BORN: FEBRUARY 24, 1906, MUSKEGON, MI
DIED: OCTOBER 25, 1990, ANN ARBOR, MI
Bennie Oosterbaan, a
gridiron legend at the University of Michigan, was arguably the
finest athlete produced by the Muskegon area. A three time football
All-American at U of M from 1925-27, Bennie, along with Alabama's Don Hutson, was selected by renowned sportswriter Grantland Rice in 1950 as
one of the two ends on his all-time All-American team representing the
first half of the century. A poll by Michigan Alumni and friends in
1979 selected Oosterbaan as U of M's greatest all-time football
player - high praise indeed to be so honored by a school with one of the
nation's greatest gridiron traditions. In 1949, the prestigious Coaches
All-American Board placed Oosterbaan on their 25th anniversary team,
representing the years from 1924-49.
His athletic career at Muskegon High School from 1921-23 was equally illustrious. He was an All-State end in 1922-23, as selected by the Detroit News, and in his junior year (1923) he led the Big Red basketball team to a state championship, resulting in High School All-American honors for himself.
At Michigan, Bennie had the good fortune of joining the varsity football team in Fielding H. Yost's last two years as head coach (1925 & 1926). He also had the good fortune of teaming up with fellow All-American quarterback Benny Friedman and the passing combination of Benny-to-Bennie quickly became a Wolverine legend. In addition to his outstanding football career at Ann Arbor, Oosterbaan also received All-American recognition in basketball and was a star member of the Wolverine baseball squad.
After graduation, Bennie declined offers from professional football and remained on the U of M coaching staff as an assistant in football and basketball. In 1939 he became head coach of the basketball program and, when Fritz Crisler became athletic director in 1948, he was named Wolverine varsity gridiron coach. Oosterbaan's first year at the helm gave Michigan a national collegiate football championship with an undefeated season and, for Bennie, coach of the year honors. He remained head football coach through the 1958 season and finished with a 63-33-4 record and three Big Ten championships.
The Other Oosterbaan
A shrine to his inspiration
The photograph sat
silently on a table at the base of the stairs. A young man
standing alone, dressed in his uniform. In his left hand, a football. Behind him are the old
wooden bleachers of Muskegon High School's Hackley field.
Above the table, a framed print hung on a basement wall. College Coach of the Year, 1948. These were keepsakes belonging to perhaps Muskegon's finest athlete ever - Bennie Oosterbaan.
One might assume that the photograph of the young athlete was of Bennie from his playing days at Muskegon.
Rather, the young man was his brother, Andy.
Bennie was the third son of Muskegon's postmaster, Benjamin Gaylord Oosterbaan, Sr. and his wife, Hattie Guy, the oldest, was 13 years his elder. Andy was in the middle - only four years older than Bennie.
A fine football and basketball player, Andy captained the Muskegon High School basketball team in his junior year. However, in the winter of 1919, Andy injured his knee while playing basketball and was forced from the lineup.
Infection followed Oosterbaan's injury and he was rushed to the hospital by his family. After a four week battle for his life, he slipped away. A streptococcal bacteria infection had set in - easily treated with penicillin today. However, in the winter of 1919, very little could be done to save the young man's life.
It was the second time in less than two years that death had visited the Oosterbaan household. In the fall of 1917, pulmonary tuberculosis took the life of Guy Oosterbaan at the age of 24.
As expected, the passing of the brothers was extremely hard on the Oosterbaan family. Andy's death had made the Oosterbanns leery of allowing Bennie to participate in sports. Although reports noted that the injury could have occurred anywhere, Bennie's mother blamed Andy's participation in basketball.
Fearing another loss, she did not want her youngest son to compete in athletics. But after persistent coaxing, Bennie persuaded his parents to allow him to compete.
Imagine if he hadn't succeeded.
BORN: MAY 17, 1934, MUSKEGON, MI
DIED: APRIL 25, 2014, FORT LAUDERDALE, FL
Muskegon High's Earl Morrall ranks with Bennie Oosterbaan as one
of the area's finest football stars. Finishing his high school career
with a unanimous selection as an All-State quarterback, Earl earned
similar honors at the collegiate level by being selected as an
All-American quarterback in his senior year at Michigan State. He went
on to a remarkable 23-year professional career as an NFL quarterback for
six teams, climaxed by the National Football League's Player of the Year
award in 1968 when he replaced injured Baltimore Colt starter, Johnny Unitas.
Earl won varsity letters in football, basketball and baseball on Big Red teams from 1949 to 1952. In his senior football season (1951), Morrall gained national attention by leading Muskegon to an undefeated season and a state championship, establishing the school's then single season record of 851 yards and 11 touchdowns in the process.
One of the most eagerly recruited prep gridders in the nation, Earl chose to remain near home and enrolled at Michigan State in the fall of 1952. After less-than-spectacular sophomore and junior years, Morrall's talents bloomed fully in his final year (1955) and he was picked for most All-American lists as the nation's premier collegiate quarterback. He ended his college career with a dramatic 17-14 Rose Bowl win over UCLA, MSU's second win in three years at Pasadena over the Bruins.
