MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The issues on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota have been well-documented. There is poverty, crime, unemployment and low graduation rates.
But there is also a young woman there who has been a source of a lot of hope, and she does it by playing basketball.
You could start with her averaging 23 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 steals a game — or her more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her high school career
Grace White won’t be remembered so much for her stats or her talent, but for making history at Red Lake — not once, but twice.
“Oh, we were terrible,” she said.
Red Lake girls basketball had struggled forever. People called it a joke, playing in front of mostly empty stands every night. Grace started playing major minutes as only a 7th grader. They started getting better, but the worst was yet to come.
“It was very hard to see him suffer and to go through what he had to go through,” Grace said.
Two years ago, her little brother Aaron — himself an up-and-coming player — was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. It hit Grace especially hard. They were close.
“He was a basketball fanatic,” she said. “He would be up at six in the morning, ‘Let’s go, let’s lift weights, let’s get in the gym.’ And he’d always be there with me, pushing me to be better.”
Aaron died just days before the season started. Grace dedicated the season to him, and worked harder than ever. They fell a game short of reaching the state tournament, which only served to motivate Grace more.
And this year, they finally did it. She finally did it, leading Red Lake to its first-ever state tournament.
“He’d be so proud of me,” she said. “It’s been a crazy ride. I’ve played on this team for six years and to finally get here has been real, it’s been surreal. … It’s really brought the community together.”
But not even this is Grace’s greatest achievement. In November, nearly a year to the day since Aaron died, she signed a letter of intent to the University of Denver, becoming the first Red Lake athlete — male or female — to sign with a Division I college.
“I just hope it creates a little bit of hope for our girls, and for our youth in general,” Grace said.
“She means everything for the community,” Red Lake coach Randy Holthusen said. “This gives you every reason to say, ‘Hey, it can be done.’ No matter what your situation is, where you come from, where you live, or wherever, you can do what ever you want to do.”
That’s a meaningful achievement for Grace, but it also puts a lot on her shoulders.
“I mean, it puts a little pressure on me because everyone’s watching what I’m doing, all the time,” she said. “But at the same time, to show that somebody can make it and do it and go through that adversity, and overcome it and still reach your goals, it’s big for me.”
It’s not just Grace giving something to the community, either — she says Red Lake made her who she is.
“I wouldn’t change where I came from, ever,” she said. “I love my home and I love my reservation, and I’m glad I get to be a face up there that, yeah, she’s from Red Lake.”
Red Lake lost its first game in the state tournament Thursday night. They’ll play in the consolation tournament Friday.