Saturday, November 28, 2009

A seat next to a legend...

Life is funny.

As a kid, I spent summer nights falling asleep to the sweet sounds of broadcast team Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey relay the play-by-play fortunes of my beloved Detroit Tigers. A small transistor radio, tucked beneath my pillow captured the signal.

Thirty-five years later, I've spent the best part of two days sharing time with Carey, high atop Ford Field, watching high school kids chase gridiron glory on the field turf below. Our wide-ranging conversations spanned the early days of his career, to his travels in retirement, to the health of his old broadcast partner.

Now 81 years old, Carey's tones and mind are still as sharp as ever. Looking over all-state basketball teams from the 1930's and 40's he recalled the names and antics of many of the state's former all-time greats. Thanks to my proding, he described his career path from Mt. Pleasant to Saginaw to Detroit. Among the memories, he recalled his selection in 1973 by old Tigers' general manager Jim Campbell as Ray Lane's replacement as Ernie's broadcast partner on WJR. Over 150 others had made audition broadcasts in hopes of landing the cherished spot in the booth.

"Campbell's tone, as he said that they had made a choice, led me to believe I wasn't the one," recalled Carey, "then he gave me the news."

For 19 years, Carey traveled with Tiger for WJR, serving as engineer and sidekick on Tiger broadcasts. Suitcases and hotels in American League towns served as home.

As we watched the Division 8 battle between Beal City and Crystal Falls Forest Park, he remembered covering Beal City's run to the state basketball semifinals in 1953 for Mt. Pleasant's WCEN. Soon after he was working in Saginaw.

He spoke of his father, a geography teacher, and reluctant politician. He mentioned his love of travel, acquired as a kid on vacations with his family.

We discussed our love of sports stadiums. As I recalled my trips to major leage ballparks with my sons, I noted our hope to visit Fenway one day. With the joy of a child in his voice, he mentioned his desire to visit Wrigley Field. That one caught me off guard, but of course his travels with the Tigers were before interleague play.

This weekend was his first trip to Ford Field, and it ended with a trip to the press conference following Detroit Catholic Central's victory over Sterling Heights Stevenson.

Heading out, he thanked me for making his visit most enjoyable, then said goodbye to my sons by name. A true gentleman from our greatest generation.

Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine a life that would lead to meetings with such amazing people.

Today, another was added. I'll treasure the time forever.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What's in a Nickname - the best of Michigan Prep Sports

Without sports, who would cheer for Nimrods? Or, for that matter, Martians, Dreadnaughts, River Rats or Devils dressed in red, blue or green?

A total of 764 Michigan high schools sponsor athletics. With the exception of nine schools, all have christ
ened their athletic teams with a nickname, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Some 619 Michigan miles separate the "
Speedboys" and "Speedgirls" of Bessemer from the Kicking Mules" of Temperance Bedford. In between, we find prep teams outfitted in regalia with designs that span the full array of Crayola colors.

At last count 43 variations of "Eagles" soar above the state’s high school athletic fields, while 29
"Panthers" prowl the state’s sidelines. Print and broadcast media carry stories about the 26 individual lineages of "Vikings" that populate this great state.

Within the state’s borders, sports fans might confront
"Maroon Giants" and "Green Dragons."

"Gremlins" attempt to sabotage athletic success, while Swashbuc
kling "Swordsmen" and axe-wielding "Lumberjacks" stand in the way of triumph.

Scanning the landscape we see a wildlife refuge that includes "Bears." "Pumas," "Zebras," and a host of other animals.

Biblical and mythical figures dot the landscape. On any given night, one might find "Cosmos" clashing with "Rocks," or "Comets" battling "Shamrocks."

Nickname trivia has been played by sports fans for many years. Within t
he state, there are 226 possibilities, of which 136 are unique. Of course, these numbers ignore schools that have been shuttered due to consolidation and economics.

In 1986, ESPN’s "Sports America Show" compiled a list of the 10 top nicknames for high school sports teams. Two schools from Michigan landed on the list.

Nearly 20 years later, the nation would come to know the "
Nimrods" of Watersmeet. In 2004, the small school district earned fame and fortune thanks to an appearance in ESPN’s "Without Sports" advertising campaign. Next was a guest appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Instantly sports fans around the globe were clamoring for Nimrod apparel. In 2007, the Sundance Channel arrived to film an eight-episode series entitled "Nimrod Nation". focusing on life in the town.

Geographically located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Ottawa National Forest, Watersmeet began using the Nimrod nickname in 1904. According to biblical accounts in the Old Testament, Nimrod was "a mighty hunter before the Lord." It is said that residents and school officials adopted the name because the forest is prime hunting land for waterfowl, deer, and bear.

The Kingsford Flivvers were the state’s second representative on the list. In 1920, Henry Ford contacted Edward G. Kingsford, a real estate agent and the owner of an Upper Peninsula area Ford dealership, to facilitate the purchase of 313,447 acres of land in the U.P. for Ford Motor Company. The husband of Ford's cousin, Minnie Flaherty, Kingsford completed the deal, and on Dec. 29, 1923, the charter for the newly formed Village of Kingsford was approved. Ford built a world-class facility to manufacture the wooden components for Ford automobiles.

In honor of their association with Ford, Kingsford High School selected "Flivvers," a nickname for a Ford Model T, to serve as the moniker for their athletic teams. The logo, of course, features an illustration of a Tin Lizzy.

ESPN’s original list could have easily been expanded to encompass hundreds of nicknames from across the nation. The state of Michigan itself overflows with unusual or unique nicknames, past and present.

Start with "Martians." At Goodrich High School, students and school officials are often asked, "Why would anyone want to be named after little green men from outer space?"

The 1898 H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds, and the 1938 Orson Wells radio adaptation of the novel did much to popularize the definition of Martians as most people know it. However, Goodrich’s use of the term "Martian" is actually a mythological reference to Mars. The son of Jupiter and Juno, the king and queen of gods, Mars was the god of spring and growth in nature.

