Basketball is on the rise for Fond du Lac

CLOQUET - Most of the time, if you see Ken Fox, he's chatting about basketball. Not because he loves it, but because his Fond du Lac Ojibwe basketball program has become quite the hot commodity these days.

Travis Brown
Travis Brown, a senior at Fond du Lac Ojibwe, goes up for a bucket in Friday's final game of the regular season, a 76-63 victory against Red Lake. The Ogichidaa, ranked sixth in Section 7A Subsection 1, will face No. 3 Cherry at 6 p.m. Thursday in the first round of playoffs. Dan Saletel/Pine Journal

CLOQUET - Most of the time, if you see Ken Fox, he's chatting about basketball. Not because he loves it, but because his Fond du Lac Ojibwe basketball program has become quite the hot commodity these days.

"Everywhere I go, people stop me ," said Fox, laughing.

"- the school, the store, the casino, everywhere. Everyone wants to know how basketball is going here."

The answer to that question is simple. It's spectacular. Although still unknown to a majority of the public, the FDL Ogichidaa basketball program has slowly climbed up the ladder from a once powder-puff squad to a well-respected, state-recognized club.

Fox has been athletic coordinator for three years at FDL, a tribal school located just off Big Lake Road on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation in Cloquet. Since he took the reins, both the boys and girls hoops programs at the tiny school are thriving.


Having slowly moved past playing just tribal schools, charter schools and academies throughout the season, FDL's boys and girls schedules are now packed with a variety of statewide public school competition.

When former 2003 graduate Jarvis Paro played, things weren't that way at all.

"We were lucky to get a section school on our schedule," said Paro, a six-year point guard for the Ogichidaa and now fourth-year assistant coach for both the boys and girls programs. "Things have really taken off, though, and that's been great to see. When I played, just playing a public school was huge."

That problem has since become extinct for FDL. This winter alone, Fox, who is also the boys coach, had his squad take on state powers including Minnesota Transitions, Minneapolis Roosevelt, Minneapolis Patrick Henry, Chisholm and, most notably, nationally-ranked Hopkins.

Fox said that transition has taken time, but has been pleasant to witness.

"I used to have to make a lot of the calls myself," he said. "But nowadays after getting the opportunity to play some of those teams, schools are calling me."

Fox explained that true relationships have been made with their opposing schools. He said that for some trips, opponents provide food for them. In return, Fox does the same when those teams come up north. Friday against Red Lake, the varsity boys served the reservation community a feast, prior to their 76-63 win on the court.

"They took it upon themselves to do that for the community and did everything themselves," said Fox. "And really, those relationships we've built have been nice to see."


Fox even said their rivals from Red Lake told him that FDL is "carrying the torch" this winter, as they have one of most competitive tribal boys basketball teams around the state.

"We're competitive," said Fox. "We used to be the so-called 'homecoming game.'"

The girls program is right on board with Fox's crew. Coached by Stacie Marsolek, the varsity Ogichidaa ladies have also taken on Transitions, Patrick Henry and have been invited to the Columbia Heights Holiday Tournament for years now.

When they're not playing, they're supporting their favorite boys.

"Those girls are at all of the games, sitting in the front row," said an appreciative Fox. "They make posters and are our cheerleaders. They're so supportive."

The FDL boys team notched its first playoff victory two years ago against Lakeview Christian Academy, while they hosted their first-ever postseason game last winter when they defeated Cotton. This week the Ogichidaa, ranked sixth in the section and sport a 12-14 record, are looking to make their inaugural trip the Section 7A quarterfinals at Duluth East with a win, while two would put them in the semifinals at UMD.

"We've never played at either of those places before," said Fox, "but we're not overlooking anyone. We're taking things one game at a time. We just have to play like I know we can play."

Adding to the hoopla has also been the rise of the youth program. Fox said that FDL has boys and girls teams in grades 3-6. And it's been coaches like himself, Marsolek, Paro, Kevin Dupuis and Jason Brown who have really made the program fly.


Fox doesn't forget his student-athletes, however.

"It's about them," he said. "They've put in the dedication to this program and have made it do a 180. I've been fortunate enough to step in here, but the kids have been a real plus."

Like Fox, Paro has just been happy to be part of something this special in the community.

"I don't think I've ever seen so many people or alumni come out and back to watch games," he said.

"Things have really opened up here. It's been unbelievable. That's all I can really say."

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