Tri-unity Christian Back on Top As Titus Leads Overtime Surge

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 26, 2022

EAST LANSING – The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team fell short last season in its bid to add another state championship to its storied history.

Senior point guard Brady Titus wasn’t about to let history repeat itself.

Titus scored a game-high 33 points to propel the Defenders to a thrilling 56-45 overtime win over Ewen-Trout Creek in Saturday’s Division 4 Final at the Breslin Center. 

“There was so much motivation, just coming up short last year,” Titus said. “Just knowing that we lost to a team that we could’ve beat really carried on into this year, and there’s a great sense of relief knowing that we really did this as a team.

“I’m more than thankful, and it’s hard to describe how I feel right now other than a lot of excitement.”

The Defenders (20-6) lost to Detroit Douglass a year ago, 46-41, but gained redemption by outscoring the Panthers 13-2 in overtime Saturday.

Tri-unity Christian/Ewen-Trout Creek basketballTri-unity captured its fifth Final, but first since 2011 under longtime coach Mark Keeler, who watched his team struggle in the second quarter after a strong start.

The Defenders led 16-11 after the first quarter, but Ewen-Trout Creek opened the second with an 11-1 surge to snare a 22-17 lead.

The Defenders countered with a 6-0 run to hold a slim 23-22 advantage, but Ewen-Trout Creek ended the half with seven straight points.

A 3-pointer from Eric Abramson at the buzzer gave the Panthers a 30-23 lead at the half.

“I was proud of my guys because we didn’t quit or get discouraged after that buzzer 3-pointer at the end of the first half,” said Keeler, who was appearing in his 10th Final. “Ewen-Trout Creek was gutty and tough, and they dominated the boards in the first half.”

Titus, who will play in college at Indiana Tech, scored 23 of his points in the second half and overtime after being held to 10 points in the first half.

He was poked in the eye inadvertently early in the third quarter, and it fueled his play.

“It was an accident for sure, but me being the person I am I took it personally,” Titus said. “That really fired me up to just go out there and play and compete.”

Titus stepped up several times when his team needed him during the second-half rally.

His driving lay-up with 33 seconds left knotted the score at 43-43 and sent the game to overtime after the Defenders got a defensive stop in the closing seconds.

Tri-unity Christian basketball“He does it so often,” Keeler said of Titus’ heroics. “He’s just an amazing young man, and he made plays for us.”  

Tri-unity turned to its defense in overtime to help secure the win. 

Sophomore Owen Rosendall, who made three 3-pointers and finished with nine points, had a steal and took a defensive charge, while junior center Hanif James had a huge blocked shot with the Defenders clinging to a 47-45 lead in the final minute. He then scored inside on an assist from Titus.

“I don’t really go for blocks because I try to keep my hands up as straight as possible,” said James, who had seven points and seven rebounds. “If I see it, I go for it, and then Brady has great vision and I know he’ll find me when I’m open.”

Ewen-Trout Creek (22-3) was playing for its first Finals title since 1972.

The Panthers also finished Class D runner-up in 1982, losing to Covert 105-94.

“Overtime losses are always tough, but an overtime loss in a state championship game is something else,” Ewen-Trout Creek coach Brad Besonen said. “The fight and the grind these guys bring to the court every night showed tonight in front of a big audience on a big stage in one of the biggest games we can have as a high school team. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.” 

Jaden Borseth finished with 16 points and eight rebounds to lead the Panthers, while Brendan Polkky had 14 points and Abramson added 12.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Tri-unity’s Hanif James (34) gets a hand on a shot attempt by Ewen-Trout Creek’s Jaden Borseth. (Middle) The Defenders’ Ethan Eerdmans (10) works to get past Ewen-Trout Creek’s Jonah Nordine. (Below) Tri-unity coach Mark Keeler raises the championship trophy toward his team Saturday. (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.)