(Photo Credit: Craig Melvin/GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
Jalisha Terry and her Hamady High School teammates were in disbelief.
It was March, playoffs time in high school hoops, and they still had to brush their teeth with bottled water and carry cases of water up the stairs just to take a bath or shower. They were being tested for lead poisoning.
They were still facing one of the biggest water crises in United States history.
To cut costs in spring 2014, Flint, Mich. changed its water source from Detroit water, which was sourced from Lake Huron, to water from the dirty Flint River.
The move had demoralizing effects on an already decaying city. The Flint water was contaminated with dangerous lead due to aging pipes. According to the United Way, an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 kids have been exposed to the drinking water. In January, President Barack Obama declared the city to be in a federal state of emergency. Criminal charges have been filed against nine people as a result of the crisis.
“We went deep into the season and almost made it to states, and it really hit me, because it was going on for months,” Terry said. “It was like, ‘this is still happening?’ That’s when it hit me, ‘something’s gotta happen, it’s getting out of hand. It’s been happening all season, it shouldn’t be that long.’ It was definitely hard for us, the whole team.”
In a story by Bleacher Report’s Greg Couch on life as a young athlete in Flint, Terry’s father, James, said she was experiencing headaches “all the time.” Her mother, Lisa, noted that she had been moody, but acknowledged, “Everyone is moody, though. Is it the water?”
A natural resource so many take for granted was the biggest concern in the seventh largest city in Michigan.
“Being an athlete in Flint, it was hard because we had to take showers everyday after practice, and just waking up was hard for me,” Terry said.
“It was kind of hard, but ever since I’ve been here I’ve just been so happy and glad that I actually get to be in a different place like this, and I’m glad that they offered me so I could get away from what was happening in Flint.”
Perhaps the most incredible fact of Terry’s journey through adversity is that she was still Michigan’s Associated Press Class C Player of the Year. She averaged 20.5 points, 5.2 steals and 4.8 assists in a stellar senior season.
After former SBU coach Jim Crowley took the Providence job, Terry reopened her recruitment, and as a four-star recruit, there were plenty of potential destinations if she chose to leave.
Coach Jesse Fleming realized how important it was to establish a connection with the talented player, and his reaction struck a chord with her.
“I think that things happen for a reason, and opening up my recruitment, I feel like it wasn’t a good idea,” Terry said. “And Coach Jesse called me and even offered to come all the way to Flint to see me. I was like, this coach really cares. And he watched me before, watched me play in high school, so I feel more comfortable. And coach Andi (Mulcahy) was already here, and I’ve been close with her, so I felt like I should stay.”
“I hope she’s still happy with her decision… we’re thrilled to have her here,” Fleming said.
“Jalisha’s a kid, I can yell at her and everything and the kid’s gonna come back the next day and stay with a smile on her face,” he continued. “That’s the character that she has. She’s seen the good and bad side of life at a young age, and I think getting coached hard isn’t something that affects her very much. She’s just been such a positive kid for us, and we’re expecting a lot out of her.”
Terry lists being more vocal as her biggest room for improvement, while taking care of the ball, driving to the basket and being a good teammate are her perceived strengths.
“Transitioning from high school to college has been a lot different,” she said. “It’s intense, faster, you have to be smarter. Practice lately has been longer as well, too, but I think I was kind of ready for it. It’s been intense, but it’s all going to pay off; it’s worth it.”
SBU provided Terry with an escape from the distress of her hometown, but her family and friends are still there, and she said there is still a lot of work to do.
“They say it’s better but no one believes it,” she said. “Some famous people from Flint have actually donated water or money, but when something happens right then and there it’s noticed, and then it kind of dies off. I still think it’s a problem. We need to take action, not just other people but the city itself. They actually have to fix the pipes. I’m not blaming it on anyone, but they have to do something, because I’m here in Olean but my family’s still back there.
“We still need more attention. We need something to happen so we can be satisfied and comfortable with where we live.”