PILLAGER -- Football is just a game.
Maybe. But don't tell that to Steve and Robert Bethel who've used the sport as an escape.
The two brothers are star running backs for the Pillager Huskies football team. They've helped Pillager to a 6-1 record and a probable tie for the Prairie North Conference. Pillager also should be seeded No. 1 for the Section 6A playoffs and is ranked sixth in the latest Class A poll from The Associated Press.
They've done all this while their mother, Carolyn Bethel, was battling from scleroderma. It's a disease she had for a couple years, said Robert Bethel, that affected her heart and lungs.
Carolyn died Sunday at the St. Cloud Hospital. She was 38. Robert said he and Steve were there when she died, but had said their good-byes two days before.
Not being able to talk to her because of her medication, Steve read to her.
"We were there and we each walked in separately," said Steve. "I walked in and read her Psalm 23 from the Bible. That was her favorite verse. After that we just sat and held her hand, We couldn't really talk to her."
Pillager travels to New York Mills for its final regular season game tonight. Both Bethels are playing. Steve, the starting fullback for the Huskies wouldn't think of not playing.
"Before she passed away she told us she wants us to keep going with the rest of our lives," said Steve. "She wants us to got to the state championship so that's what we're going to do."
Pillager head coach Pete Bothun said, "Actually I gave them the option (to not play) but Carolyn didn't," said Bothun. "She told them they're going to play.
"Actually it was really kind of funny. Monday they weren't in school and everyone was looking for them. We went out to practice and to be honest it was dull. Then they came and practice just picked up."
Yet, it won't be the same. For the first seven games, Carolyn had a front row seat to all the Pillager games. Unable to sit in the bleachers, she was allowed to have someone drive her up to the field in the family's van.
After each game, Robert and Steve would huddle with the team, maybe talk to a sports writer and then head right to their mother.
She would bombard her boys with questions about the game.
Those questions won't be there tonight, but both Bethels know she'll still be watching.
"You know Carolyn is watching where ever she is," said Steve a senior at Pillager. "She understands what we're doing so now I don't have to explain it too her.
"We would go pray with her before the games and it's going to be hard since we can't do that anymore."
The two boys are in mourning, but you wouldn't know it. They've prepped for this day. They knew it was coming and now they just want to make their mother proud.
"Now she's not suffering," said Robert. "She was having a hard time breathing. Now she's where she wants to be -- up in heaven."
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