by Harold C. Ford
A boost for basketball in Flint is arriving in 2018, with the launch of a new city-wide youth basketball league starting Jan. 6. For some, the announcement sets off hopes for a return of Flint’s faded reputation as a formidable basketball town. But for those involved in the planning, what matters most is providing positive, healthy activities for Flint youth in a safe environment.
“The league is the first of its kind in over 15 years,” Mayor Karen Weaver said at a Dec. 19 press conference announcing the launch. “It’s been long overdue,” she added.
Funds for the program are an outgrowth of the Flint water crisis — coming from a five-year, $4.8 million grant provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Mental Health Services for the Flint Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCAST) program.
According to a press release from Kristin Moore, the city’s public information/communications director of the City of Flint, the Flint ReCAST Program “is designed to promote resilience in the Flint community by supporting youth and families, mitigating the impact of trauma, reducing behavioral health disparities, and increasing the opportunities and training for Flint youth through strong community engagement strategies. The target population addressed by this project includes youth and their families impacted by various sources of distress, including the Flint Water Emergency.”
Sean Croudy, director of community recreation for the City of Flint, said the league will target youth from ages eight (third grade) to 17. Participants will be divided into four divisions: third and fourth graders; fifth graders; sixth graders; and 13- to 17-year-olds. There is no fee charged for participation.
Games for the three younger divisions will take place at the Eagle’s Nest (formerly Selby School), 5101 Cloverlawn Dr. Games for the oldest division will be played at Cathedral of Faith (formerly Gundry School), 6301 Dupont St. Games are played on Saturdays.
“I actually remember growing up and playing in this gym when it was Gundry Elementary,” Chris McLavish, founder and director of Chris McLavish Basketball (CMB), said. McLavish will assist Croudy in the operation of the league. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity for these kids to be able to come together…and build lifetime friendships and relationships,” he said.
As documented in the June 2017 issue of East Village Magazine, the glory days for Flint public high school sports are clearly in the rearview mirror. From 1930 to 1995, Flint’s four public high schools produced athletic teams that captured 47 state championships. In the 22 years since 1995, the tally is zero.
Many area sports aficionados point to the loss of critical feeder programs as a primary reason for the diminishment of championship caliber athletic teams. Flint Community Schools’ Athletic Director, Jamie Foster, told EVM, the championship teams “were all products of the community school programs (remember the Flintstones) when they were coming up through school—elementary, junior high, and high school.” Flint’s nationally renowned after-school programs, created in the mid-1900s, largely disappeared by the end of the century.
“There’s a direct correlation,” according to McLavish, between the loss of feeder programs and the recent dearth of state championships for Flint schools. “It all starts with fundamentals, and you learn fundamentals when you’re at a very, very young age,” he said. “You can’t wait and start playing basketball at the eighth and ninth grade levels…and think you’re going to compete at a statewide or national level.”
McLavish starred on the hardwood for Flint Northwestern, graduating in 2002. He went on to play basketball at the University of South Alabama.
Program organizers are interested in more than rebuilding the city’s basketball cred. “The overall goal was to offer Flint youth some activities to participate in that are positive, and to be in a safe environment, and to have some fun,” Croudy said. “They’ll learn more than basketball: healthy living; friendly competition; building friendships with kids across the city; and friendships with kids outside the city.”
The program has no geographic restrictions for participation. League organizers encouraged youth throughout Genesee County and beyond to join. The league is also open to girls and expects to expand to include additional sports. “We have a bigger vision—not just to focus on basketball, but other sports as well,” McLavish said.
Chris Martin, Cathedral of Faith pastor, envisions the project as one important piece of an emerging renaissance in the city of Flint.
“This is one of the major pieces,” Martin said. “Your city is only as strong as the neighborhoods and once we continue to revitalize the neighborhoods, no matter how commercially strong downtown becomes, our neighborhoods have to be strong.”
“You will see Flint come back with the start of initiatives like this,” Martin predicted.
Interested participants and volunteers can contact Sean Croudy at 449-6380 or Chris McLavish at 553-8079.
EVM staff writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.