Men's team begins 37th year in Taylor basketball league

Mike Wilkinson joked that he hurt himself just putting on his basketball uniform.

Marty Sheedy called for a substitute – during warm-ups.

On the sidelines, Chuck Suttles laughed, shook hands and greeted players from the other teams and was late getting on the court – something he would never tolerate from the high school players he coaches.

The 2007 Taylor Men’s Basketball League is under way – and the ageless team sponsored by Taylor AC Lounge and Wilk’s Towing is back for its 37th season of action.

Wilkinson, now 57, was only 20 years old and two years removed from John F. Kennedy High School when he started the team with Taylor Center graduates Suttles and Mickey Stevens.

Since joining the Taylor league in 1970, the team has won more than 30 division championships, was runner-up in the 2000 state tournament and became state champion in 1996.

Organizers say that more than 300 players have played for the team. Most have come and gone, but the core group of players remains in tact.

Currently, games are played Monday and Wednesday nights in the gym at the former Taylor Center High School on Wick Road – a place many of them excelled as prep stars.

Today, the average age of the players has climbed to 51 years old. Their 12-man roster usually includes extra players because some of the members live too far to make it every week. The players they go against are often much younger, faster and healthier.

Yet, the reasons they play are universal: They love the game of basketball and they love the camaraderie.

“I do it because of the friendships that have been withstanding throughout the years with all of the guys,” said Suttles, the boys basketball coach at Truman High School. “It’s just something that when winter rolls around, the guys get their shoes on and play. It’s the camaraderie and friendships you establish. It’s been a great relationship: this team and the people that have played on it. This team is an example of the camaraderie, loyalty and love that the game of basketball puts together for you.”

“We’re going to play until we can’t play any more,” said Wilkinson, a lifelong Taylor resident who works at Ford Motor Co. “We’re just basketball players. We’re happy to be playing. If we could only turn the clock back 15 years, we’d be all right.”

Go back even further and you learn that it’s a team of former all-stars.

Wilkinson was most valuable player and earned All-League and All-Area honors at Kennedy, then played at Henry Ford Community College and the Detroit College of Business. For 18 years, he coached basketball at Allen Park High School.

Suttles, who just turned 56, played at Taylor Center and then two years at Central Michigan University. Since 1987, he has coached basketball in the Taylor School District, first at Taylor Center and then at Truman.

Sheedy, the one who joked that he needed a sub in practice, is a Dearborn resident who earned high school All-America honors before graduating from Detroit Holy Redeemer in 1968. He played two years at Alpena Junior College, then a year at Eastern Michigan University. At 58, he is the oldest player on the team.

“Marty is a legend,” Wilkinson said. “He was a high school phenom. He doesn’t even look like a basketball player, but he was something else.”

They all have the heart and desire. Most still take it very seriously.

“At one point, there was never a more serious group of guys,” Suttles said. “Our goal was to be competitive in the season and get ready for the state tournament. It’s the same as the high school season. When the district tournament rolls around, you want to be at the peak of your game. That’s what supersedes everything else: getting to the next big game.

“I tell my players that once you play basketball, it’s something that flows in your veins. It continues to build relationships and open doors. It’s something that does wonderful things for you. It goes beyond time.”

Bert Boyless, who has had a hand in running the Taylor league for about 25 years, enjoys the show.

“They’re still running,” he said. “Some of them still play pretty well for as old as they are.”

Joe Sobocinski was an all-star at Kennedy in the early 1970s, played a year at Henry Ford and coached with Wilkinson at Allen Park. He never lost his great range and, like his teammates, isn’t afraid to shoot from the outside, as evidenced in the team’s opener against Acute Nursing Specialties (ANS) last Wednesday night.

And Roy Szyndlar, a 1970 Romulus High graduate, played four years at Western Michigan University and, at 6-foot-9, can still be a force under the basket.

“My goal was to play when I was 50. Fifty got here pretty darn quick,” said Szyndlar, who is taller than almost all of the golfers at the Southgate Municipal Golf Course, where he is greens superintendent.

Lots of former college players have been in the lineup over the years, including Ben Kelso, who played at Central Michigan University and then the Detroit Pistons; Wilbur McCormack, who played for Dick Vitale at the University of Detroit; and Dennis Sluder, who played at West Carolina State and coaches basketball at Flat Rock High.

Terry Styer, a former Kennedy standout and ex-coach at Baptist Park, used to play for the Taylor AC/Wick’s Towing team. Now he referees the men’s league games.

“I got old,” Styer said. “They didn’t.”

But even much younger players on the opposing teams value the Taylor AC/Wilk’s Towing team for more than just basketball skill.

“Everyone of these guys sets an example,” said Ed Phillips of the ANS team. “They’re all good buddies and friends. They’re good role models for everyone else in the league. Every year, there are 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who come into the league for the first time and they’re cocky. The older guys set the example of how to play the games and how to act like young men.”

Suttles said he enjoys running into players, some of whom played for him years ago and have children of their own.

“Talk about full circle,” he said. “Everything keeps moving. It’s a great and wonderful game, no question.”