Prior to the 1930s, Goodrich athletics were known as the Goodrich Gladiators. At that time, Goodrich was still a farming community and the school system bore the official title of "Goodrich Rural Agricultural Schools" – hence the appropriate selection of "Martians" as a nickname.

Vassar Vulcans also take their name from Jupiter and Juno offspring. Vulcan was the god of destructive fire, and the brother of Mars.

"It’s allowed the student body to be creative when they’ve attended games," notes Dave Bossick, a former sports editor for the Tuscola County Advertiser. "At a Regional girls basketball game a few years ago Vassar played Swan Valley. A handful of students were dressed up as Romans/Vulcans. They had the faux twigs and leaves and togas on...It was very funny and one of the lasting memories I’ll have of watching student cheer groups from Michigan."

Travel to the northern-most expanses of the U.P. for additional examples. Since the basketball season of 1946-47, Houghton High school athletic teams have been known as the "
Gremlins". A creature of folklore, coined during the Second World War, Gremlins are know as mischievous, mysterious and mechanically inclined – an ideal moniker for a prep athletic squad.

"The Calumet High School team nickname has been the '
Copper Kings' since the early 1950s," notes Bob Erkkila, a sports historian from the area. "The school ran an area-wide contest with the ‘Copper Kings’ being selected over such other popular entries as ‘Miners’ and ‘Red Jackets.’ The nickname was in honor of the great copper mining heritage here in our area."

Industry, economic growth and the pride that is associated within a community can play a large role in the selection of a nickname. The city Dearborn was named after Henry Dearborn, an American Revolution General and former Secretary of War under President Thomas Jefferson. However, for many years, the world headquarters of Ford Motor Company and the legacy of the company’s founder, Henry Ford, have cast a huge shadow in the community. The influence of Ford appears in the nicknames of two of the city schools. Dearborn Fordson, nicknamed their teams the "Tractors" – a direct reference to a product manufactured by Ford in the early years of the company. Alumni remember halftime of football games usually included a trip around the field by a 1917 Fordson Tractor.

Dearborn Edsel Ford High School, named after Henry Ford’s only child, opened in the late 1950s. The school is nicknamed the "Thunderbirds," after the Ford personal luxury automobile introduced with great success in 1955.

At a 1939 assembly at Mancelona High School, a suggestion was made that the school should call their football team the "Ironmen." The name was selected to honor the Antrim Iron Works Company, an iron manufacturing plant located about a mile south of town that opened in 1882.

Using the charcoal method to manufacture iron, at one time it was one of the largest employers in northern Michigan. The students backed the proposal with a vote. The Iron Works closed in 1945, and for a short period of time the team took on the nickname "Polar Bears," but according to legend, students rebelled, and the nickname was restored. Today, a bigger-than-life sculpture of an Ironman stands outside the school.

The mineral baths of Mt. Clemens were once world famous. According to period advertisements, the area’s sulphur-rich waters could cure a host of ailments, and over the years the city’s bathhouses attracted a variety of celebrities and sports luminaries including Hollywood stars Clark Gable, Mae West and Eddie Cantor, boxing’s Jack Dempsey and baseball’s Babe Ruth.

According to former athletic director Richard Chapman, the school’s nickname, "Battling Bathers" dates to the 1920s. "It started when we played a Bay City school in football," Chapman was quoted as saying in an Associated Press article in 1974. "They were ranked No. 1 in the State and we weren’t supposed to have a chance, but we lost only 6-0. The Bay City coach said, ‘Those battling bathers put up quite a fight.’ The quote was publicized, and the name stuck."

In 1926, magician and illusionist Harry Blackstone Sr. purchased over 200 acres of land on Angel Island located on Sturgeon Lake near Colon to serve as a retreat from touring during the hot summer months. Ranking behind only Houdini in notoriety, Blackstone and an Australian magician, Percy Abbott, formed the Blackstone Magic Company in 1927. After a disagreement, the business was dissolved, but Abbott stayed on, married a local girl and opened the Abbott Magic Novelty Company. In 1934, Abbott hosted the city’s first magic convention, "Abbott’s Get Together," with 80 magicians visiting. With that, the city of Colon declared itself "Magic Capital of the World." For years, the high school athletic teams have called themselves the "Magi."

Public input is often solicited when selecting a nickname. The Ann Arbor News sponsored an essay contest to find a nickname for the Ann Arbor High in 1936. The first prize of five dollars was awarded to Richard J. Mann, an Ann Arbor High graduate, who was one of six to suggest "Pioneers" to the district. In later years, Mann would serve as president of the Ann Arbor school board.

In the 1940s, poultry farms in the city of Zeeland produced 18 million chicks per year, providing employment for 3,000 workers. Highlighting the city’s status within the industry, Zeeland Public Schools called their prep teams the "Chix."

According to Holly Arens, an athletic administrative assistant at Zeeland West, an attempt to alter the mascot and school colors failed in the late 1970s.

"They wanted to change the mascot to the "Golden Bears," recalled Arens, a student at the time, "because ‘Chix’ was too weird." Students were asked to vote on the proposal, and chose to keep the existing nickname. "They liked having something different," said Arens.

As the new millennium approached, the possibility of change surfaced again. Growth in the area meant that a
second high school would be built. Scheduled to open in August 2002, the community was asked to weigh in on an issue, "What should the nickname and school colors be for the new high school?"

A total of 777 entries came in with a myriad of suggestions, from Chewbakas and Darth Vaders to Power Ducks and Bunny Hoppers. Still, more than 70 percent of the entries suggested they keep "Chix" and the brown and gold school colors.

Five nickname and school color combinations were presented as final candidates at a town meeting. A vote was cast by 6th-12th graders throughout the district. The students stuck with tradition and kept the "Chix" name and color scheme for the newly renamed Zeeland East High School.

Using the same phonic, they chose "Dux" to represent athletics at the new school, Zeeland West. It seems a fitting choice for two schools built right next to each other.

In Michigan we have the "
Blue Streaks" (Ida) and "Thunderbolts" (Mio). Once there was the "Blue Bolts" from Dollar Bay but they changed their nickname to the "Bays" some years back.

