The final shot of the Class C boys basketball state championship game had been taken, and Flint Beecher’s 6-foot-7 junior Levane Blake soared into the air and registered his third blocked shot of the game, securing the title for Beecher.
A second later the buzzer sounded, and Blake and his teammates hugged and jumped around the Breslin Center court after winning their fourth title in five seasons.
The Buccaneers accepted their championship medals and posed for pictures. A few minutes later, Blake joined coach Mike Williams and some of his teammates in addressing the media, and Blake explained how he was able to block the shot but was worried a whistle-happy ref might call a foul.
From there it was onto a bus and the joyous ride home as championship medals hung around the players’ necks and the trophy made its way around the bus.
I would guess there are thousands of school kids across the state who would have given their eye teeth to trade places with Blake on Saturday, at least until the bus arrived back at Beecher and Blake got home.
You see, Blake lives with his grandparents in the city of Flint, and he hasn’t been able to drink the water at home for months.
“We just use bottled water,” Blake said. “We get so many bottles of water, and that’s just how we have to live.”
The Flint water crisis is ground zero for Blake and many of his teammates.
Beecher High School is located in Mt. Morris Township and does not get its water from the city of Flint, so at least Blake and teammates who do live in Flint can drink out of a school water fountain without worrying about their safety.
But their safety is on their minds when they are at home.
“You have to boil your water,” Blake said. “It’s real tough, real tough. But you’ve got to do it just to stay healthy.”
Blake improved a lot over the course of the season and several college coaches are recruiting him. He already has a Division I scholarship offer from Kent State.
The irony of playing in the beautiful Breslin Center and then going to a home in which he cannot drink the water was not lost on Blake.
And then there are schools willing to pay his way through college, yet he can’t get a drink of water at home.
Blake laughed when asked what he would like to say to state and local officials, elected and unelected, who allowed a third-world problem to his hometown.
“They need to do something about the water real quick,” he said. “It’s tearing people down. Our city’s already messed up, and this is going to tear it down worse.”
Basketball doesn’t seem very important with what is going on in Flint, yet junior Malik Ellison, who lives in the township and can drink the water in his home, said basketball is supremely important to the players who live in Flint.
“It helps us on the court because they get away from everything and all this Flint crisis stuff,” Ellison said. “They just come to the court and they do what they love. It’s different there.”
The Jets streak on
The season ended for Powers North Central the exact same way the previous season ended, with a Class D state championship.
This time, however, it was no laugher. North Central was in a serious battle after Andrew Kline led Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes on a furious comeback to get within four points midway through the fourth quarter.
“Well, they moved the ball really well and they were playing harder than us, to be honest,” North Central junior all-stater Jason Whitens said. “We kind of got lazy, and they came out and wanted to hit us in the mouth. We took their shot, and we’ve been taking shots all year. We just had to take it in and battle back.”
The Jets did just that to record their 55th consecutive victory, tying Saginaw Buena Vista for the fourth-longest streak in state history.
“It’s awesome to finally reach the end of a season and know that you’re the best team in Class D,” Whitens said. “And just with the group of guys that I have, it means even more that the seniors can go out on a high note like last year. That’s my family and it couldn’t mean any more.”
It could mean more come game No. 11 of next season. If the Jets win their first 10 games, they will tie the state record of 65 straight wins, set by Chassell in parts of the 1956-58 seasons.
Although the record is not paramount in his thoughts, finishing next season the way the two most recent seasons ended is.
“Hopefully the same way, right?” Whitens said. “We’re going to work hard, and we’re going to come back better. Every year we’re going to come back better, and I can promise you that. We’re going to work hard to achieve another goal. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Though he will be devoting much of his free time to basketball, Whitens also is on the baseball team. But according to North Central’s basketball coach, Whitens, a rightfielder, is not one of the school’s best baseball players.
“I’m not awful,” Whitens countered. “OK, I’m a good fielder. I just can’t hit the ball, man. I’m more of a golfer. I can golf. But baseball, that ball is coming fast. And then all of sudden a curveball, and you’re reaching for it.
“I wish Coach would get me pitching. I’ve got an arm, I think. I don’t know. I’ll have to talk to him.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.