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  • Tuesday, April 4, 2000

    Flintstones' triumph warms hearts

     FLINT, Mich. (AP) -- They called them the Flintstones -- four young basketball standouts recruited by Michigan State who brought fame and glory to this carmaking city.
     
     Last year, they brought the Spartans to the NCAA tournament Final Four. This year, the three remaining Flintstones -- Antonio Smith graduated last year -- combined for 48 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds as Michigan State captured the national title with an 89-76 victory over Florida on Monday night.
     
     Flint is a place that appreciates good news. Hit hard by the loss of auto jobs that began with the Japanese invasion and the recessions two decades ago, it has seen poverty, drugs and crime take over once quiet, working-class neighborhoods.
     
     Last month, Flint became a poster child for the gun violence crisis when 6-year-old Kayla Rolland was shot to death at her school, police say by a first-grade classmate, in adjacent Mount Morris Township.
     
     Jamelle James is accused of carelessly storing the handgun that authorities said a 6-year-old boy used to kill Kayla Rolland.
     
     In binding James over for trial Tuesday on an involuntary manslaughter charge, Judge John L. Conover said he thought about the tragedy as he watched Michigan State win the NCAA championship Monday night.
     
     "In the last 30 days, this community has reached such an incredible high ... the Flintstones whose characters have pulled this community together ... and reached such a low because of this tragedy," Conover said.
     
     The front page of The Flint Journal on Tuesday was a full-page photo of Mateen Cleaves, the tournament MVP and the leader of the Flintstones, holding up a finger with the headline "Flint Magic."
     
     "They gave America a different perspective of Flint, a city that has been much maligned over the years," Journal columnist Ricky Hampton wrote. "... When national writers asked them about Flint's problems, they talked about Flint's greatest resource -- its people."
     
     The Michigan State triumph warmed many hearts on a chilly, snowy Tuesday.
     
     "This is a shouting point for Flint," said Marcus Summers, 25, a clerk at Mr. Rags clothing store at Genesee Valley Mall in neighboring Flint Township. "We have some good moments. Everything in Flint is not good. But everything isn't bad, either."
     
     The city of 145,000 grew up with the auto industry, giving birth to General Motors Corp. and building a solid economic base on the No. 1 carmaker's high blue- and white-collar salaries. But as GM has retrenched, cutting its workforce here by about half, Flint has suffered.
     
     The economic boom of the 1990s has brought recovery here, too. But for many young people, work now means flipping hamburgers for just above minimum wage rather than assembling cars for premium pay.
     
     "The problem with Flint is they try to get jobs in. (But) most of the jobs are McDonald's type jobs," said autoworker Robert Richardson, 51, who was relaxing at Town & Country Bowling after his day shift at a Delphi Automotive Systems plant.
     
     Richardson himself has spent more than four years on layoff in his 24 years with Delphi and its former owner, GM.
     
     Scratch a Flint resident and find a link to the Flintstones. They're either related to Cleaves, Morris Peterson or Charlie Bell or are friends of the family.
     
     "My mother used to work with Morris Peterson's father," Richardson said. "I worked with his (Cleaves) mother when she worked at Delphi." He also graduated from Flint Northern High School -- Cleaves' alma mater.
     
     Summers, also a Flint Northern grad, has an even closer tie to Cleaves. They're second cousins.
     
     "He's my cousin on my mom's side," Summers said. "His dad is my grandmother's nephew."
     
     He said he hopes the Flintstones' success on the court will inspire other Flint youngsters to make something of their lives.
     
     "It gives a lift, especially for kids in high school," Summers said. "Keep them away from all the negative, all the drug dealing and the fighting, keep their minds positive."
     
     "It's good for Flint," Richardson said.
     
     Retired Flint traffic engineer Jack Wilson, 73, said he also hopes the Michigan State-Flintstones accomplishments will spill over onto the city.
     
     "I believe it did help people to realize that we are still here," he said.