We also have "Fighting Bees" (Bath), "Fighting Tigers" (Battle Creek St. Philip), and "Fighting Scots" (Caledonia). Once we had the "Fighting Knights" from Clinton Boysville, but the school lost a battle for survival in the late 1960s.

Of course we have "Fighting Irish" (Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Kalamazoo Hackett, and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep). Those Irish use green as a primary color. Interestingly, "Irish" can also be found at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, however, there is no "Fighting." Their primary uniform color is red.

Like a nickname attached to a friend, the name might be endearing.

Gladwin was nicknamed the "Flying Goshawks" after an aggressive raptor native to the area. The name was shortened many years ago to the "Flying G’s". Their logo incorporates the head of a Goshawk.

Occasionally, a nickname comes from an off-the-cuff remark or even a disparaging comment. A new high school located on the shore of the Huron River in Ann Arbor, built near an old medical waste site, was scheduled to open in 1967. According to some residents, the building would serve students from "the wrong side of town." During construction, students scheduled to transfer to the new school were often referred to as "River Rats" by their classmates.

When Huron High School opened in 1969, plans were in place to use "Hurons" as the sports nickname. But, to the surprise and disappointment of many members of school administration, the transferred students embraced the derogatory remark and wanted to use "River Rats" as their nickname. An attempt by school officials to find an alternative failed, and for several years, Huron operated without an official nickname. In spite of this, local newspapers began referring to Huron teams using variations on the "River Rats" name. Wrestlers were called "Mat Rats". Members of the baseball team were referred to as "Bat Rats". Eventually, school administrators relented, and the name became a symbol of pride.

In at least one instance, inspiration was found in the circumstances surrounding a construction delay. In Detroit, Charles E. Chadsey High School was built to honor the former Detroit Superintendent of Schools from 1912-19. Scheduled to open in time for the start of the 1931-32 school year, delays meant that students began the school year at the adjacent Munger Intermediate School after its classes had been dismissed each day.

On Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1931, the building was finally ready for occupancy. Hence, the athletic teams were christened the "Explorers."

History, of course, can play an important role in the selection process. In some cases, the nickname is unusual, yet completely logical.

John J .Pershing High School in Detroit opened in 1930. Naturally, teams were nicknamed "Doughboys." A West Point graduate, General Pershing led the American Expeditionary Force – the United States Military force commonly known as Doughboys – that were sent to Europe in 1917 when the U.S. entered World War I. In honor of his accomplishments, Pershing was given the highest rank possible for a member of the military, General of the Armies of the United States, following the war.

In Dexter, another important figure from WWI served as inspiration for the team nickname. In 1906, the British Royal Navy introduced a revolutionary battleship to their fleet. The design of the HMS Dreadnought, propelled through the water using steam turbines, featured an innovative "all-big-gun" armament. The advances where adopted by nearly all battleship builders and Dreadnoughts became a generic term used to describe the style of battleship. Dexter High School took on the American spelling, "Dreadnaughts" as the team nickname after WWI as a local manufacturer made parts for the massive ships.

Inspiration can also be found in consolidation of schools into a single larger consortium. When the Iron River, Iron River Bates and Stambaugh schools chose to consolidate into a single district, a need arose for a new nickname and mascot. On Feb. 8, 1968, Brandon Giovanelli, art teacher at Stambaugh High School was given five minutes to design a mascot for the newly consolidated district of West Iron County. He created a "Wykon" - a three-legged mythological creature. The term was coined by Floyd Carlson, a school counselor and Donald MacDonald, a football coach.

Occasionally, nicknames are created by the media, such as Kalamazoo Central’s "Maroon Giants." Former Kalamazoo Gazette sports editor Jerry Hagen began using the term when referring to the school’s athletic teams in the mid-1930s, which were comprised of some students of unusual size for the era.

Of course, nicknames can spur controversy. East Jordan is one of four state schools using a "Red Devil" for a nickname. The district made national news in 1987 as they debated the appropriateness of their chosen nickname in the New York Times. The school board was given a petition with over 200 signatures requesting a new name and team logo. The request was countered by a second petition, prepared by the school’s cheerleaders that contained 500 signatures, asking that no change be made.

Some 40 years previous, the school had changed its nickname from "Crimson Tide" when McCarthy-ism and Communist concerns were at a peak. This time, no change was made.

The original version of this appeared in the MHSAA's 2007 Football State Championships game-day program.

I continue to look for the stories behind the nickname. Feel free to contact me with details on your school's nickname or mascot at

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Willy DeVille

This one really has nothing to do with sports. Today, I learned that one of my favorite musicians has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. That breaks my heart.

I first heard of Willy DeVille from my best friend Jeff. After returning from an extended trip to California, "Muggs" as he later became known among my circle of friends, had been told about the band Mink DeVille by cousins in the Golden State. The band broke about the time that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hit the airwaves.

Now these were the days before e-mail, cell-phones with unlimited minutes and "social networking". Word among 15-year-olds traveled the old-fashioned way, via postcard. Or, in this case, via conversations following Jeff's return home. (The postcard arrived late). Always interested in discovering new music, we engaged in the pursuit often.

Eventually, Jeff tracked down a collection of his music. Back in the day, our music was procured from exotic places called department stores (Zody's, Meijer, J.C. Penny's) and independent music shops like Beerman's Music and Believe in Music. Tunes arrived in the format of the 45 or the LP. For a 15-year-old living on allowance and lawn mowing jobs, birthday, report card and Christmas money, a single purchase could make quite the dent in the wallet.

With such limited resources, an investment in vinyl, combined with the basic design of the media, meant that you gave an artist a chance. LP's were listened to multiple times, from start to finish; 45's were flipped to check out the "B" side. A band that on first listen might not shine often emerged to become a favorite. Top Forty hits that were must-haves sometime faded from our play lists due to over-exposure on radio.

