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Martellus Bennett, Hannibal Buress, Fenwick step up to help Morgan Park get rings

Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin and his team jump off the bench at the end of overtime, winning the IHSA boys' Class 3A basketball state championship over Oak Park Fenwick in Peoria, Ill., Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Ron Johnson /Journal Star via AP)

A thrilling fourth quarter comeback win secured Morgan Park the 2017 Class 3A state basketball title last month. Star guard Ayo Dosunmu was injured, so the Mustangs relied on two freshmen to pick up the slack. Fenwick led by 11 points with less than six minutes to play.

Morgan Park charged back to tie the game in regulation and win in overtime. So it is fitting that securing state championship rings was almost as dramatic.

Last week things looked bleak, Morgan Park didn’t have the money to purchase the rings and Chicago Public Schools was unable to help. But then Morgan Park athletic director Michael Berger posted a plea for donations on Twitter.

Money started to come in after that, including a generous donation from a Fenwick parent. Then some celebrities got involved.

Berger said that comedian Hannibal Buress, a Chicagoan, was the first celebrity to get in contact.

“Buress emailed me and asked how much we needed,” Berger said. “He sent me a sizable donation. He FedExed a check over the next day.”

“When I heard that I was really impressed,” Irvin said. “He said he was very concerned with us getting those rings. That put a smile on my face.”

Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett was the next celebrity to email Berger. Bennett, a former Chicago Bear, still lives in the northern suburbs.

“Bennett’s foundation offered to pay for all of the rings,” Berger said.

Irvin let Bennett deliver the news to the team via FaceTime.

“I put him up on the big screen and let him tell the kids,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. “They knew who he was right away and got really excited. They were so happy, it was great to see their reaction. That is a blessing right there.”

“I knew something would work out,” Dosunmu said. “The hard part was winning state. We just had to have faith in God that something would come through for the rings.”

Bennett is going to design the rings himself.

“He said he’s going to make it look sweet,” Irvin said. “He’s going to come out and play pickup with some of the guys too.”

Irvin and Berger were both touched by the reaction of the Fenwick community.

“Even though we were in battle, even though they lost they game they were right there willing to help,” Irvin said. “The Fenwick community is really impressive.”

Berger said the first email he received was from a Fenwick parent willing to donate.

“Then the Fenwick athletic director said they were going to organize a fundraiser for us,” Berger said. “A counselor emailed saying she would try and raise money from some of the teachers. It has just been incredible to see everything they were willing to do for us after losing the state championship game.”

Dosunmu hopes that the universe finds a way to reward the Friars.

“We beat them in a nail-biter in the state finals and then they step up like that,” Dosunmu said. “That shows class and sportsmanship. I believe in good karma. Something good will come Fenwick’s way. They are good citizens and overall people.”