By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For the first time in 63 years, the Canby boys basketball team will be playing in the state tournament.

The Lancers haven’t been there since 1951, and will play in the first round of Class-A at 1 p.m. Thursday.

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“This is the best,” said coach Jon Hanson. “When you go to the state tournament, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Streaks were meant to be broken. And for the first time since Harry Truman was president, the Canby boys are breaking a big one.

“I don’t think anyone is focusing on what they should be doing. Schools, businesses, it’s all just crazy,” said junior forward Josh Gallegos.

In a town of just under 1,800, news can travel fast. As happy as this Hoosiers-like story has become, last year the team wasn’t celebrating…it was grieving.

“A year ago, right now, I got the worst phone call a parent can get,” Hanson said. “He said he had cancer.”

Hanson’s son Jake, a 33-year-old husband and father of three, passed away just a few months later. He wasn’t just the coach’s son, he was his best friend.

“He was just a great father. He passed away, I think it was June 27. He fought hard, but as cancer goes, that’s what happens,” Hanson said.

And as small town’s go, they embraced the coach and his family.

But it didn’t end there.

The team wanted to dedicate their season to Jake.

“I kind of thought a little bit and I said, ‘You know, that would be awesome,'” Hanson said.

“Somebody went with the motto of ‘Jake against cancer.’ He didn’t give up, and we weren’t going to give up either,” said senior captain Michael Slaba. “And when you do that magical things can happen.”

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Magical things happened a few times on the way to state.

Canby had to beat two highly-ranked teams to get there — including rival Dawson-Boyd.

“It was a minute 38 seconds left, and were down by seven,” Hanson said. “We won by four.”

The team believes Jake may have had something to do with that. In a way, he’s become their sixth man.

“It was crazy,” Slaba said. “It’s something you dream about. You dream about that moment and it happened.”

It’s a dream they don’t want to wake up from.

Canby is working to win it all.

And if that happens, it won’t just be a season dedicated in Jake’s memory, but a state championship, too.

In Canby, there’s a definite love between the town and its basketball team. And it’s fueled by the unconditional love a father will always have for his son.

“I know he’s watching…..he’s with us. And it’s just fantastic,” Hanson said.

Every member of the team has been wearing a patch on their uniform this season in memory of Jake.

Jake actually holds Canby’s school record for most three-pointers in a game.

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“Jake was a great man,” Slaba said. “He was a great father and a great person. It’ll be a ghost town back home when we play. We don’t have the numbers the bigger schools have, but everyone will be there.”

John Lauritsen