Schoolcraft Completes Breslin Return This Time as D3's Best

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 26, 2022

EAST LANSING – Last season, the Schoolcraft boys basketball team came close to reaching its ultimate goal.

A year later, the Eagles were motivated to take that next step and complete what they started. 

Schoolcraft defeated overall top seed Menominee 59-49 on Saturday in the Division 3 Final at Breslin Center.

The Eagles (25-2) won the program’s first Finals title since claiming Class C in 2011.

Schoolcraft advanced to the Semifinals last year and lost to Iron Mountain in overtime.

“Last year it was really cool for us to get here, but we wanted more,” said senior Ty Rykse, who helped lead Schoolcraft with 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Schoolcraft/Menominee basketball“We came into practice wanting more, and we didn't just expect to show up here and be satisfied with a great season. We wanted to win it.”

Rykse’s younger brother, sophomore Shane Rykse, also contributed sizably with 15 points as the Eagles held off a late run by the Maroons. 

“We had a chip on our shoulder since Day 1, and especially against Flint Beecher (in Thursday’s Semifinal win),” Shane Rykse said. “We were counted out from the start, but we found a way to get it done.”

Ty Rykse had nine of the team’s first 15 points.

The Eagles got off to a hot start and shot a torrid 72 percent (8-of-11) from the field in the first quarter en route to a double-digit advantage (20-10).

The Maroons trimmed the deficit to 24-18 in the second quarter. However, Schoolcraft’s Eli DeVisser scored on a nifty pass from Ty Rykse during the final 30 seconds to push the lead back to 31-20 at the half. 

Shane Rykse helped extend the lead late in the third quarter. A driving scoop lay-up with the left hand and an ensuing 3-pointer gave the Eagles their biggest lead of the game at 46-28.

“They are a great tandem,” Schoolcraft coach Randy Small said of the Rykse brothers. “Ty’s leadership is phenomenal, and it was very important for him to treat his brother like a teammate.”

Eli DeVisser also finished in double figures with 14 points, while senior Tyler DeGroote had a game-high 12 rebounds and seven points. 

The Eagles outrebounded the Maroons 40-25 and shot 47 percent for the game, including 50 percent (6-of-12) from behind the 3-point line.

“I thought our preparation was pretty good, and I think overall we did a pretty decent job,” Small said. “We rebounded the ball better in the second half and we continued to shoot the ball well, so I was proud of that. We hit our open shots for the most part, and it's special to get here two years in a row."

Schoolcraft/Menominee basketballThe Maroons got to within 53-45 with less than two minutes remaining, but couldn't get any closer.

“I thought we fought our hearts out, and we played hard until the end,” Menominee coach Sam Larson said. “Probably a little bit too much size and physicality at different parts of the game, and we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well tonight. We picked a poor time to have an off night, especially from the free throw line.”

Menominee (23-4), in search of its first Finals championship since 1967 in Class B, will graduate five senior starters who helped resurrect the program from a point where the varsity went 4-17 just three years ago.

“What these guys have done has changed the program,” Larson said. “They have made basketball relevant again, and you couldn’t get these seniors out of the gym. They love basketball, they love each other and they would do anything for this program.”

Seniors Brady Schultz and Aidan Bellisle led Menominee with 19 and 14 points, respectively.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Schoolcraft’s Tyler DeGroote (24) and his teammates celebrate at the final buzzer of their Division 3 championship win Saturday. (Middle) Shane Rykse (10) cuts between a pair of Menominee defenders. (Below) Schoolcraft’s Ty Rykse (33) gets up court as Menominee’s Brady Schultz (24) follows. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)