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Longtime coach studies photos, talks about Grand Rapids sports past

GRAND RAPIDS – Bob Schichtel always stops when he comes across an old black-and-white photo long enough to make him think about what happened to two young men in Grand Rapids Union basketball uniforms.

In this posed shot, believed to have been taken four days after the start of World War II with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, two athletes face each other in a local gymnasium. shows where. Today, only a handful of fans can recognize an ultra-short shot of the player’s stripes and a simple sleeveless shirt emblazoned with “Union” on the front as a recognizable basketball uniform. holding and another looking at it. The two players with jersey numbers “4” and “9”, 81 years ago and now, don’t often smile, but they get along like teammates.

In fact, it’s the look that the youngsters share that intrigues Schichtel, whose job it’s a thankless and unpaid task to identify the two players.

“Once you start, it’s like looking down a deep rabbit hole,” said Sichter, a longtime basketball coach at Grand Rapids.

As a volunteer for the Grand Rapids Public Library, Schichtel is trying to identify most of the former Grand Rapids City League basketball players from circa 1938 to their early 50s. Most of the photos online are from the Robinson Photo Studio Collection, taken in collaboration with the Grand Rapids Herald. According to the library, the unique collection spans about 950 basketball-his negatives from the entire Robinson/Herald collection, totaling well over 900,000 Grand Rapids photographs.

The task, which requires detective skill and perseverance, can be daunting, but Sichter describes it as a labor of love. For example, there are still unidentified shots of his two Union players. Sichter sees the photo and can’t help but wonder what happened to his children. Were they extraordinary athletes? Did they leave their mark on the history of Grand Rapids in education, politics, business, industry, the arts, or anything else? He doesn’t even know if he survived a world war.

Schichtel looked everywhere for answers, but fell short. Many times, in fact.

That doesn’t mean he’s stopped looking or decided his research is insignificant. Sichter said the biggest reason he spends hours on the project is because many of the athletes he identifies deserve recognition for achievements well beyond basketball. In many cases, former City League basketball, football, baseball, track and tennis players formed the basis for the construction of Grand Rapids. He said it would be even better if Schichtel could find old photos of these young people from high school.

“It’s important to be aware of Grand Rapids’ sporting history, and I’m not sure we’re paying enough attention to their past,” Sichter said. It’s something I brought in and I firmly believe they need to be recognized for it.”

However, understanding its history has ranged from at least very time-consuming to virtually impossible in many frustrating cases. We had Rapids Central, Creston, South, Union, Ottawa Hills, Catholic Central and Davis Tech. The league was eventually merged into the Ottawa Kent Conference in 2008.

“It’s been a long, evolving league,” Sichter said.

Schichtel identified these 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horn (left) and Chuuk Rainier. There are actually more identification tools available to Schichtel than many people realize. For starters, he has formed an impressive database of information by infusing old City his league almanacs and programs, photographs from other collections, and old newspaper microfilms. And then there’s also the knowledge gleaned by Sichter himself, a 1968 Grand Rapids his Catholic Central graduate. After playing in many of the old City League gymnasiums, Sichter joined the Cougars Girls as his basketball coach.In 27 years he compiled a record of 389 wins and 197 losses. He uses his countless city league contacts as both players and coaches to identify athletes. All in all, Sichter was in the Grand Rapids school system where he taught for 34 years.

He also uses the game itself to identify photos. For example, some photos can be identified just by the style of jersey a player is wearing. He also figures out who is who by other clues, such as what the players are doing in the photo. The start of the jump shot, or what Schichtel calls “rising while shooting”, probably dates from the mid-1940s. Additionally, Schichtel can identify photos through pure basketball athleticism. Players can sometimes look a little clumsy in their 30’s shots compared to his late 1940’s players who started playing with more obvious flare.

Putting all the information together, Schichtel, who revealed more than 20 personal connections to the subject of the photo, thinks it’s likely enough to identify them.

Since joining the project, Schichtel believes he has identified about 10% of the photos he views. City Among his league players is John of Central, who was born in 1890 and became a military hero, Babe played major league baseball during his Ruth days and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Found a shot of Lavan. Creston basketball player Roger Wilkins, Assistant U.S. Attorney General at the Watergate hearings. Art Spoelstra of Godwin, former NBA player and member of the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame. Grand Rapids native Bill Cutler converted his meeting with then-American League Chairman Will his Harwich after World War II to a position as Commissioner of his League of the Pacific Coast.

Sihiter said being informed through photographs of the people who laid the groundwork for Grand Rapids should be celebrated.

“I think it’s a great approach for the community. Let’s not forget them,” said Schichtel. “Who else is going to do this? Why do I? See a certain nobility for lack of a better word. These kids play for their love of the game and they has become the “greatest generation.” These kids have done amazing things.

“You want to know more about them. That’s a real interest to me.”

Schichtel identified the Grand Rapids South High Grand Rapids Public Library’s Tim Groge said the collection of photographs and their identities continues to grow. As more and more people log on to his website at the library, more and more people want to add to their collections or obtain information that could lead to their identification. The library estimates that about 1,200 photos are searched each month. However, over time, many of the original photos have fallen apart. The library is always in a state of preservation, he said, Mr Gloege.

“This is a large project and we are working to make as many photos available online as possible,” he said. “The number[of photos]that we have has increased significantly as people post on social media.

“When you think about the past and the present, you have to recognize that they were kids who used to play basketball and were doing other things. brings a whole new dimension to

For many of the easily identifiable photos, Sichter said, “I chose fruits that are easily available.” But the work continues.

“Yes, it can be frustrating,” he said. “If you want it to be accurate, there are limits. Sometimes you look at a picture and know it’s not going to happen and move on. But this is your chance to learn about the people who built Grand Rapids.” .It’s important.To me.”

Photo (Above) Two Grand Rapids Union basketball players stand for a photograph taken on December 12, 1941. (3) Schichtel identified these his 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horne (left) and Tuck Rainier. (4) Schichtel identified, from left, the “five firefighters” of Grand Rapids South High School: Fred Eslare, Lee Morrow, Jack Carroll, Bob Youngberg, and Bruce Bigford. (Historical photos are Grand Rapids Public Library.)