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Playing for Aaron: Red Lake boys dedicating season to fallen teammate (PHOTO GALLERY & VIDEO)

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Red Lake High School hosted a send-off for the boys basketball team on Wednesday at the school. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 10
The Red Lake boys basketball dedicated their season to Aaron White, a teammate and son of coach Roger White, who lost his battle with cancer before the season started. (Submitted photo) 3 / 10
Rob McClain has his turn on the microphone while the Red Lake boys basketball team introduces themselves during a pep fest on Wednesday at the school. The Warriors play Browerville-Eagle Valley at 1 p.m. today. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 4 / 10
The crowd from the pep fest lines up in the gym at Red Lake High School to wish the Warriors good luck before they leave for the state tournament. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 5 / 10
Cheerleaders from Red Lake High School do a cheer for the crowd during the pep fest on Wednesday at the school. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 6 / 10
Head coach of the Red Lake boys basketball team Roger White speaks during a pep fest hosted at the school on Wednesday before the Warriors left for the state tournament. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 7 / 10
Fans pass by the coaches of the Red Lake boys basketball team to wish them luck at the state tournament. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 8 / 10
Students from Red Lake middle school and high school along with other fans fill the gym for a pep fest on Wednesday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 9 / 10
The crowd from the pep fest lines up in the gym at Red Lake High School to wish the Warriors good luck before they leave for the state tournament. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 10 / 10

RED LAKE -- This season hasn’t always been easy for Roger White.

The Red Lake head boys basketball coach lost his 15-year-old son, Aaron, to cancer on Nov. 1 -- just before the basketball season was set to start.

Although the Warriors were coming into the 2015-16 season as the two-time defending Section 8A champions, he understandably had other things on his mind. He wasn’t sure what the season would bring.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” White said. “We graduated seven seniors last year, and things were hard for me personally.”

But White -- along with the rest of the Warrior team -- has found strength through unity.

“The loss of my son has brought them even closer together,” White said. “They really cheer each other off and on the court and hang out with each other off and on the court, so that makes a difference in our team chemistry. And I’ve kept motivated through these boys.”

When they take the floor Thursday at Williams Arena for their Class A state quarterfinal game -- their third appearance at state in as many years -- the Warriors will be dedicating every minute to their friend and former teammate.

“Every practice we go out there and give it our all, because in practice he gave it his all,” senior forward Jeremy Martin said. “Every game, every possession, whatever happened, he gave it his all.”

Aaron was a sophomore at Red Lake and was a member of the team last season as a freshman, when the Warriors fell in the first round to Maranatha Christian 59-55.

Although he didn’t play much -- just five games for the varsity last season -- his contribution to the team was huge.

“Aaron was always there, he was always the loudest, and he always put up challenges for us to do,” junior guard Rob McClain said. “He was energetic. He was the most amazing kid you could ever have as a friend and family member.

“Having him be our rallying point this season is real nice. I love how these boys have played for him, pushed themselves for his name.”

The Warriors certainly made their mission clear this season, going 26-4. They haven’t lost a game since January, when they fell 78-66 at Nevis.

In the Section 8A tournament, Red Lake won all four of its games by double-digits -- including a 65-44 victory against Northern Freeze in the title game last Friday. The Warriors trailed 25-22 at halftime.

The Warriors tip off with Browerville-Eagle Valley at 1 p.m. Thursday. School is closed Thursday and Friday, and much of the Red Lake community will be there.

So will Aaron.

“He’s always on our minds,” McClain said. “Every time we go to games, we remember all the good times we’ve had with him. All the good games, all the funny moments, all the good stuff that we did.

“Him leaving us, him passing, it was a big heartbreak for us. But we knew that if we wanted to make it back to state, he would want us to push and not mourn over him.”

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