PEQUOT LAKES -- A sport was like morphine for a town beaten down but not out Tuesday night.
A simple basketball game provided an escape this community needed and will continue to need. It was this simple release from reality that packed the Pequot Lakes High School gym.
A girls' basketball game was a break from Pequot's reality that not everything is how it seems and life is fragile.
Is basketball just a game? Normally, I would say yes. After Tuesday, however, it was more than a game. It was proof not everything in the world is rotten.
The Pequot Lakes Patriots girls' basketball team offered its fans and its community something to cheer about as it beat Mid-State Conference rival Staples-Motley 56-46.
Teresa Parker helped Pequot forget about sadness and loss. The junior center scored her 1,000th career point in the third quarter on a free throw. A quiet crowd was in disbelief because it was something good for a change.
A simple free throw turned scared eyes and tears of sorrow into wide eyes and tears of joy. Are sports important? You bet.
Before the game began, a memorial was conducted for one of Pequot's athletic contributors. A new scoreboard was dedicated to a man who always stood underneath where it hangs.
Joe Neznik, a 1973 Staples High School graduate and a Pequot teacher and coach, died last year. His wife, Deb, daughter, Heather, and son, Joey, were there Tuesday to help honor him.
A red scoreboard may have brought closure to a family. It also will keep their patriarch's memory alive.
Parker will never forget her former teacher.
"At the beginning of the game it was really nerve-wracking, especially because it was for Joe," said Parker. "He was my favorite teacher. I didn't know if I could handle it. It was a little shaky in the beginning because I was thinking of him so much."
Pins calling for the safe return of a missing friend adorned the fans in the gymnasium. Dru Sjodin's former basketball coach battled his emotions and helped give the community something else to think about for three hours.
"I'm 33 years old and I could barely handle myself (Tuesday)," said Patriots coach Bill Larson. "Bringing sports into the gym, I think it did help some people. It brought people together with everything that's going on in the school and I think it was an important one to have, win or lose."
Early today, instead of going over game film, Larson searched for his former player with a few of her former teammates.
Is basketball just a game? It wasn't to Joe Neznik. It isn't to the Pequot girls who played it with Dru Sjodin and hope to play a simple game with her again.
Life may never be normal again in Pequot Lakes, but the Patriot girls' basketball team won at home Tuesday and that's a good start in helping life return to normal.
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