There was more than just a basketball game at Muskegon Heights High School on Wednesday evening.

For the record, Muskegon Heights defeated Kalamazoo Lakeside Academy 76-26.LSJ Logo incert

But citizens from both communities packed the gym to show their support for the student/athletes who play in communities that have been plagued by senseless violence in recent weeks and months.

Muskegon Heights players (white) and Kalamazoo players (orange) stand for a group photo before the game. Photo/Tim Reilly

Muskegon Heights players (white) and Kalamazoo players (orange) stand for a group photo before the game. Photo/Tim Reilly

It was dubbed the “Unity Game.”

“The gym holds 2,200, that’s what Mr. (Glen) Metcalf told me, it was an amazing crowd” said Muskegon Heights Coach Dale Stewart. “The crowd was so charitable for both teams. It was an unbelievable atmosphere. We had a log jam of Muskegon fans, and a number of Kalamazoo fans, too. Their mayor was even there. They had a nice cheering section.”

The game was arranged to replace a scheduled Muskegon Heights-Shelby contest, which was cancelled when Shelby declined to play at the Heights due to security concerns.

“Outside of basketball it was great to be able to offer a senior night when it looked like it wasn’t going to happen for the kids,” Stewart said. “This game tonight quenched a different need. I think tonight was something we needed.”

Even after the game was over, fans hung around the gym, talking about the need for communities to come together and support each other during challenging times.

“It was like no body wanted to leave,” Stewart said. “I was just taking it all in. It was wonderful.

“I had been trying to get the guys (on the team) all week to understand, things like this don’t just happen. They were just trying to focus on playing basketball, but started to realize how privileged they were to have all kinds of people showing they care and taking their time to show the community what is happening in our area.”

Muskegon Heights will play Grand Rapids West Catholic on Thursday, then prepare for Class C district action next week.

“Tomorrow’s game will be more like what we are accustomed to in competitively,” Stewart said. “We had a different need tonight. Having things like this take place, helps us refocus and gets us back to where we want to be playing basketball.”