A high school basketball game in Muskegon Heights Wednesday night united two West Michigan communities dealing with violence.
Shelby High School was supposed to play Muskegon Heights, but Shelby pulled out, citing a shooting after a game in the Heights last month.
So Kalamazoo Lakeside showed up to play, nearly two weeks after a series of shootings in that city. In a show of unity, more than 2,000 people showed up to cheer the teams on.
“My friends are sitting on stairs,” Nicaria Crawford said on the courtside, pointing them out in the stands.
Crawford, a 2014 Muskegon Heights grad, says she comes to every home game.
“There’s no room to sit. This game is packed, man. Cars down my street -- this street -- every street. It’s a beautiful turnout. I love it,” she said.
Crawford says it’s nice to see everybody having fun, and focusing on the game, instead of the violence that’s hurt her neighborhood.
Two Muskegon Heights students were among three people wounded on February 9, following the game between Muskegon Heights Academy and Grand Rapids' Ottawa Hills High School. A 21-year-old Grand Rapids man was wounded by a sheriff's deputy and charged in the shootings.
On February 20, a gunman fatally shot six people and wounded two others in three random incidents in the Kalamazoo area. A 45-year-old Kalamazoo-area man has been charged in those attacks.
At halftime, officials from both communities joined a group of student leaders on the court to shoot baskets.
Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, who had never visited Muskegon Heights before, said he was proud of the turnout from both communities.
“Instead of being afraid, you come together during times of crisis. You don’t run from crisis. That’s what community is all about. That’s what we’ve tried to do in the last week in Kalamazoo and certainly I know that’s what Muskegon Heights has been doing here,” he said.
Hopewell says people can’t let an incident of violence or crisis define their community.
Jerry Pearson waited at the doors. “This is what it used to be like,” he said.
“You had to get there early,” the longtime Muskegon Heights resident said. “When they went on sale during the day, you better stop by and pick that ticket up because when it come afternoon you’d have a sign on the door ‘sold out.’
Pearson comes to most games with his grandson, Rich Wilson, who played ball for the Heights 10 years ago.
“It’s the adults that come here and start this trouble. It’s not the kids themselves,” Wilson said.
“They face enough adversity going through school as it is. [The] last thing they need is someone to taunt them and make them feel like they’re not wanted around. So we got a lot of teams who bagged out because of the so-called this, and the safety issues, any other game we never had any security problems,” he said.
Wilson says there’s usually a couple hundred people at these games -- a few hundred at the most. He knows this kind of huge community support is a big deal to the players and students.
“It makes them go out and present the best way possible. Yeah, that’s what they’re doing right now. Look at the score its 56 – 23, so they got them by about 33 points right now, so when you got a crowd to show up and support you, you play. You go all out,” he said.