Long-standing favorites emerged from that era that still populate this Pesch household: Petty; Springsteen; Warren Zevon; Elvis Costello; Elton John; Aerosmith; Bowie; Alice Cooper; the Stones; Orbison; Pat Travers.

Jeff's cousin's recommendation of DeVille hit home, and I've followed him ever since. His simple tales of romance reminded me of one of my Dad's favorite bands, The Drifters. Today, those tales still thrill me (and maybe still taint my perception of reality).

(Speaking of The Drifters, I remember repeatedly playing the 45, "I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing" written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich on my inheited RCA player sometime around the fourth grade - look for the single edit!).

Fortunately, the internet arrived, allowing me to track DeVille's output as he fell from favor. "Big in Europe" as the old saying goes, his latest release Pistola, had to be acquired via eBay and "imported" from a reseller Florida.

So I'm sadden to learn that my continuing quest for his music may soon be over.

Check him out.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Catching up

It's been I thought I should jump out here and punch out some updates on the world of sports - as seen through the eyes of yours truly.

Full Disclosure - I'm writing this while listening to UFO's Strangers in The Night. Playing via Rhapsody's Music site. A great chance for the
Pesch Family to preview tunes before purchasing. Relatively inexpensive and quite the handy application for a guy who's brain is creating "Mix Tapes" in his head as he types.

Or, as is the case today, it provides the chance to listen to stuff in the
Pesch collection when I'm too lazy to stroll across the room and dig out the CD. In some cases, I have the exact disc in my collection. In others, as is the case with this UFO disc, I own the original release on vinyl.

Anyway - What a great album. This Caroline Records version includes two extra tracks not found on the vinyl. (Check out the Rock of Ages Blog for some interesting reviews on classic and current releases from the genre.)

I'm not one to download much music. I love liner notes and album artwork, and I'm really not too keen on the idea that my music collection could be wiped out by a lost MP3 player or a hard disk crash. I haven't added that terabyte network backup unit to the household yet, although I'm sure it's coming. Things are getting better now that things are moving toward DRM-free, but right now, those
CDs stored in their jewel cases are wonderful backups in my book.

Like newspapers, I'll miss them when they're gone.

Anyway. Now that the mood is set, on to sports.


I've got to say I never thought I'd see Antoine "The Judge"
Joubert's finals record of 47 points in a state final game topped. Or, as Steve Finamore wrote on his blog, "overruled". Also, never though that I'd see his nickname changed to "Antoine Who".

Congratulations to Keith Appling on one fantastic game. And to Joubert, who's coaching Oakland Community College's basketball team. Izzo lands another one...


Track 3 - Let It Roll - I love this band!


Wishing for speedy recoveries to two of my favorite people. First - my heartfelt condolences go out to Walter Michael who not only broke his hip, but who also saw his incredible streak of trips to the basketball state finals come to an end. A member of The Greatest Generation, Walter has been going to the the finals since 1946. Thank heavens he's alright, and that FSNDetroit carried the games - allowing him to watch. Walter vows to be back in Breslin in 2010. Let's raise a glass to toast him!

Second - I see heart surgery has put Homer's Scott Salow on the sidelines for the season. I had the chance to "chat" with Scott (via e-mail) in the aftermath of Homer national record 75 consecutive baseball wins streak. A great individual . Testing revealed the need for bypass surgery at age 39.

"I blame it on my genes," said
Salow in the Jackson Citizen Patriot earlier this week.

I wish him the best and look forward to seeing him again in the dugout.

Track 10 - Doctor Doctor...
Michael Schenker is "Something Else"!

It's baseball season, and that means I get to watch my oldest son battle it out on the baseball diamond for my alma mater this year. Jamie's playing for Muskegon High School's JV squad and having a grand time. Win or lose, I love interscholastic athletics! Gives the "old man" the chance to dig through the archives and visit some long-buried documents unearthed in the early days of my research career. Did you know Muskegon established the original longest win streak in baseball? Or that it was topped by the team that ended Muskegon's run of 55 straight?

Caught the West Michigan Whitecaps' home opener this year. My kids learned that baseball in April can be a cold affair.

And no, we didn't attempt to devour a 5/3 burger.

I'm awfully glad that the 16-year-old that claimed the honor of eating the first one doesn't live at my place. I couldn't afford to feed him.

One cast-iron stomach stood out among the rest. Steve Landis, 16, of Walker, refused to break concentration amid his pursuit of glory. He continued to cram a fistful into his face during the singing of the national anthem.

As the Kenowa Hills High School student neared the end, he ferociously forked up toppings to become the first Fifth Third Burger challenge winner.

"I wasn't quite sure. Should I be proud of him or not?" said his mom, 43-year-old Barb Landis.

His father, 45-year-old Dick Landis, insisted an empty stomach wasn't the key to his success. He said his son warmed up by eating a hearty breakfast and following that up with a trip to a Chinese buffet for lunch.


What a crime that Melvindale ABT was stripped of the Class C title. First time in MHSAA history that a title has been taken away - although some claim there should have been others. I feel bad for Michael Talley - both of them - and I wonder why the issue of eligibility wasn't uncovered sooner.

Did Lofton Greene have to deal with such challenges during the heyday of River Rouge? The controversy then was related to student counts and Rouge's constant presence in Class B.

I guess it's the price of today's world of charter schools and the school of choice option.

It's said that the logic behind this premise is that competition between schools for a student's dollars would enhance/improve the level of education being provided. Looking at the devastation that it's had on some districts, I question that. In many cases, it has created an opportunity for segregation to thrive. I thought that's what the aftermath of 1954's Brown vs. the Board of Education was supposed to fix.

Track 14 - Too Hot to Handle...appropriate...

That's all I've got for the moment. Time for some breakfast!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Say fairwell to Pontiac's Chiefs.

The story is heartbreaking, and, I'm afraid only a sign of things to come.

In December, the Oakland Press reported the news. Pontiac Central to Close?

Word was a community advisory committee had recommended that Pontiac Central and Pontiac Northern should merge into one at Northern's campus.

