorse cutting the Menominee advantage to 57-52 with 6:11 remaining after a deep 3-pointer by junior Kenneth Morrast Jr.
“I thought we got tentative offensively,” Larson said. “We wanted to just pass it around and run the clock, and that’s not where we are at our best. If we get an open shot, we have to go after it.”
However, Menominee held firm for the next few minutes, keeping a 63-56 lead with 2:38 remaining before putting the game away.
Effectively breaking the Ecorse press, getting stops and making free throws, Menominee went on an 11-0 run, punctuated by a Schultz dunk, to take a 74-56 lead with just over 57 seconds remaining.
Ecorse (9-13), which had to forfeit 10 games during the regular season, was playing in its first Semifinal since 1980.
Morrast scored 20 points, and sophomore Dennell Kemp added 15 for the Raiders.
Ecorse coach Gerrod Abram said he was proud of how his team rallied from a big deficit in the first half, but his squad simply ran out of gas.
“We dug a hole for ourselves that we just couldn’t get out of,” Abram said. “But I’m just so very proud of my team and these young men here.”
PHOTOS (Top) Menominee’s Brady Schultz (24) gets his hands on a loose ball during Thursday’s Division 3 Semifinal win over Ecorse. (Middle) The Maroons celebrate advancing to the championship game. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)