#TBT: 'Fennville Flash' Scores 60

March 12, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

"Jordan shoots. He scores."

This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most incredible feats in MHSAA basketball history. On March 11, 1965, Fennville's Richie Jordan scored 60 points in a Class C Regional Final against Bridgman, a point total that remains an MHSAA Tournament record. 

The 5-foot-7 "Fennville Flash" became Michigan's first inductee into the National Federation of State High School Association's Hall of Fame in 2001. Below is a video compilation or Jordan clips, with audio from that Regional Final, followed by a report from MHSAA historian Ron Pesch written in 2001. 

By Ron Pesch
MHSAA historian

Not long ago, I came across an article written by Hal Schram, the legendary prep journalist for the Detroit Free Press. It was penned during the winter of 1977, and Schram had decided to look back at the history of Michigan high school basketball and pick his top 20 high school players from the past quarter century.

“The Swami” had followed the high school circuit since the 1940s. Schram began with a larger list, paring the roster from 44 to 20. The sportswriter went one step further and decided to single out one member of the squad for the ultimate honor – “the greatest of them all.”

As one would expect, final selections included many of the state's most memorable names: Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Dave DeBusschere, Chet Walker, Spencer Haywood, Ralph Simpson, Rudy Tomjanovich, Campy Russell. Their exploits are legendary, and even the most casual fan of basketball could agree they belong on the list.

However, looking back from the millennium, Schram's choice for state's greatest player is stunning.

“The Swami” himself admitted at the time that his No. 1 pick would surprise many. Hal's top pick never played professionally in either the NBA or ABA. That can be overlooked, as the criteria was simple – the state's greatest prep player. But when I state that Schram's selection played ball at a Class C school, that his teams never advanced to the final rounds of the tournament, and that he stood a mere 5-7½ and weighed only 160 pounds in his prime, most basketball fans shake their heads in disbelief.

But those are only physical attributes. Ask Richie Jordan himself.

Schram's pick as the state's greatest high school ballplayer, Jordan will tell you that it doesn't matter what race, religion or how tall you are. He'll state that anything is possible with imagination and hard work.

Many may dispute Swami's selection, but few will debate Jordan's talents as an all- around athlete. A four-sport star at Fennville High School, he earned 16 letters during his prep career. He is considered by many to be the finest student-athlete ever turned out by the state of Michigan.

The family lived in Bangor when Jordan started school. On the playground one day, Richie wandered over to a high jump pit, where the older kids were practicing their leaps during recess. Much to his delight, he was offered the chance to jump by one of the older kids. The bar was lowered, and Jordan took his shot.

“I easily jumped over the bar and the older kids made comments on how easy I jumped. They kept moving the bar up until it was as high as my head. A crowd started to gather and I cleared the bar. The older kids made me feel real special.”

Before he entered the third grade, the Jordan family moved to Fennville, a small town in west Michigan.

 “Fennville was a wonderful place to grow up, and I have the best of memories,” recalled Jordan. “We had a group of kids who played together and loved each other from the 3rd grade on.”

Like so many kids, he imagined himself duplicating the feats of his idols. Many have similar dreams, but few worked as hard as Richie to achieve them.

By the time he reached high school, Jordan had evolved into a stellar all-around athlete. His drive to excel worked around the clock. Through the years he accumulated new sports heroes and studied their movements in his mind.

“I was at the 1962 finals game where (Saginaw High School's) Ernie Thompson scored 42 points against Benton Harbor. I went home and worked on my double clutch for days after that. I loved all those guys and respected their talent,” said Jordan, “but I wanted to be better than all of them.”

His hard work paid off with stellar athletic performances. An all-state halfback in football in his junior year, Jordan averaged a whopping 35.6 points in 16 basketball contests and was a unanimous first-team all-state selection at guard in the winter of 1963. In the spring he excelled on the baseball diamond and in track and field.

Jordan continued his rigid regime of weightlifting and working out. Word of his athletic exploits trickled out of Fennville.

In the fall of 1964 he rushed for 1,246 yards on 86 carries, and tallied 25 touchdowns, to cap an outstanding gridiron career. His total of 5,132 career rushing yards was tops in the state at that time, and the mark still ranks in the top 10.

Again, he reaped all-state accolades. But the basketball court was where the Jordan legend was defined.

His vertical jump was phenomenal, and he could dunk with both hands. Scouts reported that he was lightning fast and excellently coordinated. Early in 1965, the Kalamazoo Gazette sent a photographer to Fennville to snap photos of Jordan for a feature article on the Black Hawks' upcoming cage contest in Kalamazoo against Hackett High School. Fennville entered the game with a 3-1 mark, the only mar a 95-93 loss to Saugatuck in which Jordan scored 54 points.

The newspaper printed a shot of Richie dunking the basketball, and the image caught the imagination of many. An overflow crowd packed the 2,200-seat Irish Gymnasium to watch the matchup. Jordan and his teammates trounced the favored Irish 99-73, as Richie scorched the nets for 47 points. In April of his senior year he was named prep All-American by Coach  & Athlete magazine, earning the distinction of “smallest” on the squad. “Weep not for him, however,” stated the article, announcing the honor, “as he can dunk the ball, and with his 44.4 season's scoring average, he has scholarship offers from 58 colleges and universities.”

Richie finished out his unbelievable prep career by batting .550 on the baseball field, and by leading his track team to a third-place finish at the state meet.

On May 20, 1965, the city of Fennville honored the prep hero and his teammates for their outstanding athletic careers and their contribution to the community. Jordan spent two years with the Michigan State basketball program, earning a letter in 1967, then walked away from basketball to concentrate on baseball with the Spartans. Following graduation, he landed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but a shoulder injury ended his pursuit of a major league career.

Today, the “Fennville Flash” is known as “Mr. Jordan” by his students at Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota, Fla. A strength and conditioning coach, daily he preaches the merits of weight training and the benefits of hard work to his students.

Married and the father of three, he has enjoyed coaching and watching his children participate and excel in athletics. He cherishes the memories of his youth and the friends he made along the way.

“All my teammates and I felt very special,” said Jordan, now 53, “but we also were very humbled by the admiration we were shown. We all felt an obligation to our community to conduct ourselves in a way that would reflect kindly on our small town.

 I'm still very proud that we all understand that.”

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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 MHSAA.com 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.)