While the site name is rather chilling, Lawrence Porter wrote a excellent article on the subject for the World Socialist Web Site. Dr. Brian Yancy, head principal at Central, spoke on the school's history and the impending close.
“Central is the oldest accredited school in the state,” he added. “It was established in 1849 and has the largest alumni association in the state. It is coming up to its 150th anniversary. This is what disheartens people in the community and the surrounding area about Pontiac Central.”

Yancy also commented on other issues, noting that Central had one of the finest marching and concert bands in the country. Students from the school had participated in the statewide contests in robotics.

And he briefly touched on the athletic history at the school.

“The sports program has a history that is unrivaled in the state,” stated Yancy, adding that no other school can claim to have had two Olympic gold medalists, one in track and field and the other in swimming."

He also highlighted the grim reality that the school faced.

“Our poverty levels are so high that we have a ‘school-wide’ lunch program. It is more efficient to say that everybody in the building is in poverty than to try to tease out the small percentages that are left.”

Pontiac Central was truly one of Michigan's finest.

Muskegon band alumni recall the unofficial rivalry the school had with Central when it came time for state competitions.

Track fans may recall Steve Elliott, who owned the state's Class A mile record at 4:08.2; Vivian Fischer, who won the state's Class A shot put event with a 43 3 1/2 toss in 1981; Bill Tipton, who twice hurdled 13.4 for a national prep record. Those with a deep knowledge of the sport, (like my friend Jim Moyes) will recall Russell Cowan, winner of the 100 at the Michigan Agricultural College (now known as Michigan State University) Invitational meet in 1916 and 1917. Worldwide, of course, they should know the name of Central's Olympian, hurdler Hayes Jones, who earned gold in 1964 in Tokyo.

Maxine Joyce "Micki" King earned the gold metal in the three meter springboard diving event in the 1972 Olympics.

Fans may recall Central's football heros: Edward Salter, Claude Daniels, Malta Reihe, Bill Coxen, Charles Brown, Leroy Jackson, Ervin Walker, Jerry Rush, Kelvin Gooding, Eldren Milton, Kahn Powell, Alger Conner, Bob Schnitker, Rich Braun, Jim Engleman, Ed Revis, Neal Peterson, Mike Shorters, Jack Weiss, and Walter Beach.

Other know wrestling coach Steve Szabo and golf's Thomas Deaton.

Basketball fans from around the state may remember Hubert Price, Roy Clark, Sam Baker, Esmo Woods, Willie DeWalt, Hudson Ray, John Bandy, Jesse Evans, Tony Styles, Larry Cole, Tim Marshall, Dennis Threlked, Eli Parker, Thomas McGhee, Jamel Gooding and of course, the Russells - Frank, Walker D. and Campy. Fans of the post-season still talk about the drought that came upon the Chiefs and their coaches Art VanRyzen and Ralph Grubb's come tournament time.

Still others may remember specific games. Back when I was blogging for MLive, I asked readers to send me information on the greatest games that they had ever witnessed. "SClark" delivered this gem.
Greatest Game:
2002 District semifinals -
Pontiac Northern at Pontiac Central.

Central came out on fire led by Lamar Searight and Akeem Price's three-point shooting. The Chiefs had a 15-point lead and looked ready to unseat the defending Class A c

Lester Abram and Derrick Ponder helped Northern fight back. Ponder was all over the floor, stealing the ball, rebounding, sacrificing his body to keep the Huskies' season alive. Mike Morris came off the bench for Northern and nailed a couple of threes.

The end of regulation is hazy as far as the score. I believe Central led 51-49 when Northern guard Dominique Hardiman missed a shot instead of feeding Abram down low. Central rebounded and Price went to the line with about 7 seconds left and a chance to clinch. He made the first, missed the second.

After a timeout, Abram hit the shot of the tournament: a left-wing three-pointer, falling out of b
ounds to tie the game at 52, sending it to overtime. They played two OTs and were still tied!

In the third OT, Northern started to take control. Near the end, they had a 72-69 lead, Central missed, Northern rebounded and threw it down-court to Abram who was wide open with about 15 seconds left. Amazingly, Abram missed the dunk to clinch it! The ball bounded to Central at mid-court, then a wild scramble ensued to try and send it to a fourth OT. Two three-pointers missed with Central getting the rebound each time.

Finally, the Chief's Markese Cole had an open look for three in the left corner, right in front of us. He had to hurry the shot and missed it as the buzzer sounded, giving Northern the 72-69, 3-OT victory. Cole fell back into the stands and just laid there as the Husk
ies celebrated. It was an unforgettable scene and atmosphere. Ponder looked like Kellen Winslow Sr. after the playoff game against the Dolphins.

Northern went on to win their second straight title, but had Central won that game, they could have easily been the 2002 champ.

After that game, I try to catch at least one Northern-Central battle each year.
Personally, I made a visit to Central a few years back for the 2006 Michigan High School Basketball All Star Game. Featuring the likes of Tory Jackson, David Kool, Deshawn Sims, Tajuan Porter, Ramar Smith and Central's own Maurice Abraham, it was a relaxed, fun-loving affair.

The school was one of the modern concrete bunkers, but the gym bled history. The trophy cases, and the walls of the gym highlighted the tradition of the Chiefs.

Like many other urban centers, the district once hosted one public school, and grew to the point that a second was added. Soon the district will return to that original level. Only this time, it will leave behind unused or underused buildings in the wake - additional urban decay in an area that can ill-afford more.

When will we learn there is little to gain from abandoning our cities and their schools, only to build new ones on untapped ground?

We blame those that are left behind for destroying our cities. In reality, it is those that leave that insure those cities will fail.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An old-fashioned small town celebration

"We haven't been together since our 50th reunion,'' said Rollie Dunsmore, who lives near Ida and was a starting guard on the 1948 team.
Ron Montri of the Monroe News slipped in a little information for readers on the Milan reunion that took place at halftime of the team's game with New Boston Huron on February 27th.

Jana Miller of the Milan New-Leader included a photo of the team's five remaining members for readers.

