Basketball success benefits entire Cass Lake community
Job losses, foreclosures and financial hardship currently dominate the scene in north-central Minnesota but the Cass Lake-Bena area has found a diversion in its boys basketball team.
This week the Panthers were the community's center of focus as they made another trip to the state Class A basketball tournament. CL-B lost its state opener 69-47 Thursday afternoon to Minnesota Transitions, but just making the state tournament is what the community will celebrate.
"So often people read about crime in our area but the state tournament highlights the good in our children," said CL-B superintendent Carl Remmers.
"We have become a basketball dynasty and there is a great deal of pride and responsibility that goes with that. All of these young men are examples of what students should be. They are great on the court and in the classroom. They are all great guys."
Cass Lake mayor Wayne LaDuke has followed the CL-B basketball program longer than he can remember and believes that its success has had a calming influence on the community.
"The basketball team brings the city, the reservation, Pike Bay, Walker and Bemidji closer together in regard to healing," LaDuke said. "The team and the recognition the community receives at the state tournament are positives for the community. I'm proud of the boys. The entire community is proud."
Leech Lake District III Representative Eugene "Ribs" Whitebird is a former athlete and a current sports fan and he understands the connection between sports and success.
"I made it through school because of sports," Whitebird told those assembled at Wednesday's send-off pep fest for the team. "Sports is one of the main reasons some kids remain in school. Sports teaches discipline, respect and working as a team. And all of those aspects are evident with the Cass Lake-Bena basketball team."
Cass Lake-Bena activities director Mike Hanson said he believes everyone in the community can share in the positives that the state tournament trip offers.
"This is really big for our community," Hanson said. "Just to have the chance to go to the Twin Cities and show off the good our community has to offer is something special.
"This is never old," Hanson said of returning to the state tournament for the fourth consecutive spring. "This is something to enjoy and to savor."
"It's like old-home week," Barb Brown said of attending the state tournament. "Everybody goes down and everybody who used to live in Cass Lake is at the game. It's a town reunion when Cass Lake-Bena is at the state tournament."
Competing at state has become a tradition at CL-B and Gary Frazer knows that the athletes understand the responsibilities that come with success.
"A good basketball program can create a ripple effect," said Frazer a Cass Lake-Bena alumni, a long-time area resident and the executive director of the Chippewa Tribe. "The kids realize that they are role models.
"It is my hope that in 10 years they return to become the speakers, teachers and the business, community and tribal leaders that we need to help the area grow. I hope they receive their degrees and put that education and experience back into their community," Frazer added.
The problems that the Cass Lake-Bena area faces on a daily basis have not disappeared but, because of the boys basketball team, they were put on the back burner. At least for a few days.
"The state tournament is something some teams and some communities never experience," Pat Brown, who owns Clem's Hardware in Cass Lake, said. "The success of the team is appreciated by everyone in the community. It gives us something to celebrate and brings life to the town.
"It's a welcome addition."