When Wade Christensen was in the second grade, the Staples-Motley Cardinals were competing in their sixth state basketball tournament.
With the 6-foot-6 senior forward helping lead the way this season, the Cardinals reached the pinnacle of Minnesota high school basketball for the 10th time. But the road Christensen took to the tournament was anything but paved.
Christensen was born in Thief River Falls, but along with his family, eventually found his way to Staples, where his dad, Everett, began a stint as an engineer for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. But when Wade was beginning the fourth grade, his dad was transferred once again -- this time to Dilworth.
Less than a year later, Wade and two older brothers (Lee and Chad) were forced to deal with the passing of their mother, Elaine, who lost her battle with leukemia.
"Number one, I wished I wouldn't have gone through any of it, but it's made me a better all-around person and a more responsible person.
"After a game, most kids have supper cooked for them and have their clothes taken care of. I already know I'm not going to have my mom and dad holding my hand. I've got a few more responsibilities and I think I've done a pretty good job of handling it."
Wade battled with the loss of his mother as he attended the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District through his freshman year of high school.
That was the first year he played varsity basketball. But Christensen saw limited action until the final game of the year, when ironically his team faced Staples-Motley in D-G-F's final game of the season.
Before his sophomore year, Christensen decided, for reasons on and off the court, to move back to Staples, but this time he would be alone. He lived in a house owned by family friends for his sophomore year and started on a young Cardinals team that lost in the Section 8AA title game.
Christensen moved in with his father's girlfriend, Mary Mayavski, the next year as the Cardinals again lost the section title game to Long Prairie-Grey Eagle -- this time by only two points.
During his senior season, Christensen and his dad found an apartment for him in Staples. His dad would pick up the expenses but Christensen would be responsible for just about everything else.
"It's been a long journey," Christensen said. "When my dad grew up he was in the same situation and he has a good work ethic. It's a good experience. As long as I'm at school on time and not getting in trouble, it's a good thing."
Christensen said he still sees his dad sometimes during the week and almost every weekend.
"Number one, I wished I wouldn't have gone through any of it, but it's made me a better all-around person and a more responsible person," said Christensen. "After a game, most kids have supper cooked for them and have their clothes taken care of. I already know I'm not going to have my mom and dad holding my hand. I've got a few more responsibilities and I think I've done a pretty good job of handling it."
While Christensen is in a situation which is foreign to most high school students, he doesn't want to be looked at differently.
"I remember I said something once about leadership and he has a tough situation," Cardinals coach Lynn Peterson said. "Most kids go straight home and I said, 'Wade, you could be out and be running around all night,' but his reply was, 'I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me.'"
Staples-Motley finished this season 26-3 and placed fourth at the Class AA state tournament. The Cardinals pummeled International Falls in the quarterfinal round, lost to eventual champion Litchfield in the semifinals and lost to defending champion Minneapolis DeLaSalle for third place.
Christensen, who plans to play basketball at a community college the next two seasons, finished this season third on the team in scoring at 11.1 points per game. He was second in rebounds (7.1 rpg), blocked shots (22) and field goal percentage (55.2) and fourth in steals (42).
But his biggest impact is not statistical.
"When a kid is down and out, I'm there to help pick them up," Christensen said. "But leadership is just one of those things I have. In fourth grade, I once had a teacher in Dilworth tell me I was going to be a leader."
At the completion of Christensen's high school career that has proven true.
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