Photo by Hiroshi Onuma

Surviving members of the 1948's MHSAA Class C basketball state titlists: Left to Right: Wayne Tooman, Rolland Dunsmore, Sherman Collins, Dick Trim and Harlan Benjamin.

In addition to re-presenting the trophy, the players were honored by a team banner that now hangs in the Milan High School gymnasium.

The five returning players were also surprised with the creation of a small college scholarship in the 1948 team's name that will be awarded to a single athlete each year.

With center Al Benjamin, forwards Carl Tschirhart and Al Bassett and guards Sherm Collins and Dunsmore at guard, Milan rolled past heavily-favored Saginaw SS Peter and Paul, 45-42.

Montri notes that Benjamin recently died in Tennessee and that Tschirhart also is deceased.

"I feel privileged to be on that team because those guys were good,'' said Dunsmore, who is 77. He was a junior when Milan went 21-0 in 1947-48.
Collins' daughter, Julie Frontera shared some more information from the night.
It was an emotional evening as a few of the guys weren’t in the best of health, but they were all so happy to see each other. There were even three of the original cheerleaders who came!! They have all remained friends throughout the years and there were lots of hugs (and a few teary eyes) all around...

My Mom told me that back in ’48 there wasn’t much to do in Milan at all except rally around the team and this team was capturing the attention of each person. On Friday nights there were lines of cars headed to the high school game or to the opposing team and she said that Milan fans would really support their team!! This was big time for them!!
It's too bad that there aren't more schools out there that take the time to recall their history and put together an evening like this for the old teams.

Only wish I could have been there for this one. I love these old trophies!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

March Madness - on it's way to a basketball court near you.

It won't be long.

The Girl's District Tournament launch March 2, 4 & 6, while the Boy's District Tournament kicks off the week after, March 9, 11, 13.

Digging around the "archives" known as my haphazard filing system, I stumbled upon a Xerox copy (honest - it was made on a Xerox copy machine!) from the earliest days of my high school sports research. Surprising I had the foresight to make the copy, as my sole focus at the time was Muskegon Big Red Football. I had yet to meet Dick Kishpaugh, the gentleman who would ultimately guide me to this hobby.

Anyway - this one, I believe, came from the collection of Gontram Miller. Gont was an old Muskegon football captain, and kept a wonderful scrapbook prepared for him by his mother. Look at the officials working this event - the "Sixth Annual State Championship".

This is now part of a collection of old MHSAA tournament finals programs. The Collection for boys basketball is pretty much complete from 1947 and beyond, but we're on the lookout for anything from 1917 - 1946.

Can you help? Please contact me at While we'd love to have an original for the collection, a "Xerox" or scan of the program would be WONDERFUL!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Milan basketball fans are in for a treat!

Fans of Milan High School basketball are in for a treat next Friday, February 27th. Milan, Michigan that is...

The school counts Charles E. Forsythe, the first director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association among its alumni.

Located about 16 miles south of Ann Arbor, Milan has its own Athletic Hall of Fame. The school shares its name with perhaps the most famous high school in America. (You may have heard the story of the basketball team from Milan, Indiana. If not, I suggest you pick up a DVD copy that tells the tale from Amazon).

On Friday, the Michigan school will pay tribute to their lone state championship basketball team.

On the eve of spring, 1948, the Big Reds of Milan completed an undefeated season by grabbing the state's Class C cage crown. Undefeated is indeed an accomplishment, but it was the final two games of the MHSAA tournament that insured the accomplishments of this group of high school athletes would be remembered over 60 years later.

During Friday's semifinal round at Jenison Fieldhouse that year, Milan rallied for a 36-34 come-from-behind overtime win over Charlevoix. While Al Benjamin led Milan with 14 points, it was forward Carl Tschirhart who emerged the hero. Tschirhart, whose name was not included on the roster of the finals game-day program, scored the game-tying basket, then launched the winning shot with 13 seconds remaining in the extra frame. He finished with nine points.

Bob Carey, who would become a three-sport star at Michigan State then play from 1952-56 in the NFL, led Charlevoix with 11 points. Milan coach Fred Sukup missed the fireworks as he was hospitalized with an acute appendicitis late Thursday.

Saturday's contest pitted Milan against the Midgets from Saginaw SS Peter and Paul. Heavy favorites, Saginaw was riding a 52-game win streak.
"Best played basketball of the night was found in the Milan-SS Peter and Paul game", wrote Goerge S. Alderton, sports editor for the Lansing State Journal. "The teams were evenly matched and they traveled at a dizzy pace all the way. There were 45 fouls called, most of them due to the driving pace."
Lead by center Art McColgan, the state's top scorer, Saginaw opened up an eight point lead early in the second quarter, but the taller Milan squad rallied back to take a 23-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. Battling close to even in the second half, the game was tied at 33, 34 and 37 as the teams began their march to the finish. The driving pace took it's toll as Milan found three starters whistled to the sidelines on fouls including their leading scorer, Sherman Collins.

A basket by Al Benjamin broke a 37-37 tie to give Milan the lead as the game neared it's conclusion. But the Saginaw parochial squad pulled to within a point, 43-42 on a long shot by Francis Kruske with under a minute remaining to play in regulation. According to the United Press report on the game,
In the melee which followed, Tschirhart came up with the ball and let loose a long shot which swished the nets and doomed SS Peter and Paul.
Tschirhart's basket with 15 seconds remaining gave Milan a 45-42 win. Watching from his wheelchair was Coach Sukup. He had been brought to East Lansing by ambulance from an Ann Arbor hospital.

"My forever young and wonderful 79-year-old Dad is flying home from Florida to be here" notes Julie Fontera.

"Dad" is Sherm Collins, who finished with 14 points in the title game.

"He is healthy, active, plays and teaches tennis weekly or more, in Florida and in the summers in Michigan" continues Fontera. "He shoots hoops with the grand kids, is studying bowling books right now for when his knees can’t handle the tennis courts anymore, is an avid historical collector, volunteers and helps out many people and attends every one of his high school reunions and is happily married for 54 years!! What more could you ask for??"


