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Meet the 'Flintstones'

Michigan city proud of Spartans' local quartet

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Posted: Tuesday March 09, 1999 11:38 AM

  Having a Yabba-Dabba-Doo time: Mateen Cleaves (left) and Antonio Smith hope to laugh all the way to the Final Four. AP

FLINT, Mich. (AP) -- As Michigan State heads to the NCAA men's basketball tournament for the second year in a row, this auto city an hour east is especially proud.

Four Spartan stars are the product of Flint high schools: Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith, Charlie Bell and Morris Peterson. Nicknamed the "Flintstones," each has his hometown tattooed prominently on an arm.

Flint residents say the foursome is giving the country a reason to know the city for something other than General Motors Corp. and last summer's devastating United Auto Workers strikes.

"I can't tell you what it's meant to this community," Nick Pappadakis, who has refereed basketball games in Flint for 30 years, told the Detroit Free Press for a story Tuesday. "People nationally may only know us from the recent auto strike, so this kind of recognition is nice. This city needs it."

Michigan State's first NCAA game is Friday against Mount St. Mary's in the Midwest regional of the tournament at Milwaukee. The Spartans go in 29-4, seeded No. 1 in the region, winners of 18 straight and champions of the Big Ten and the conference tournament.

Great athletes from Flint are not uncommon. NBA players Trent Tucker and Glen Rice are from Flint, as is the NFL's Andre Rison and baseball's Jim Abbott.

But four Flint stars on the same nationally-ranked team are special. One local television station has aired a one-hour special on the foursome; another will broadcast a special this week. The Flint Journal published long stories on each player last week, along with full-page photos.

The photos are popular wall decorations for boys in Flint, said 10-year-old Terry Gibbins.

"The players are our heroes," Terry said as he walked home from school. "My classmates think it's cool that guys from around here are on TV and are stars."

Flint Mayor Woodrow Stanley is planning a celebration for the four when the season ends. Residents hope that won't be until March 29, the night the championship game is played.

"The Flint community has taken ownership of these boys, and that's OK with me," Frances Cleaves, Mateen's mother, said. "They're all nice young men and good students."

Related information
Charting the Tournament: Midwest Region, First Round
Midwest Region features host of past NCAA champions
SI's Leigh Montville: Turnaround is fair play
Michigan St. earns top seed old-fashioned way
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