Some serious basketball games will be played in Minnesota this weekend. Games with consequences. Games involving life and death issues. Games you might want to think about putting some money on.
The good news is, you can still get tickets and see these games in person. You won't have to drive to the Twin Cities to do it and you might even come home with a prize.
This weekend, while most of the basketball-watching nation is following the crowd and the NCAA men's Final Four at the Metrodome, the smart money will be spent in Brainerd, supporting the Shoot For The Cure tournament at Brainerd High School.
On Sunday, from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., the Red Cross and Brainerd School District 181 are co-sponsoring a basketball tournament. Money raised by donations and the $1 per ticket admission price will be used to support FATE (Fighting Aids Through Education), a group of high school students who travel to area schools and educate peers about HIV and AIDS.
The Shoot For The Cure tournament will feature more than 30 teams in five divisions competing in a 3-on-3, half-court, running-time event. Categories of competition include novice boys, novice girls, varsity boys, varsity girls and an old-timers category, something tournament organizer Joe Cloutier, a teacher at Brainerd High School, prefers to call the "masters division."
"The student teams will be made up of 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders from Brainerd," said Cloutier. "The masters' division will be made up of ex-Brainerd athletes and business members. It will be a fun day, especially seeing some of the old-timer teams.
"Larson Allen Weishair Co. has a team. There's a Cub Scout pack that has a team, a school administrators team, Century 21 and others have teams. There's a variety of organizations supporting teams."
Renee Steffen is educator and HIV chair for the Red Cross.
"The goal is to raise awareness relating to HIV/AIDS education," said Steffen. "There is still a lot of misinformation out there about how HIV is and isn't spread. The fact is, there are 40,000-50,000 new infections each year in the United States. Half of those cases are in people under the age of 25. That ratio holds true here in Minnesota."
"And there's a need in the community," Cloutier added, "to get more positive community involvement attached to athletics. There are going to be some very competitive games played Sunday."
The FATE group in Brainerd consists of 12 students who go into ninth-grade health classes around the area to talk about HIV. The students include Joy Archer, Katie Boran, Bryce Cloutier, Zach Dockter, Amber Hammers, Kirstin Jenson, Samantha Kloss, Thor Nystrom, Dan Olson, Noelle Razidlo, Andrew Steffen and Christina Bird, who is also a Red Cross Youth Board member.
"Peer education works much better when we're focusing on youth," said Steffen. "Kids are tired of listening to us. But, they'll listen to kids. They'll pay attention and participate."
Businesses and organizations throughout the area have contributed money to sponsor teams and pay for prizes that will be given away to participants and the public at a drawing after the tournament. Cloutier emphasized that many diverse groups have supported the project in a variety of ways.
"For example," said Cloutier, "Dennis Eastman, the men's athletic director at Central Lakes College, is trying to get some of the men and women basketball players from over there to referee.
"Bruce Smith, a teacher (at BHS), is also adviser for Students Against Drunk Driving, a group that donated $300 to sponsor some kids in the tournament."
So, while two NCAA teams in Minneapolis will be waiting to play for the national title and television money, you can spend a buck on something that can make a difference, maybe to someone in your community, maybe even to your child.
See you at the gym.
To make a donation or for more information, contact the Red Cross office at 829-4004.
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