Here's the roster from the 1948 game program - sans Carl Tschirhart. Rich Rezler of the Ann Arbor News tells me those highlighted are expected to attend.

3 – Rodger Sanford
4 – Roland Dunsmore
5 – George Holmes
7 – Dick Trimm
8 – Al Bassett
9 – Sherman Collins
10 – Wayne Tooman
12 – Al Benjamin
13 – Gene Gauntlett
14 – Dave DeTar
26 – John Taylor
28 – Harlan Benjamin

Rich also notes that Friday's opponent is New Boston Huron.

It should be a great night!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Cage Fight with a pair of old Southwestern Conference foes

From a fan's perspective, when it comes to high school basketball, Muskegon Heights is the place to be if you enjoy prep basketball.

The crowd loves their hoops, and they pack the place in support of their Tigers. Led by PA announcer John Mason and a crowd that arrives early, the house rocks. An independent, the Heights bring in some of the state's most talented teams. For first time visitors, it must rank as one of Michigan's most intimidating places to play. The open expanse of their lobby to the gym is lined with trophies, most highlighting the school's achievements in prep basketball. From the rafters hang banners celebrating their success in state tournaments. Come showtime, the place is electric.

It was all on display this past Saturday evening when the Maroon Giants from Kalamazoo Central, ranked No. 3 in Class A, came to town. The Tigerettes even made their first appearance of the season, entertaining the crowd with a dance number during halftime.

Word was the Class B Tigers would have their hands full against the visitors, who feature 6-5 junior forward Devin Oliver and 6-5 senior center Doug Anderson. K-Central ran rampant against Rockford 77-52, and according to Frank Majerle, father of former NBA star Dan, and current Rockford coach Steve, it could have been much worse.

"I doubt Heights will be able to stay with them," said Majerle while watching his grandson, sophomore Ryan Majerle, drop in 21 points against conference rival, Muskegon.
As expected, it was a "March Madness" match-up played out on a chilly February evening at the Heights.

The Tigers, ranked No. 5 in Class B, held their own on the court, leading 33-32 at the half, then jumped out to a 39-32 lead to open the third quarter. Scott DeCamp of the Kalamazoo Gazette was on the scene to capture the festivities as well as the action down on the floor. Sadly, my local paper ran a "From Local Reports" version of the game. (DeCamp, by the way, is the former sports editor of the Grand Haven Tribune, and a Ravenna graduate.)

While Anderson picked up two quick fouls, and landed on the sidelines for much of the first half, Oliver delivered 24 points and 12 rebounds, including 16 before the half, to lead K-Central to a 82-70 win. A 13-4 run late in the third was the difference. Heights hit only 35 percent of their shots from the floor - a credit to Kalamazoo's defense, height and depth. But, with a hot hand and solid free throw shooting, the result certainly could have been different.

DeCamp notes that, with 11 straight wins, the Maroon Giants haven't lost since falling to Detroit Country Day at the end of December. He then quotes senior T.J. Cameron.

"I guess we feel that we can make it all the way to the Breslin (for the state semifinals and finals)," Cameron said. "We feel like that - we can make it to the Breslin."

It was, indeed, a big-time win in a big-time environment for the Maroon Giants against an old Southwestern Conference foe (any of my readers remember the old SWC, Gene Thomas and Bob Quiring, and all those state titles?). They'll need many more come March, when the foes turn into the cream of Class A from Saginaw and Detroit.

Setting sights on Breslin is great, but I hope the Maroon Giants take it one game at a time. I'd love to see them win in Class A. They have made a total of 11 trips to the finals, however their last crown came in 1951. They have made only a single appearance in the title game since then, in 2001.

Stephen Bell, who posts his High School Basketball Bulletin for also has a great write-up on the game. Concerning the Heights,
The game's best dunker wasn't Anderson, who had one, but Heights' 5-9 senior Lemarcus Beckem. He plays more like a 6-5 athlete than a guard. Beckem jumped over two players, one from each team, for a put-back jam. But he did miss two dunk attempts at unfortunate times in the second half. Also for Muskegon Heights, 6-6 junior Julian Plummer is coming into his own and is becoming an impact inside player. He was a man on the glass, and is more agile and athletic than I remember, going out of his space to get the ball. 5-9 Heights senior Ricarri Stimage was typically fearless. He hit some 3s but became a volume shooter unable to finish at a high rate inside. But Stimage had to carry the backcourt workload, because 6-2 senior Sean Davis misplaced his game. He continued to force the issue, with no reward. He may have been suffering from PTSD after Anderson blocked two of his shots, throwing a layup into the bleachers then coming out to get a piece of a three-point attempt.
Stimage finished with 21 points, while Plummer had 12, with 15 rebounds.

I'd also love to see the Tigers at Breslin. They will be a long shot this year, but I would never count them out. At the Heights, the regular season is simply a warm-up for the post season. Fans always expect a long run come tournament time, and rightfully so. The Tigers have been to the finals on 13 occasions. Only River Rouge, with 19 trips to the title game, has more. Along the way, the Heights has won six crowns. Their most title in 1979, while finishing the year as runner-up in 1993, 2003 and 2005.