In the NFL draft of 1956, Earl was picked in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers. By the time he finally retired in 1976 at the age of 42, Morrall had thrown for 20,809 yards and 161 touchdowns for San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York (Giants), Baltimore and Miami. He played on four Super Bowl teams, including winners in Baltimore (1971) and Miami (1972). Besides his NFL MVP season with the 1968 Colts, Morrall came off the bench in the fifth game of the 1972 season for the Miami Dolphins replacing the injured Bob Griese. "Old Bones" guided the Dolphins to 10 straight victories before Griese returned to action in the AFC Championship Game. Miami completed a spectacular undefeated season and Morrall was selected AFC Player of the Year by The Sporting News for his contribution. Although he was a first-string quarterback for much of his career, many regard Morrall as one of the NFL's best-ever back-up quarterbacks - a tribute to his unique ability to deliver under pressure and his dedication to his craft.
Everett “Sonny” Grandelius
BORN: APRIL 16, 1929, MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI
DIED: APRIL 25, 2008, BEVERLY HILLS, MI
Sonny Grandelius was a versatile backfield threat for Muskegon Heights High
School’s successive state champion teams in his junior and senior
years of 1945 and 1946. A quarterback in 1945, Grandelius switched to
fullback in '46 and was a first team All-State selection at that position.
Following graduation, he attended Michigan State University and further demonstrated his athletic versatility, earning a letter in boxing his sophomore year. On the gridiron, he gained 184 yards in the 1950 season opener to establish a Spartan single game rushing mark. Only the 17th player in the history of college football to rush for over 1,000 yards, Grandelius ended his senior season with another MSU record of 1,023 yards on the ground, and All-American honors.
Selected by the New York Giants in the third round of the 1952 NFL draft, he played one season in the professional ranks before returning to Michigan State as an assistant coach under Hugh "Duffy" Daugherty. In 1959, he accepted the head coaching position at the University of Colorado.
He joined the staff of the Philadelphia Eagles as a backfield coach in 1962, before moving to the Detroit Lions for the 1964 season in the same capacity. In 1974, he was selected as the general manager of the Detroit Wheels of the World Football League. Grandelius served as the chairman of the team selection committee for the Cherry Bowl, a college post-season football game hosted at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1984 and 1985.
BORN: FEBRUARY 22, 1923
DIED: DECEMBER 23, 1966, DETROIT, MI
of the 13 founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association,
North Muskegon's Sally Sessions earned her greatest fame as an amateur and
professional golfer, but she was also a gifted athlete in other sports.
Despite her diminutive stature, she was a standout basketball, softball and
tennis player in high school from 1938 to 1940. At age 16, Sally claimed a
state championship in tennis in the novice division.
After graduation from North Muskegon in 1940, she enrolled at the University of Michigan. About this time, with the encouragement of her parents and Muskegon Country Club professional Lee Kosten, Sally began to concentrate on the game of golf and almost overnight became the top female golfer in the Muskegon area. But she continued to participate in tennis and softball. Sally's athletic skills and competitive spirit earned her the rare feat of winning the City of Muskegon tennis and golf championships in the same year (1942) - in fact on the same day. However, golf soon became her primary focus. By the age of 18, she was already a serious contender for the women's state championship, winning the Michigan Jr. Golf Championship in 1941 and finishing among the leaders in 1942. She continued to win numerous tournaments in the West Michigan area during the WWII years and her ranking among the nation's top women golfers rose steadily.
In 1946, she finally prevailed as women's state champion, besting archrival Mary Agnes Wall at the Detroit Country Club in the final round. Her confidence soaring, she entered major national tournaments the following year, including the US Women's Open at Greensboro, NC. Still an amateur, she finished runner-up to Betty Jameson. Soon afterward, she won the Mexican Women's Open against a top field of contenders. In 1947, she made golf headlines by becoming the first woman to break men's par at Pinehurst, NC Country Club with a sizzling 69 in the women's division of the club's Christmas tournament.
Sessions turned professional in January 1948 and joined the small group of women golfers that gave birth to the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Although she failed to win any major LPGA events during her brief pro career, Sally was always a serious contender. She finished in a tie for 10th in the 1948 Women's Open, won by the legendary Babe Didrickson Zaharias. Sally's last important finish on the LPGA tour was a fifth place in the 1949 Tam O'Shanter All-American. Soon afterward, small paydays and the first stages of leukemia forced her to abandon her golfing career. She took a position with the public school system in Detroit, where she remained up to her untimely death at age 43.
BORN: NOVEMBER 27, 1892, CHICAGO, IL
DIED: AUGUST 15, 1985, GRAND HAVEN, MI
Gus Cohrs established a coaching standard at Grand Haven High School that
may never be equaled. His basketball teams were 242-84 (.742) from 1922 to
1939, including seven state championships. In football, the Buccaneers were
51-42 from 1922 to 1933 against a schedule of higher class A schools and
claimed the mythical Class B state crown in 1922 and 1926. He also coached
track and baseball along with his teaching duties during his long tenure
from 1922 to 1958.
