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Seeing no colors: Racial acceptance a source of pride with M.C. girls basketball

MICHIGAN CITY – In a country gripped by racial division, Mike Megyese looks out at the basketball court and beams at what he sees.

“I have so much trouble understanding what’s going on in our country,” the Michigan City boys basketball coach said. “I’m saying to myself, I don’t see it, That’s not the way it works here. I’m in a diverse community. Where are the problems at? It’s not here. What’s nice is they are teammates on the court but they’re also proud to say they’re my friend off the court. I feel blessed to teach and coach in the Michigan City Area Schools. It’s just special to me.”

Throughout his 12 years with the Wolves, Megyese has always had a roster with a cross section of races and ethnicities – black, white, Hispanic. The beauty of it is, no one looks at it through colored glasses.

“I can just speak for our team,” Indiana All-Star candidate Trinity Thompson said. “It’s very diverse, but it’s never a you’re a white girl, you’re a black girl kind of thing. It’s never going to be that way because of how welcoming we are, how understanding we are. Skin color is just a skin color for us. We’re here to do one thing and that’s play basketball. We enjoy each other. We create friendships for maybe a lifetime. For us, it’s good to still have that bond that we can show other people that Caucasians and African-Americans can co-exist. You’re just a person like everybody else.”

Fellow senior Katelyn Halfacre, who is white, and Thompson, who is black, are buds on and off the floor. Halfacre doesn’t understand those social injustices that have intensified in 2020.

“As a white person, as much as hate as there is, I see how people discriminate, treat black people differently, it’s clearly wrong,” she said. “We’re like family. It’s not just like the white girls are friends and the black girls are friends. We dance, we get lit in the locker room. These are my friends. We all get along.”

With as much time as players spend together, it’s imperative that they function as a group when they play. What takes that chemistry to the next level is the ability to translate to when they are out of uniform.

“You have to come out here and show who you are, it doesn’t matter what skin color, what race you are,” Thompson said. “After (practice), I guarantee, somebody’s texting, y’all want to go out to eat? From August to January, you’re practically with the same person every day. You create a bond with your teammates. Sometimes you just have an on-court bond, but one thing I can say we don’t just have an on-court bond, we’re more as a family. There’s never a dull moment.”

Assistant coach Eric Smoot is familiar with division in Michigan City, but not of a racial nature. A graduate from Elston in its final year (1994) before consolidation with Rogers, he’s seen it as a student, resident and teacher. He attended an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) for a year, where the student population was 97 percent black.

“That was strange for me,” Smoot said. “Leaving Michigan City and coming home, this is probably one of the most diverse places in the Midwest. Growing up, you don’t get the vibe of being separated at all. There are kids in places where they never see a white person in school their whole life. Here, we get to see all cultures. We’ve always had the ability to blend. I have friends from Lebanon, Mexico, and the kids here still exude that environment. They don’t see each other as colors, they see each other as classmates. Color is not a point of emphasis, even though we know there’s an income disparity. The kids don’t show that. That is the best thing about Michigan City. It allows you to grow and develop yourself in a way that should mirror the world.”

Megyese came to Michigan City from South Bend St. Joseph and Smoot has been on his staff for over half of his tenure.

“I tell people all the time, when I walk in these doors, I feel no racial tension at all,” Megyese said. “It doesn’t matter who I’m teaching, white kids, black kids, I see them as individuals in the classroom and on the basketball court. They just mix as people, as they should, trying to get an education, trying to get better at basketball.”

Thompson will attend Northern Kentucky, where the fact that all of her coaches are white was never a concern. She looked at all the areas surrounding it to make sure it’s in a good, safe area. While the racial unrest in the U.S. is unsettling to her, it only makes her more appreciative of what she has.

“The only thing I can really say I’m glad to be my color,” Thompson said. “It’s not a good thing going on. We came this far, all this way, and all of a sudden, it breaks out of nowhere and there’s a loud uproar that came with it. This is what happened years ago, way before our time, and it’s happening again. It’s very sad, but I’m very happy on the other side of it, in my little world here.”

Katelyn Halfacre and Trinity Thompson reflect the racial acceptance that is a source of pride in the Michigan City girls basketball program.

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