MHSAA State Basketball Crowns


River Rouge 19
Muskegon Heights 13
Muskegon Western Michigan Christian 12
Flint Northern 11
Kalamazoo Central 11
Detroit East Catholic 10
Detroit Southwestern 10
Saginaw Buena Vista 10
St Joseph 10
Benton Harbor 9
Detroit St. Martin dePorres 9
Saginaw 9
Detroit Pershing 8
Detroitry Day 8
Kalamazoo Christian 8
Bridgman 7
East Grand Rapids 7
Flint Beecher 7
Grand Haven 7
Jackson 7
Lansing Sexton 7
Saginaw Arthur Hill 7
Covert 6
Holland Christian 6
Lansing St. Mary 6
Orchard Lake St. Mary 6
Reed City 6
Saginaw Nouvel 6
Saginaw SS Peter-Paul 6
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 6
Detroit Northern 5
Detroit Northwestern 5
Detroit St. Theresa 5
Grand Rapids South Christian 5
Highland Park 5
Ishpeming 5
Kalamazoo St. Augustine 5
Muskegon 5
Pontiac Central 5
Stevensville 5
Detroit St. Andrew 4
Flint Central 4
Flint Northwestern 4
Grosse Pointe St. Paul 4
Harbor Springs 4
Holly 4
Mt Pleasant 4
Negaunee 4
Niles 4
Saginaw St. Stephen 4
Sturgis 4
Albion 3
Alma 3
Ann Arbor St. Thomas 3
Bath 3
Brimley 3
Buchanan 3
Charlevoix 3
Chassell 3
Crystal Falls Forest Park 3
Dearborn Fordson 3
Detroit All Saints 3
Detroit City 3
Detroit Cooley 3
Detroit Redford 3
Detroit Rogers 3
Detroit Southeastern 3
East Lansing 3
Flint St. Matthew 3
Flint St. Michael 3
Fowler 3
Grand Rapids Covenant Christian 3
Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills 3
Grand Rapids Union 3
Holland 3
Lakeview 3
Maple City Glen Lake 3
Marshall 3
Mt Pleasant Sacred Heart 3
Okemos 3
Shelby 3
Three Oaks River Valley 3
Willow Run 3
Ypsilanti Central 3
Allendale 2
Baraga 2
Bay City All Saints 2
Beal City 2
Berrien Springs 2
Birmingham Brother Rice 2
Britton 2
Cass City 2
Coldwater 2
Dearborn Divine Child 2
Detroit Austin 2
Detroit Catholic Central 2
Detroit Central 2
Detroit Holy Redeemer 2
Detroit Murray-Wright 2
Detroit Renaissance 2
Ecorse 2
Ewen Trout Creek 2
Ferndale 2
Flint Carman-Ainsworth 2
Flint Holy Redeemer 2
Flint Holy Rosary 2
Flint St. Mary 2
Freesoil 2
Grand Rapids Christian 2
Grand Rapids Godwin 2
Grandville Calvin Christian 2
Gwinn 2
Hamtramck 2
Holt 2
Horton 2
Houghton 2
Howell 2
Hudsonville Unity Christian 2
Iron River West Irony 2
Lansing Eastern 2
Lansing Everett 2
Manton 2
Mass 2
Milan 2
Mio AuSable 2
Muskegon St. Joseph 2
Oak Park 2
Pontiac Northern 2
Port Huron 2
Redford Bishop Borgess 2
Romulus 2
Southgate Aquinas 2
St Clair 2
St Ignace 2
Stephenson 2
Traverse City 2
Adrian 1
Algonac 1
Allen Park Baptist 1
Alpena St. Anne 1
Alpena St. Bernard 1
Ann Arbor 1
Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 1
Ann Arbor Pioneer 1
Ann Arbor University High 1
Ashley 1
Auburn Hills Avondale 1
Baldwin 1
Bangor 1
Bark River-Harris 1
Baroda 1
Battle Creek Central 1
Bay City St. James 1
Bellaire 1
Belleville 1
Benton Harbor St. John 1
Benzie Central 1
Boyne City 1
Brethren 1
Brooklyn 1
Byron Center 1
Cadillac 1
Carson City 1
Cassopolis 1
Cedarville 1
Cheboygan 1
Clarksville 1
Coopersville 1
Copemish 1
Corunna 1
Dearborn 1
Decatur 1
DeTour 1
Detroit Cass Tech 1
Detroit Crockett 1
Detroit DeLaSalle 1
Detroit Kettering 1
Detroit Mackenzie 1
Detroit Servite 1
Detroit St. Martin 1
DeWitt 1
Dimondale 1
Dryden 1
Eben Junction-Superior Central 1
Elk Rapids 1
Elkton-Pigeon-Bayport 1
Evart 1
Ewen 1
Farmington 1
Fenton 1
Flint Hamady 1
Flint Powers 1
Fremont 1
Gaylord St. Mary 1
Gobles 1
Grand Blanc 1
Grand Rapids East Christian 1
Grand Rapids Lee 1
Grandville 1
Greenville 1
Grosse Pointe 1
Hamilton 1
Hanover 1
Harper Woods 1
Haslett 1
Highland Park St. Benedict 1
Hillsdale 1
Iron Mountain 1
Jackson St. Mary 1
Kalamazoo Hackett 1
Keego Harbor 1
Kent City 1
Kingsley 1
Lake Linden 1
Lake Odessa Lakewood 1
L'Anse 1
Lansing Catholic Central 1
Lansing Waverly 1
Leland 1
Leroy 1
Ludington 1
Maple Rapids 1
Marine City 1
Marion 1
Marlette 1
Marquette Bishop Baraga 1
Marquette Pierce 1
McBain 1
McBain Christian 1
Menominee 1
Merrill 1
Michigamme 1
Michigan Center 1
Muskegon St. Mary 1
Negaunee St. Paul 1
New Buffalo 1
Newberry 1
Northport 1
Olivet 1
Owosso St. Paul 1
Parma Western 1
Peck 1
Pellston 1
Petoskey 1
Pewamo-Westphalia 1
Pickford 1
Pigeon 1
Portage 1
Portland St. Patrick 1
Powers North Central 1
Redford St. Mary 1
Remus 1
Rock 1
Rockford 1
Roscommon 1
Roseville Eastland 1
Saginaw Carrollton 1
Saginaw Eisenhower 1
Saginaw Lutheran 1
Saginaw St. Mary 1
Sand Creek 1
Scottville Masony Central 1
South Haven 1
Southfield 1
Southfield-Lathrup 1
St Clair Shores Lake Shore 1
St Clair Shores Southlake 1
St Joseph Catholic 1
St Louis 1
Stambaugh 1
Stockbridge 1
Three Oaks 1
Trout Creek 1
Unionville-Sebewaing 1
Vanderbilt 1
Wayland 1
Weidman 1
Whitehall 1
Williamston 1
Wyandotte Smith 1
Zeeland 1