By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Behind Martin sit the alumni, many of whom are regulars at practice. Someone the coaches call the Postman is here, as is Tuna, a booster who drives players to summer games in his van. Taking notes is Jesus Delgado, the alumnus responsible for the Miami High basketball Website, an extraordinarily detailed chronicle of every rout over Coral Park and trouncing of Leilehua (Hawaii). The site is a multimedia assembly of music (Queen's "We Are the Champions"), photos, history, and even a link to online reservations for hotel rooms in Lakeland.
"There's a group of alumni that are here every game, no matter what," Martin says. "Alumni who have played here before. Alumni who graduated from the school years ago and who still follow the program. That's what we're famous for, and that's what makes Miami High special. These people are in our corner and they're going to battle extremely hard when the chips are up and when they're down, either way."
Three years ago it was the alumni who lobbied for Martin to succeed Rodriguez. Those same alumni hounded Martin when he lost eight games in his first season. Before the team embarked on the 1996 state tournament they would eventually win, the school held a pep rally in the Asylum. Students and alumni cheered as the players were introduced. "When they brought me out, the people were booing and throwing stuff at me," Martin recalls. "I'm the same person that eight months earlier they were all calling and hugging and kissing and asking to take over the team. Then all of a sudden they were booing me. Teachers were calling for my head. One month later we won the championship and they were hugging me again. The pressure to win at this school is unbelievable."
Miami High controls the opening jump and scores first. The Gables point guard dribbles up court tentatively, cowed by the relentless pressure that is a Stingaree trademark. Syl Robinson steals a crosscourt pass and drives for a layup. One minute into the game, the Cavaliers have already abandoned the disciplined, slow-down strategy necessary to keep the score close. They heave desperate passes and long, errant shots that are collected by one of the three Miami big men planted in the paint. A quick outlet pass to a streaking Stingaree, a dunk. Repeat as necessary.
By the end of the first quarter it's 27-14. When play resumes, a bored-looking Martin stares at his thumbnail. Blake, spotting Haslem under the rim, throws a pass into triple coverage. No Gables player is tall enough to prevent Haslem from catching the ball and dunking effortlessly. By halftime the scoreboard reads 51-24.
Gables is probably the second-best team in the county. The Cavaliers won more than twenty games this year, many of them by wide margins, but they don't even belong on the same court as the Stingarees. The final score is 73-46, and as the old adage goes, it wasn't even that close.
After showering and dressing in the locker room, Haslem climbs behind the wheel of his stepmother's Ford Explorer for the drive up to Miramar. Steven Blake hops into a BMW owned by a man who lives one block from his parents' house in a prosperous Miami Lakes subdivision.
Although Steven Blake plays basketball for Miami High, he lives in Miami Lakes. So does his mother. So, according to several people interviewed, does his father. When New Times first started looking at school district records a month ago, Steven Blake's address was not in Miami Lakes but rather at 1841 SW Fifteenth St. A modest house stands at that address, just a few doors down from the home of late Miami mayor Steve Clark. Dade County property records indicate that Joyce Lund owns the home, and that she claims a homestead exemption, meaning this is her primary address.
Lund, age 56, is a pleasant woman with short gray hair, an athletic walk, and a quick smile. She graduated from Miami High in 1959. A passionate sports fan, she owns season tickets to the Miami Heat, the Florida Marlins, the Florida Panthers, and UM baseball and football. She attends every Miami High game she can, regardless of the sport. "I don't have any children of my own," she says, "so I channel a lot of my energies into the sports I follow. When I told you what season tickets I had, did I mention the two Heat tickets? I did? Okay, just wanted to make sure."
While she enjoys all levels of competition, she holds a special place in her heart for her Stingarees. High school sports, she says, are the last refuge of the talented little guy. "You see some kid and you know he doesn't have a fart's chance in a windstorm of making it on a college program, but you see him working so hard and accomplishing so much for his school team that it's just breathtaking."
On warm spring nights, she drives her 1974 Dodge Duster, the one with the "Just Do It Stings" signs tossed on the floor and the Miami High football T-shirts stretched over the seats, to nearby Curtis Park to watch talented little guys play under the lights for Miami High's baseball team. Even when school is out of session, she haunts the Asylum in search of sports action. That's how she met Richard Blake, Steven's father. (According to coach Martin, the Blakes had just broken with the coach at Killian, and had approached him to see if there was room for Steven Blake at Miami High.)