It wasn’t a Friday night. There wasn’t a big crowd. Battle Creek Central’s boys varsity basketball team took the floor at the odd time of 5:45 p.m. on Thursday at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix High School.
Despite the uniforms worn by both teams, it looked more like a middle of the week practice. A nearly empty gym. No spectators. The sound of a basketball echoing off the walls with every bounce on the floor. The squeaks of Nikes on the painted surface.
But there was much more at stake than what occurs at a practice. This had the reality and weight of a conference game riding on it, in terms of a win or a loss for both teams. Which is a lot when it comes to these rivals.
However, there was even more to it than that. This scene spoke to the importance of safety when it comes to high school students, and it reminded that the actions of a few can have consequences for the many.
When the final buzzer blasted through the empty gym, the scoreboard had Battle Creek Central beating Loy Norrix, 63-26, in this Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference contest. But the numbers lit up on the wall were almost secondary.
MORE: No fans will be allowed this winter at BCC basketball games involving Loy Norrix or K-Central
“It was kind of weird, different. We had to bring our own energy out there,” said BCC senior Mark Lane. “It felt like a summer AAU game. But it was a game, so we played it.”
On Wednesday, Battle Creek Central announced that no spectators would be allowed to attend basketball games this season involving the school and both Kalamazoo Loy Norrix and Kalamazoo Central, with the following statement:
“Please do not plan to attend these games as you will be turned away either at the parking lot entrance or at the building doors. … Sadly, this is due to the continual issues between our communities being brought to our athletic events,” BCC Athletic Director Charles Seils said.
The most recent issue regarding the schools involved stems from a Battle Creek Central-Kalamazoo Central football game on Oct. 7 when Battle Creek police investigated a shooting outside C.W. Post Field. Gunshots fired outside the stadium disrupted that Friday night football game as the contest was called with 56 seconds left on the clock. Officials were prompted to clear the stadium.
Officials did not confirm that Wednesday’s announcement is related to the October incident.
While the reasons for the emotionally charged, yet eerily quiet contest, were not made exactly clear. The reactions to the event were clear enough.
“It was unfortunate that the fans couldn’t be here, on both sides, to support the kids. It was a different feel for sure,” BCC coach Durant Crum said. “But we talked about it. They understand what led into the decision being made. They were disappointed that they wouldn’t have any fans, cheerleaders or their parents there. But we talked about what went into the situation we are in, not just us, but what both teams are in.
“We kind of challenged them to look at it for what it is, to make good choices, so these kinds of things don’t have to happen.”
Battle Creek Central has a road game at Kalamazoo Central on Jan. 18 where the same regulations will be in place. The Bearcats will host Loy Norrix on Feb. 16 in a boys/girls doubleheader contest, starting at 4:15 p.m., and are scheduled to host Kalamazoo Central on Feb. 23 in the same format.
While the atmosphere of playing in a gym without fans was the same for both schools, BCC seemed to handle it better.
The Bearcats started the game by making their first four shots. BCC used deflections to get easy baskets early and often. And, after back-to-back steals leading to fast break buckets by Kierre Young and Lane, BCC had an 18-4 lead.
“We wanted to get a good start,” Crum said. “We were coming on the road, with no fans. We felt like we had to be ready to play when we hit the floor. We wanted to apply pressure early, because that usually gets us rolling and that’s what happened.”
The game was never really close from there. Another fast break basket by BCC’s Larenz Smith later in the first half, and the Bearcats’ lead climbed to 24-4 with 6:06 before halftime. At intermission, BCC led 36-13 in what turned into a mercy-rule, running clock contest by the fourth quarter.
Lane led BCC with 20 points with Young and Joshua Harris adding 10 points and Ke’Marion Tucker chipping in nine as BCC improved to 8-2 and Loy Norrix dropped to 4-4.
“Once the momentum got on our side, it stayed with us,” Crum said. “If we haven’t played a full 32 minutes this year that we felt good about, tonight was pretty close.”
Overall, the BCC players seemed to adjust to the unique circumstances. And that was the same for the Bearcat girls team, which played the first game of the night with Loy Norrix beating BCC, 41-36. Ja’Lazha Arredondo-Nelson led the Bearcats with 11 points in the loss and A’mya Hodges adding 10.
BCC girls basketball coach Tony Warren said his team was prepared for the empty-gym experience.
“For what I know, working with kids for 30-plus years, kids are resilient,” Warren said. “There are things in life that are out of our control and we have to adjust and adapt. And this is just one of those things.”
Contact Bill Broderick at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick.