Huron High School's postseason run created community spirit
Angela Cesere | AnnArbor.com
For the second straight day, Huron High School students and supporters gobbled up available tickets for the MHSAA basketball tournament finals.
The advantage in support didn’t help the River Rats win the school’s first championship on Saturday. Instead, a slightly smaller but just-as-vocal group of Kalamazoo Central fans celebrated the school's first title since 1951.
But after its 74-65 loss, it was clear the Huron team appreciated the fans. And vice versa.
“Any time your school can do what we did and you get the kind of following that we got this weekend, I think it just lifts the entire community,” coach Waleed Samaha said. “Our kids felt it, our coaches felt it and we’re thankful for it.”
Huron’s postseason run created the kind of community spiritÂ the school hasn’t seen since hundreds of camouflaged students invaded the Pontiac Silverdome for the 1997 Class AA football championship game.
The team's official allotment of tickets was 650, and after that, plenty more River Rats supporters bought general-admission seating.
Levi Mazza was among the first people inside the Breslin Center when its doors were opened one hour before Saturday’s tipoff.
As more and more Huron students filled their section behind the River Rat bench, Mazza became less and less recognizable. Turns out, more than one decided to paint their face green.
“I think us getting this far has really hyped up our school,” said Mazza, a sophomore. “School morale is high. Everyone’s happier, everything’s going so well.”
Huron football coach Cory Gildersleeve had a front-row seat alongside athletic director Dottie Davis at both games.
“It’s great to see the boys and the coaching staff and what they’ve accomplished this year and how it’s brought the school together this year,” said Gildersleeve, also a physical education teacher at the high school. “As a teacher, to see all the kids that aren’t involved in athletics come together is really special.”
Making a name
In a Class A final four that included several big-time college recruits, no player turned more heads than Huron junior Dante Williams.
Williams led Huron with 19 points in a semifinal win over University of Michigan-bound standoutÂ Carlton Brundidge and Southfield on Friday and 24 more in Saturday’s loss to Kalamazoo Central, which features Dayton-bound Devin Oliver.
Williams shot better than 50 percent (15-for-29) during the two-day tournament, including seven 3-pointers and numerous strong drives to the basket.
Oliver and Brundidge earned first-team All-State honors, announced before the tournament. Williams didn’t make the honorable mention list.
“I kind of guard against (personal accolades). Our program is predicated on team play, on moving the ball and sharing the ball,” Samaha said. “We may not highlight any individual players, but within our system you have the opportunity to make plays. If people take notice, I think that’s great.”
Samaha, Williams and junior guard A.J. Mathew had a tag-along when they emerged from behind a black curtain to answer questions at a post-game press conference.
Samaha said he wanted someone special to experience the positive sides of his team’s run with him, so he motioned him on stage. There were only three microphones and seats set up, but young Adam Samaha needed neither.
He was content to just sit on dad’s lap.
Pete Cunningham contributed to this report. Rich Rezler can be reached at 734-623-2553 or email@example.com.