By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
To Jesse Higgins: Okay Jesse. Here’s the story about Mickey Crowe and Ma Pesch.
It was definitely at SPASH. A year or two ago. The year when SPASH’s basketball team had the Hauser boys and Anderson and went undefeated. You and I have known Bob “Ma” Pesch forever. Ma’s a Stevens Point legend. He ran softball teams and coached hundreds of Point and Plover kids in Little League and grade school basketball. To this day, we run into guys in their 30’s and 40’s who all were coached by Big Ma. Everyone loves Ma Pesch.
I’m not sure if you remember who Mickey Crowe is. Here’s the scoop: Mickey Crowe was a high school basketball legend back in the day. He was a 6’5” long-haired sharpshooter who played high school basketball in the early 1970s at JFK Prep in the tiny village of St. Nazianz in Manitowac County, Wisconsin.
The high school gyms were packed every time he played. Mickey would shoot rainbow jumpers while holding the ball behind his head. His patented shot was impossible to block. The great thing about Crowe was that he was “in range” as soon as he stepped on the court. Many of his jumpers were taken from way past NBA range. Mickey was an awesome talent who always had the fans buzzing.
When his high school career ended in 1975, Mickey Crowe was the state of Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer with 2,724 points. His scoring record stood for over 20 years.
Towards the end of his high school career, Mickey got caught up in drinking and drugs and went into deep depression. He pretty much became a recluse. Many years passed, and then along came my buddy Pete Clark.
Pete is the publisher of KCI Sports Publishing. He published several sports books featuring Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez, Utah’s Urban Meyer, Green Bay Packer CEO Bob Harlan, and the 2004-2005 UW-Stevens Point National Champion basketball team under coach Jack Bennett. Jesse, you worked with Pete’s dad “Jumbo” on the County Board. Well, in 2013, Pete Clark published a beautiful book about Mickey Crowe. It was written by a fine writer in Appleton named Brett Christopherson. The title is “Over and Back”.
Okay. That gives you some background to Ma, Mickey, and Pete. Here’s what happened next. In the winter a year or two ago, Ma called me. Turned out that Ma saw Crowe play in the Sentry Classic against Pacelli back in the ’70s. Mickey Crowe was Ma’s idol. Ma flat-out adores Mickey Crowe — it also happens that Ma had a copy of Pete Clark’s book about Mickey. He heard that Mickey, Brett and Pete were gonna be at a book signing at SPASH.
As an added kicker, Ma also worked with the author Brett Christopherson at Northside IGA many years ago. Bottom line was that they were supposed to be at SPASH on a certain Tuesday to sign the book from 6 to 7.
But there was one big problem. Ma had to scorekeep four rec league games at the Rec Department and couldn’t get away.
That’s where I came in. Ma dropped off the book and asked me to go to the signing and get Mickey to sign the book. No problem. Hadn’t been to SPASH in 20 years. I got there at 4:30. Was the only one there. I noticed that someone was in an office. Went in there and saw a secretary. She was really nice. I told her a few riddles to pass the time. She was totally delightful. The more we chatted, it turned out that she wasn’t a secretary at all. She was the athletic director and her two sons were the stars of the undefeated SPASH team.
At 5:30, I went back into the signing area. There was the head table and a bunch of chairs for the audience. What the hell?
Since I was still the only one there, I sat down at the head table and chilled. Ten minutes later, a lady came in and sat next to me. Then a big guy walked in and sat next to her. They had no idea who I was. I ended up sitting right next to Mickey Crowe himself and his sister!
Then Brett came in. And Pete and his girlfriend. And the place started crowding up. I saw former Pointer star Steve Menzel. Talked a little bit with former Pointer Head Coach Jack Bennett. Local bowling legend Gary “Fingers” Prince shared a few stories. The crowd was reaching about 70 people who were all there to have a moment with a guy who was a scoring machine over 40 years ago.
I had maybe two minutes to talk with Mickey. However, there were a good 10 minutes to talk to his sister. She said, “Do you want Mickey to sign your book?” I said no.
She gave me a crazy look. I said, “Well, I got an idea. This isn’t my book. A friend of mine wanted Mickey to sign it for him, but he can’t be here himself. He’s scoring some basketball games 10 minutes from here.”
She said it was too bad Ma couldn’t be there.
Then I said, “Mickey and Brett are gonna be here until seven. Is there absolutely any way we could all drive over to the Rec and surprise Ma? I got my car parked right outside.”
She said she’d run it by Mickey and get back to me. So I nervously sat there watching Mickey signing all the books and politely talking to everyone. He was awesome, totally down to earth. The hands on the clock behind us kept moving, and I started sweating. I didn’t want to leave there without his signature. Actually, I thought I’d blown it. And I certainly didn’t want to bug them.
Finally, seven o’clock came. Mickey walked over and said, “You’re Shoe, right?” I nodded. He continued, “Well, Pete says he knows you. But we’re not gonna ride in your car to go meet your friend.” My heart sank. Then he said, “Let’s all go in Brett’s car.”
And that’s what we did. Mickey was great on the ride to the Rec. He kept asking, “Who’s this Ma? Did he really eat 11 bratwurst at Milwaukee County Stadium?? Did he coach a hundred kids?”
When we pulled up to the Rec, Crowe said, “You know, I’m kinda excited to meet this guy.”
We walked into the lobby. I peeked inside the gym. Ma was at the scorer’s table. It was halftime — perfect. I walked up to Pesch. First thing he said was, “Did he sign the book?”
I shook my head and explained, “No. It was too crowded.”
He gave a big frown. He started writing in his score-book. Mickey, his sister, and Brett were still in the lobby.
Then Brett walked over. Ma saw him and yelled, “Brett! Long time no see!”
Brett shook his hand and signed the book. saying, “Yeah, Mickey had to go back home. He had something else he had to go to.”
Ma frowned again and started writing in the score-book again. His eyes were focused down on the scorer’s table.
Then Mickey quietly walked into the gym and stood right in front of Ma. Mickey said, “Hey, who’s the guy who ate all them bratwurst?”
Ma looked up and yelled, “Mickey Crowe! My God! My life is now complete!”
Mickey signed the book, had a few laughs with Ma, and they posed for some pictures. Then they gave me a ride back to my car and drove home.
Later that night, Ma called. He said: “I’m STILL shaking over that! Best surprise ever!”
Now they talk on the phone about once a month.
That’s what friends do.