DULUTH—While walking through the postgame handshake line last week, Fond du Lac Ojibwe boys basketball Coach Earl Otis hugged a number of the opposing South Ridge players, many of whom he is very close to.
The closest; however, was his senior son, Spencer.
In an uncommon scene during last Friday’s Section 7A boys basketball final at Duluth Denfeld High School, father Otis’ Ogichidaa overpowered son Otis’ Panthers 77-60 to advance to this week’s state tournament through a game much less about score and much more about family.
As Earl coached, his nephew and Spencer’s teammate, Jerome Otis, was also playing, while wife Cissy, and both daughters Gracelynn and Abby were in attendance, as well.
During the night, Earl walked the Ogichidaa’s blue and gold sideline, and Spencer and Gracelynn donned Panthers’ black and blue. Cissy had the worst of it.
“South Ridge was doing a white-out and Fond du Lac a black-out, so I thought I’d go with gray,” said Cissy. On top of having children enrolled as Panthers and a husband coaching the Ogichidaa, Cissy was also a substitute teacher at FDL for the last two years. “It was tough. Stress is not the word.”
Spencer said he and his father jokingly stressed the trash talk throughout last week leading up to the unique matchup.
“We were trash talking with each other all season — since the beginning of the year,” Spencer said. “I guess he just got the better of me, but I’m happy for him.”
“They were talking crap to each other,” said Gracelynn.
Gracelynn, a three-sport South Ridge sophomore standout, was dressed from head-to-toe in white last week, including face paint, a backwards hat, beads and signs. Standing in the heart of the Panthers’ student section, she admitted it was difficult not to cheer for both her dad and her brother.
“It was tough during the game,” Gracelynn confessed. “I was cheering for my school and I was happy for my dad.”
Earl, who coached Spencer and many of his current teammates in T-ball, was sincere throughout. He said he was rooting for Spencer when his son got in during the game’s final minute and missed his only right-wing shot.
“I’ll remember it for a long time,” a teary-eyed Spencer said. “At least we knew that one Otis was going to State.”
One in Earl, who would be just as happy if it were his boy.
“I gave all of those seniors hugs,” Earl said. “Not too many people can say they have coached against their son.”