MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Judging by all the red shirts packed into Williams Arena on Thursday, Red Lake must be a ghost town. With the Red Lake High School boys basketball team making yet another trip to the state tournament, Warriors fans have good reason to cheer.
“I’m so proud of these young boys,” fan Cherilyn Spears said. “They work so hard and it’s showing.”
But the successful season began with intense sadness. Coach Roger White’s 15-year-old son Aaron, an inspiring player and teammate, lost his battle to cancer on Nov. 1.
“It was really tough for me at the beginning,” White said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to coach without my son.”
White decided he should continue on the bench, persevering through his pain. And while he came back for his players, they dedicated their season to his son.
Players say they feel Aaron’s presence with every slam dunk, jump shot and three pointer, of which there’s been a lot of this season. Going into the tournament, the Warriors have a record of 26 wins and only 4 losses.
“This is all for our little brother Aaron,” senior forward Jeremy Martin said. “He’d be so happy for us giving it our all and not giving up, playing through everything.”
From opening tipoff to final buzzer of Thursday’s quarterfinal round against Browerville-Eagle Valley, the Warriors dominated play. Never trailing after the opening minutes and at one point building a 15-point lead.
Yet through all of the excitement and emotion of the game, players kept thinking of the teammate and friend who is no longer on the court.
“He’s always in our thoughts and we remember the good moments, the funny moments,” junior guard Rob McClain said. “He was just a great basketball player, a great family member and a great friend.”
They’d go on to victory in the quarter-final game, winning it by a margin of 12. But in the tougher game of life, these boys are perennial winners. Forging a tight bond that keeps a grieving father going.
“For me, I latched on to them, they helped me get through it. It’s tough,” White said.