Last remaining link to a championship

Matt DeYoung • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:01 PM

Not many people remember the true glory days of the Grand Haven High School boys basketball program.

That's because it's been more than 75 years since Grand Haven last won a boys basketball state championship.

There is one remaining link to that state title team of 1935. Louis (Louie) Rycenga was a senior on that team. At 95 years old, he's the lone remaining member of the team that won the last of seven state titles from 1924-35.

"The boys haven't won it since then," said Rycenga, who along with his brother Chuck started Rycenga Building Center in the 1940s. "I was on the first team just that one year. We went to Flint for the state finals and played Detroit St. Theresa.

"They had two all-state guys on their team, and we beat them by one point."

Rycenga said Grand Haven's top player was team captain Les Runk. Runk was head scoreless in the championship game until he sank the game-winning shot in the closing moments for a 22-21 Grand Haven victory.

"One of the comments in the paper was that my outstanding defense helped us win the game," Rycenga said proudly.

Rycenga said he doesn't recall the team going by the current nickname, the Buccaneers. Instead, Grand Haven's basketball team was sometimes called the Cohrsmen, after their coach, Gus Cohrs.

The state title was a bit of a surprise in 1935, considering that Grand Haven had to win its final three regular-season games to finish at 8-5. Grand Haven scored non-conference wins over Fremont and Jackson, and league victories over Muskegon Heights, Holland, Benton Harbor and Kalamazoo Central.

Grand Haven lost to Ottawa Hills, Kalamazoo Central, Muskegon Heights, and Muskegon twice.

In the Class B state tournament, Grand Haven caught fire, scoring wins over Hastings, 29-14; Grand Rapids Christian, 28-17; and Greenville, 49-16.

The Havenites, as they were also called, then journeyed to Kalamazoo, where they beat Niles, 27-20.

Grand Haven was an underdog going into the finals against St. Theresa, but the Chorsmen found themselves ahead 20-14 after three quarters of play.

St. Theresa pulled ahead in the closing minute before Runk's game-winning shot.

Other members of the first team were Jim Bitting, Ward Fulsher, Ralph Secory, Douglas Baker and John Maddocks.

Rycenga said he kept in contact with some of the guys from the team over the years, including Baker went on to start a rival business in Baker Lumber.

"As far as I know, they're all gone now," Rycenga said. "I called Les Runk a couple years ago, but he died a year or two ago."

Even at 95, Louie and his brother, Chuck, 91, still make it in to the office every day. Louie's there around 9 a.m., and is typically back home before noon.

His office is littered with photos, awards and other memorabilia dating back to 1924 — a black-and-white photo of his wife, Betty. There are reminders of his time as a Scout leader and a member of Second Reformed Church, along with a lifetime achievement award from the Grand Haven Area Chamber of Commerce.

Rycenga's career actually started after high school when he cut logs and furnished wood for H.J. Dornbos & Bros., which made smoked whitefish in Grand Haven. Dornbos eventually closed its doors, Rycenga said, after several people died across the country from eating their smoked fish.

"So I had to find something else to do," Rycenga said.

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