In Play with Tom Markowski

Flint Beecher basketball is about pride, perseverance and winning

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

Flint Beecher basketball is about pride, perseverance and winning

 

East Lansing – There’s something special about basketball at Flint Beecher. This is not your run-of-the-mill program. It starts in the playgrounds. It’s nurtured at home and in the community, and refined in the school gymnasium.

Beecher (24-2), the defending champions, will make its 11th state final appearance on Saturday when it plays Grandville Calvin Christian (21-4) at the Breslin Center at 4:30 p.m.

Malik Ellison’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Bucs a 60-59 victory over Detroit Loyola.

Loyola was making its first semifinal appearance and Beecher coach Mike Williams remembers when he, as a coach, had to go through growing pains.

“I remember coming here in 2003,” Williams said. “The ball bounced differently. You come here in this atmosphere. It’s a different atmosphere. In most gyms you have a wall behind the basket. Here you might have someone’s mother sitting there. Kids have to get used to that.”

Beecher student-athletes have had to weather more than just different gymnasiums to get to this point. Long before there was a Flint water catastrophe, the Beecher school district presents its own problem for parents and their children.

A word that was repeated over and over again on Thursday was resiliency. Williams’ players have seen more than most on the troubled streets of Flint. Williams and his staff are there to teach them the game of basketball and, more importantly, how this game can help in keeping them on a path toward success, not crime.

“It’s a great feeling to play for the community,” Ellison said. “It’s a championship mentality. People in the community talked about all week about how they can buy tickets to Saturday’s final. That’s the type of pressure we’re under.”

It’s been well documented that Williams is under his own physical strain. He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS). He takes medication twice a day, which causes fatigue and other symptoms but he never complains and rarely talk about it.

His illness is another part of the Beecher story, a story of a school district constantly trying to beat the odds, to find achievement amidst hardship.

Beecher graduate Carl Banks was at the Breslin Center to lend his support on Thursday. Banks went on to become one of the top linebackers in the NFL after graduating from Michigan State and his presence only added the aura of what is Flint Beecher.

Williams said it meant a lot to him and his players.

“We’re humbled by our situation,” Williams said. “We really want to represent the city, not just as champions but with class.

“To me Beecher stands for district of champions. That’s what is on our gym floor.”

Ellison said he’s never made a game-winning shot until Thursday. And the play that set it up was a play they work on every day in practice. They work on it so much it’s become second nature.

“It’s just having confidence in yourself,” he said. “Beecher basketball is winning. At the end of the day it’s about winning.”