Duluth Marshall scores big against adversityHIGH SCHOOL BOYS BASKETBALL: The Hilltoppers lost again Tuesday night, 97-58, to Cloquet in their home finale, to drop to 1-23, but for at least one player’s mother there are more important things than the final score.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Wins and losses won’t define the Duluth Marshall boys basketball season.
The Hilltoppers lost again Tuesday night, 97-58, to Cloquet in their home finale, to drop to 1-23, but for at least one player’s mother there are more important things than the final score.
For Betsy Kneepkens, the real story of the Hilltoppers’ season can be traced to Dec. 14, the day she began chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer.
That’s the same day as the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and the double whammy left Kneepkens depressed as she attended Marshall’s home game against Hinckley-Finlayson. Unbeknown to Kneepkens or the coaching staff, the players — including her third-oldest son, Adam — came out wearing pink socks in support of her condition.
“It was my first chemo (treatment) and I guess I was a little bit down,” she said, “but when I saw those boys come out in those socks, it took my mind away from all those challenges I had in front of me. It was really uplifting.”
Adam’s teammates came up with the idea and they’ve since dedicated their season to her.
“Some of the guys thought it would be a good idea to support my mom,” the 17-year-old junior said. “So I went out and bought a big pack for everyone and we’ve worn them every game since.”
It’s been a highlight of what has been a trying year, to say the least. One player transferred to Duluth East before the season, one moved out of town, one is dealing with a family emergency, three suffered season-ending injuries and three sat out with various injuries during the season. Out of the original 13 varsity players, only seven remain — none of whom is taller than 6-foot-1.
“They’ve had a tough season, but for me (the gym) is the place that I don’t have cancer,” said Kneepkens, an assistant dean of students for the past 27 years at St. Scholastica, who hasn’t missed a home game. “It’s fun to watch them play. For me it’s not about the winning and losing, it’s about seeing a bunch of boys who care about each other and are thinking beyond themselves.”
Life lessons such as those aren’t learned in the classroom, and teenage boys, in most cases, are the least likely to pay attention to those lessons. But these teens are different, first-year coach Nathan Winesett says.
“This has taught them how to deal with adversity and changes that come up in their lives, and how to navigate through those obstacles, while staying positive at the same time,” said Winesett, a patent and trademark attorney and former assistant coach at Lakeview Christian Academy. “Playing basketball is a microcosm for other things in life, so they developed some good life skills.”
Adam Kneepkens agrees.
“You sometimes get so focused on basketball, but it’s really about growing together as a team and making friendships,” he said. “We’ve grown closer because of it and it’s helped me deal with the family issues. It’s nice to know your friends are there for you and will support you through anything.”
His mother has another 10 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation. She hopes to be recovered by the time next season rolls around.
And if Kneepkens’ own basketball team of five sons and one daughter isn’t enough to aid in her recovery, she knows she has another team behind her. And this game they plan to win.