Rice Comes Home to Whiteford Bench

January 22, 2016

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

John Rice thought he found the perfect match for his two passions in life – fishing and basketball. By day, he could spend hours fishing off the Florida coast. When the afternoon rolled around, he would hit the gymnasium to coach basketball.

“I would have been perfectly satisfied doing that this winter,” Rice said.

That is, until Rice’s seventh-grade granddaughter Emma called.

“It was last March and we were in Florida and she was back home in Ottawa Lake,” Rice recalls. “She calls me up and says, ‘Grandpa, my team has a tournament that we are playing in and I want you to come watch me. And, I want you to coach my team next year.’”

Rice hung up the phone and told his wife, Sandy, they were headed home.

“We packed our stuff and went home,” Rice said. “It was a couple of weeks earlier than we had planned, but we got home in time for her tournament.”

A couple weeks later, after he agreed to become the seventh-grade girls basketball coach at Whiteford for the 2015-16 season, Bobcat varsity boys coach Jim Ross resigned. Athletic Director Nate Gust – who played for Rice when he was coaching at Whiteford in the early 2000s, asked Rice if he was interested in the varsity job. He decided to take it and is back at the helm of the Bobcats this season – 13 after ending his 30-year coaching career at Whiteford.

“Coaching basketball is something I love to do and, health-wise, I think it keeps me young,” said Rice, who celebrated his 70th birthday last summer. “I still love the game. When Emma asked me to coach her team, I couldn’t say no.”

Rice also couldn’t say no to coaching the varsity boys and helping to return the team to prominence. Whiteford went an uncharacteristic 4-17 in 2014-15 but is off to a 6-4 start under Rice.

“It’s a challenge, but I love challenges,” Rice said. “I enjoyed my time at Whiteford before, and I’m enjoying it now.”

This is his second stint as the head coach of Whiteford, having coached the Bobcats from 1974 to 2003, when he amassed 400 wins and collected eight District and eight league championships.

“The big thing was just getting acclimated to the kids here,” said Rice during a break in practice recently. “Being away so long, I was not able to follow these kids as they progressed through junior high or junior varsity basketball. I had to get to know them, and they have to get to know me. They’ve responded well, but we are still getting to know one another.”

Rice grew up in Bladensburg, Ohio, where he was an honorable mention all-state guard in Ohio’s smallest division in 1961. He was a factory worker, then college student who got his first varsity coaching job in 1969 at Dansville (Ohio) High School. He spent two years there, moved on to Mount Vernon Bible College – known now as Mount Vernon Nazarene – before moving north into Michigan.

He made Whiteford his home – especially the gymnasium just off exit 3 of US-23. His Bobcats won their first District title in his third year and their first Tri-County Conference title in his seventh. By the early 1980s, Rice had a Class D powerhouse. His 1981-82 team went 21-2, and he was named the Class D Coach of the Year by The Associated Press. His Bobcats won five league titles and four District crowns alone during the 1980s. He’s also had a good run of coaching all-state players – no fewer than six Bobcats that he coached earned first or second-team all-state honors.

Rice coached the Bobcats through the 2002-03 season, which happened to be the best in school history. Whiteford won its first 23 games, finished 23-1 and ended the season ranked among the top Class C teams in the state. Soon after the season ended, Rice resigned with 410 wins at Whiteford.

“I just felt the time was right for me to step aside and let someone else coach,” Rice said. “It was time. I felt good about what I had accomplished, and I was leaving the program in good shape. It was a good time.”

Just because Rice wasn’t at Whiteford, however, didn’t mean the coaching bug left him. In the dozen seasons since, he’s coached 11 of them. That includes varsity stints at Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Flat Rock and Toledo Bowsher. He’s been the junior varsity head coach at Toledo Woodward, the JV coach at Sylvania Southview and a varsity assistant at Lake Worth Christian in Boynton Beach, Fla., about 45 minutes north of Fort Lauderdale on Florida’s east coast. The only time Rice didn’t coach was one season during which he had back surgery.

“I started the season as an assistant, but decided to focus on my health,” he said. “I went to a specialist and found I needed surgery. Every other year, I’ve coached in some capacity. I’ve coached with a lot of different guys and observed lots of different styles.”

His return to Whiteford has kept him busy. He is officially head coach of both Bobcats middle school girls teams and the varsity boys. Some days, he has practices from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. He also stops by the girls varsity practice when he can, which itself is nothing new. In addition to all of his years with the Bobcats boys program, he coached the Whiteford JV girls for 32 seasons and the varsity girls for three.

“I’ll practice four straight hours some days,” he said. “It’s a tough transition going from seventh-grade girls to varsity boys. You have to adjust your voice.”

In the first half of the season, the Bobcats have beaten arch-rival Summerfield in overtime, beaten Blissfield and have already passed last season’s team win total despite starting the season with just three seniors and a host of underclassmen – including five sophomores – on the roster.

“One of my philosophies has always been to bring up the underclassmen and build the team that way,” Rice said. “It has worked out very well for my teams at Whiteford and at other schools. When the younger kids get experience, it usually pays off in the end.”

He also has continued his typical high-tempo offense with pressing and trapping on defense.

“That’s the type of basketball that I like to play,” he said. “I haven’t changed my philosophy much. You have to adapt from year-to-year, depending on the kids you have, but the philosophy stays the same.”

The middle school girls start games later this month.

“It’s keeping my young again,” he said.

Rice’s return has been welcomed by the community, especially several of his former players who have stopped by the old gym to catch five minutes of the practices they remember so well or to just say hi before a game. A lot of former players have left comments on Facebook, too. Among the players on his roster now are Cody and Jesse Kiefer. During his first stint at Whiteford, Rice coached both the Kiefers’ parents.

“I’m having fun,” Rice said. “I’m comfortable here. I feel back at home. This has energized me.”

Rice by the numbers





Danville (Ohio)




Ottawa Lake Whiteford




Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard




Flat Rock




Toledo Bowsher (Ohio)




Ottawa Lake Whiteford









*Through Jan. 21, 2016

Breslin Bound: 2023-24 Boys Report Week 1

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

December 4, 2023

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.

BMI Student Aidut 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.

“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com.

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).

Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory.

Watch List

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.

Can’t-Miss Contests

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.

MHSAA.com's weekly “Breslin Bound” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

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.)