For some reason, the team has always been sponsored by a bar: first George’s II (which is now Drinks Saloon), then Rustic Manor, then Twin Kegs, then Club Deano Day, then Lockerroom/No Name Bar and now Taylor AC, along with Wilk’s Towing, which is owned by Wilkinson’s daughter-in-law Brigitte.

After the season opener, which ended in a 109-66 defeat, the players packed their gear and headed to the Taylor AC to have a beer and a burger, replay the game, talk about next week and do whatever else long-time friends and teammates do.

Wilkinson left with a smile on his face. Six years ago, in November 2000, he had triple bypass surgery. A month and a half later, he suited up for his team’s first game of the season and played a minute. In 37 years, he’s missed only “three or four games.”

“We’re just basketball buffs,” Wilkinson said. “We play the game, go to the sponsor’s place, have a good time, talk basketball. It’s special. Now we’re at a point where we don’t want it to end.”

-- Dave Gorgon, The News-Herald Newspapers, January 21, 2007

A Team of All-Stars

Here are brief profiles of the players on the Taylor AC/Wilk’s Towing team competing for the 37th year in the Taylor Men’s Basketball League:

Phil Bohanen: The Detroit native played for Cooley High School prior to his graduation in 1978. At 48, he works with team co-founder Mike Wilkerson at the Ford Motor Co.’s Woodhaven Stamping Plant.

Bob Casanova: A basketball record holder at the old Schafer High School in Southgate, Casanova earned All-League, All-Area and All-State honors. Today, at 47, he is building inspections director in Southgate. His brother, Chuck, coached basketball at Schafer, Southgate, Trenton, Carlson and Wyandotte.

Terry Crump: The Crump family is a basketball family. Terry was All-League and All-Area before his 1979 graduation from Kennedy and, at age 46, currently lives in Brownstown. His son, Aaron, plays at Dearborn Heights Robichaud. His uncle, Vernon Crump, coaches at Robichaud.

Ron Kochan: The 1979 Truman graduate was All-League and All-Area in basketball and then spent 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, playing for teams in the military. A former assistant coach at Kennedy, Kochan is 45 – the youngest player on the team – and works at Ricardo Inc., an engineering firm.

Steve Miller: The 1970 graduate of Dearborn Heights Annapolis played three years at Grand Valley State and coached the girls varsity team at Annapolis for 19 years. Today, at 55, he continues to live in Dearborn Heights and is an elementary school physical education teacher in Lincoln Park.

Al Munroe: He won All-League and All-Area honors at Truman, graduating in 1979. Today, at age 46, he lives in Livonia and works for a fastener company.

Mike Pierson: The 1976 graduate of Taylor Center was All-League and All-Area, then went on to play at Adrian. He has coached with Suttles since 1993 and, at age 48, works for Central Distributing.

Marty Sheedy: At Holy Redeemer, Sheedy won pretty much every honor you could prior to graduating in 1968. He was All-Catholic, All-League, All-City, All-State and even All-America. He played two years at Alpena Junior College and one year at Eastern Michigan University. Sheedy, who turns 58 in March, is the oldest player on the team. He is retired from General Motors and lives in Dearborn. His son, also named Marty, is team manager.

Joe Sobocinski: A 1973 graduate of Kennedy High School, Sobocinski earned All-League and All-Area honors before playing a year at Henry Ford Community College. He coached with Mike Wilkinson for 18 years at Allen Park and also coached at Light and Life Christian School in Taylor. At 51, he is retired from Ford Motor Co.

Mark Steffen: A standout basketball player at Flat Rock High School, Steffen has played in Taylor since 1978, except for the years he lived in California. Now 51, he lives in Wyandotte and works at Office Installation.

Chuck Suttles: The team co-founder was All-League, All-Area and an overall “great player” at Taylor Center prior to graduating in 1968. He played two years at Central Michigan University and has made his mark coaching basketball in the Taylor School District since 1987. He coached at Taylor Center until 1997, when the school closed, and has been at Truman since. Suttles, who turned 56 last week, works for Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corp., a reverse mortgage company.

Roy Szyndlar: An all-star at Romulus High School prior to his graduation in 1970, the 6-foot-9 Szyndlar went on to play four years at Western Michigan University. He joined the Taylor team right out of college. The 55-year-old Belleville native is now greens superintendent at the Southgate Municipal Golf Course.

Mike Wilkinson: The team co-founder was All-League, All-Area and team MVP at Kennedy High School, which inducted him in the Hall of Fame. After his graduation in 1967, he played a year at Henry Ford Community College and a year at Detroit College of Business. He coached at Kennedy for two years and at Allen Park for 18. Now 57, the team’s player-coach works at Ford Motor Co.

-- Dave Gorgon

Members of the Taylor AC/Wilks Towing squad pose for a team photo prior to the start of their 37th season in the Taylor Men's Basketball League. Kneeling are Mark Steffen (left), Joe Sobocinski, Terry Crump, Ron Kochan and manager Marty Sheedy. Standing are Chuck Suttles (left), Roy Szyndlar, Steve Miller, Phil Bohanen, Mike Pierson, Marty Pierson and Mike Wilkinson. Missing were Bob Casanova and Al Munroe.