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Red Lake’s Grace White holds youth camp because ‘basketball saved my life’

White blazed a trail for herself that she’s developed into a promising future, and now she’s giving back to the community that raised her. White, who finished her playing career at Valparaiso University this year, is holding a free youth basketball camp in Red Lake this week.

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Former Red Lake girls basketball player Grace White breaks it down with attendees after a drill during her free youth basketball camp on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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RED LAKE — When Grace White was in high school, she found stardom on the basketball court. But more than that, she found an outlet.

“Basketball saved my life,” said White, a 2017 Red Lake graduate. “When I look around and come back, I see friends or people suffer from drugs or alcohol. I see where some of my friends I grew up with ended up. There’s a lot that we’ve lost. Basketball pulled me out of that.”

White blazed a trail for herself that she’s developed into a promising future, and now she’s giving back to the community that raised her. White, who finished her collegiate career at Valparaiso University this year, is holding a free youth basketball camp in Red Lake this week.

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Logan Fairbanks, left, dribbles a ball during a drill at Grace White’s basketball camp on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“Basketball teaches you so many different things: how to be a team, how to work together, how to listen, how to be patient, how to follow instructions,” White said. “I’m glad I could help teach the kids some of those life lessons, as well.”

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White’s presence is contagious. A total of 128 kids from ages 7-17 signed up for the clinic, and White even brought three of her college teammates to help run it.

She spoke with a tender authority, a voice that showed a care for the children yet an expectation of respect. Having fun and teaching skills had worth, but instilling strong values was the primary objective.

Much like in basketball, she's a natural at it.

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Red Lake's Grace White talks to participants during a free youth basketball camp on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“She’s loved, she’s idolized and she’s a good role model here for every kid here in Red Lake,” said Randy Holthusen, a volunteer at the camp and White’s high school basketball coach. “And not only Red Lake, but all the Indian communities around Minnesota and hopefully the United States.”

While playing for the Ogichidaag -- that’s “Warriors” in Ojibwe -- White elevated the program to unprecedented heights. She scored over 2,400 points at Red Lake and led the program to its first-ever section championship in 2017.

White also became the first Red Lake athlete, male or female, to play Division I basketball when she played at Denver for two seasons. She transferred to Valpo in 2019 and played three more years, scoring 747 points for the Beacons and 1,024 total in her collegiate career.

“She’s one of a kind,” Holthusen said. “The things that she’s doing, the goals are right in front of all of these kids. She’s up here telling them that you’ve got to reach for your goals. It’s not impossible to do it. It’s a lot of hard work, but it can be achievable.”

‘Boozhoo’

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Evelina Kingbird dribbles a ball during a drill at Grace White’s basketball camp on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

White grew up with a key to the Red Lake Humanities Center, so she always had a hoop. Now holding her camp in the same building, White’s journey has come full circle as the newest wave of hoopsters grow up.

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“I think it means the world to our whole community,” White said of the camp. “It’s a beacon of hope for these kids. It’s something they really get excited for. Me being gone all these years and finally getting to come back, (it’s special) to show that I’m from here and that this is the gym I grew up in.”

A massive Red Lake Nation flag covers one of the walls, and a banner reading “Boozhoo” -- meaning “Hello” or "Greetings" in Ojibwe -- hangs prominently on another. It was a fitting juxtaposition of pride for one’s reservation and a warm attitude toward anyone and everyone who wished to join in on the fun.

And at the center of the gym, blowing a whistle and running drills, was a hometown girl who understood the bigger picture.

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Red Lake graduate Grace White blows her whistle during a drill at a free youth basketball camp on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“Everything that she brought to Red Lake -- that she still brings to Red Lake -- that’s why you see all of these kids here,” Holthusen said. “That’s why it’s such a big turnout.”

White has already received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and is working to finish her master’s in business administration. In April, at the women’s Final Four in Minneapolis, she also partnered with the Indigenous Athletics Advancement Council to “Indigenize the Game” and bring recognition and representation to Native athletes.

Then came the clinic in Red Lake, meant to foster positive change in the reservation’s youth and beyond.

“Just yesterday, after the camp I went and sat in the car,” White said. “I just felt so grateful to have this opportunity to work with these kids. You don’t even know how much you make their day when you compliment something.”

Although White is the first of her kind, her camp is designed to make her story a common occurrence in Red Lake.

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“This is the next generation,” White said. “Hopefully we bring up some more Grace Whites, bring up some more Division I athletes and have them chase their dreams.”

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Red Lake girls basketball head coach Randy Holthusen looks to knock a ball away from other participants during a dribbling game at Grace White’s basketball camp on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Blake Strong dribbles a ball as part of a drill during Grace White’s basketball camp on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Bronx White looks to the net before shooting a free throw during Grace White’s basketball camp on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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