Cohrs was a fine all-around athlete at Muskegon High School from 1907 to 1910, where his skills were developed under the great Bob Zuppke. In football, he began as a bruising lineman but was converted to fullback by Coach Zuppke, where he earned all-state honors. He also was varsity center on the Big Red basketball team and was a key member of the track team. After graduation, he remained with the Big Reds as an assistant coach for six years before accepting a head coaching assignment in McKeesport, PA. He returned to Michigan in 1920 to coach at Stambaugh in the Upper Peninsula where he won U.P. championships in both football and basketball. Grand Haven recruited him back to West Michigan in 1922 in a teaching and head-coaching role.
At age 30, he quickly brought Grand Haven a mythical Class B football championship in his first year (1922) and two years later he guided the Bucs to a Class B state basketball title. He almost returned to his alma mater, Muskegon High, in 1925 to replace the late J. Francis Jacks - but chose to remain in Grand Haven (C. Leo Redmond was eventually selected for the Big Red position). His 1931 Buccaneer cage squad made Michigan sports history by becoming the only Class B school to win the state Class A basketball championship.
Oscar E. “Okie” Johnson
BORN: JANUARY 8, 1901, CADILLAC, MI
DIED: OCTOBER 21, 1991, BALDWIN, MI
The only coach in the
history of Michigan high school sports to win at least 200 football games
and 400 basketball games, Oscar E "Okie" Johnson led Muskegon Heights High School to
six mythical Class A grid crowns and three Class A cage titles over his 37
seasons at the Tigers helm.
A three-sport star and captain of the football squad in his senior year at Western State Normal College (today known as Western Michigan University) he coached at Mount Pleasant High School for two years before accepting the Heights position in 1927. Johnson's football coaching debut against his old teammate at Western and future coaching rival, Muskegon High’s C. Leo “Tiny” Redmond, was a total embarrassment, losing 89-0. But within three years Johnson’s Tiger teams became a respected and feared opponent for the Big Reds and handed Redmond four straight defeats from 1932 to 1935. After that, the rivalry became one of the fiercest in Michigan, often with the mythical state championship on the line in this traditional season-ending contest.
The final clash between the two legendary grid mentors took place in 1946, Redmond’s final season, with the Tigers prevailing 7-0. That victory gave Johnson another state championship and evened the record of this great coaching rivalry at 9-9-2. For 10 more seasons, Okie carried on a new Big Red-Tiger rivalry with another former college teammate, Muskegon’s Harry Potter. The posted a 6-4 mark in contests with Muskegon, giving Johnson a 6-4 edge in this personal rivalry. The deterioration of the once-mighty Southwestern Conference diluted the rivalry in Johnson’s final years as coach.
His finest years as a basketball coach were from 1954 to 1957 when his Tiger cagers captured three Class A championships in four years. He officially retired from coaching following the 1963-64 season, but he had one last fling in the fall of 1979, leading the Baldwin Panthers to three football victories during a teacher's strike. His final coaching totals show a 209-106-28 record on the football field and a 408-241 record on the basketball court.
BORN: JUNE 7, 1900, KALAMAZOO, MI
DIED: MARCH 22, 1991, KALAMAZOO, MI
The winningest football coach in the long history of Muskegon High School,
C. Leo Redmond tallied a 156-29-13 gridiron record and six mythical Class A
football state championships in his 22 years of Big Red service. The captain
and starting center of the undefeated Western State football squad of 1922,
he was in later years selected as a member of the school's honorary 15-man
all-time football team.
Following graduation from Western State Normal College (now Western Michigan University), he accepted the Harbor Springs coaching position in 1923, before arriving in Muskegon in 1925. After J. Francis Jacks had coached Muskegon grid teams to three state championships in five years from 1920 to 1924, his untimely death threatened to bring the winning Big Red dynasty to a close.
With limited experience as a head coach, Leo Redmond was an unknown quantity and a surprise choice to replace Jacks.
Redmond quickly proved to be a worthy successor, with a 7-1-2 record in his first season followed by successive state championships in 1926-27-28. His teams, like those under Coach Jacks, were some of the most respected and feared gridiron opponents in the high school ranks of Michigan.
Tiny’s coaching rivalry with former WMU teammate Okie Johnson of the cross-town Muskegon Heights Tigers became an annual classic in the 1930s and 40s with the state championship often determined by the outcome of the season-ending game.
At MHS, he also handled the basketball team, compiling a 179-93 record between 1925 and 1943, including state titles in 1927 and 1937. Redmond was among the first inductees in the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame and also is in the Western Michigan University Sports Hall of Fame. In 1978, a new gymnasium complex at Muskegon was named in honor of Redmond and his long-time coaching colleague and former WMU teammate, Harry Potter.