MHSA(Q&)A: Historian Ron Pesch

April 16, 2012

When we receive a question on the history of MHSAA athletics that we can't answer on the spot, Muskegon's Ron Pesch is the first person we seek out for help.

Pesch took the reins as Michigan's chief high school sports historian during the mid 1990s after the retirement of legendary MHSAA record book originator Dick Kishpaugh and has contributed to various efforts and publications across the state. 

One of his latest projects is the awarding of "retro" Mr. Basketball Awards. The first Hal Schram Mr. Basketball Award was given by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan in 1981 to Lansing Eastern's Sam Vincent. Three seasons ago, BCAM -- with research work by Pesch -- began awarding retro winners for the previous decades beginning with the 1920s. This winter, BCAM honored retro winners from 1922, 1932, 1942, 1952, 1962 and 1972.

Click to read more about those winners and the finalists recognized last month. Also, click for links to the previous retro winners. The retro Mr. Basketball project will last seven more seasons. Pesch explains more below.

How did you come up with rewarding a “Retro” Mr. Basketball?

The project came out of a conversation I had with (BCAM executive director) Tom Hursey at the basketball finals back in '99. Together, we hatched an approach honoring the state's past basketball greats. He let me run with it, while he worked on getting a subcommittee launched to make the selection.

How do you dig up all of this nomination info?

Between votes, I work on digging out the details. My initial target list always begins with all-state teams - if, of course they exist. All-tournament teams for the early years also serve as a starting point -- if they exist. Best I can tell, the Detroit Times, the Free Press and the News have all named all-state squads, at various points, back to about 1935. The Associated Press and UPI came to the game much later - somewhere around the early to mid 1960s. I then work on creating a crosstab on the players selected, noting the "teams" on which they were named (Class A 1st team, Dream Team, Class C 3rd team), and try to find quotes detailing their games. The result is really a reflection of the times and the history of newspaper reporting. 

In early years, we can struggle to uncover a player’s first name, let alone his class in school. And statistical coverage of a player's abilities was very limited. It's simply the way things were back then.  Everyone in town knew King Lewis, or Red Cherry, or Young Jacks. And the final box score only contained points, fouls, substitutions, as they were all you really needed to know about the game.  But by visiting the state library in Lansing, and looking at a cross-section of newspapers, you can usually dig out what you need.

Do you collect from other sources as well?

Another source is high school yearbooks. Some resources have started to emerge online. I also tap into the MHSAA site and make contact with ADs around the state, asking for their assistance on digging out details - especially class in school. Like the current program, only "seniors" are considered for the award.  Mid-year graduates can create a challenge, but the rule currently in place is a player is considered a nominee in the year in which he was last eligible for the state tournament. In other words, if you graduated in January or February of 1943, you would be considered for the 1942 ballot. It appears that a similar approach was used in selecting all-state teams.



High School











1971 A-1  G.

Frank Tanana, Jr. (C)

Detroit Catholic Central









1971 A-1  C

Tom McGill

Flint Northern









1971 A-1  F.

Lindsay Hairston

Detroit Kettering









1971 A-1  F.

Campy Russell

Pontiac Central









That cross-tab table will help establish a list of nominees. A consensus first-team pick is an obvious candidate. When only a single all-state team is available, I'll do what I can to look up all-conference teams or all-area teams from around the state to see who else might be considered. While life after high school is not a considered when trying to pick a winner, a player who emerges as a star in college or in the pros may emerge as a candidate when you see his details in a local paper.

Bios are assembled from the newspaper reports, detailing as much as we can find on high school player's career. I'll tap into a variety of resources including old team histories when available. When needed, I'll toss out request to reporters, old and new, around the state. Local librarians and historians are another wonderful resource.

How does voting work?

Between sessions of the Boys Finals, the committee assembles to hash out a final ballot, and to make a selection. I don't vote, but I may guide the conversation and provide any additional details when needed, reminding members that we're focusing on their high school careers. The process is certainly imperfect.  But the committee approach prevents the process from becoming a popularity contest. These guys have the benefit of watching many of the players play. And, like the current Mr. Basketball program, they sometimes surprise. But that's what makes it fun. And, of course, stirs the pot. It gets people talking about the history of basketball in this state. 

Is there a theme to MHSAA basketball that has remained constant over the years?

For me the greatest thing about the basketball tournament is that it assembles a wide range of folks who want to see players they've heard about in action. And the process, for the most part, hasn't change since the 1920s. While the style of the game has changed, winning a title is much the same as it was back when our great-grandfathers played: You gotta get through the tournament. And only four trophies are awarded.

These guys were the "Magic" of their day.  I'm hoping we never forget that.

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)