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More than the final score: Red Lake's first trip to state

Posted by: Howard Sinker Updated: March 12, 2014 - 1:18 PM

This blog post was authored by Dalton Walker, Red Lake High class of 2000. Walker is the Web Editor and Social Media Manager at The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo. He’s a member of the Native American Journalists Association Board of Directors and graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He lives with his wife and daughter in Manitou Springs, Colo. You can reach him on Twitter @GazetteDalton

The Red Lake Warriors basketball team didn’t beat the Wabasso Rabbits that chilly March night back in the 1997 Minnesota state basketball tournament, but the Warriors didn’t lose either.

I sat courtside to arguably the most exciting basketball game in Minnesota high school history. When the final buzzer of overtime sounded, the final score was Wabasso 117, Red Lake113. The game was played at the old St. Paul Civic Center and both teams ran the court as if there was a 10-second shot clock and the first to score 100 would win. And those were the days of the 8-minute quarters.

If the game was played today, the video replay would go viral and national sports shows like ESPN would show highlights.

This season, a new generation of Warriors qualified for the state tournament. Today’s Warriors were either in diapers or not yet born when the Red Lake Warriors advanced to the state tournament for the first time in school history 17 winters ago. 

Back in 1997, I was a Red Lake High School freshman and team manager. I watched every minute of every game that magical season. I knew this team was special early on after we upset Class 4A Bemidji. We ended the regular season with one loss and beat tough teams in the playoffs, including the No. 1 team in state in the first round of the Class 1A state tournament.

Back then, the state quarterfinals were played in regional sites. So going to "state" wasn't until we played in the Twin Cities. Now was that moment.

The entire reservation was celebrating. The Red Lake Nation was on the ultimate high and was proud of its Warriors, the first all-Native team to qualify for the state tournament.

For Red Lake, basketball is a way of life. The game provides an outlet, hope and a sense of pride for the Red Lake people. The team wasn’t simply a roster of 15 young men; it was a nation – the Red Lake Nation.

When Friday night finally came, there was nothing left to do except play ball.

I will never forget walking into the Civic Center and seeing the mighty Red Lake crowd. Some estimated as many as 7,000 Red Lake fans packed the arena.

I don’t remember many details about practice leading up to the game or how the team prepared for Wabasso, a town most of us never heard of until we were scheduled to play. All I remember is our coach Jack Desjarlait telling me they played like us.

They did.

The game started fast and grew faster by the minute. Points piled up quickly and at the half, both teams had combined to score 100 points.

Wabasso started to pull away in the second half and led by 19 points heading into the final quarter and 18 points with a little less than 5 minutes left when it happened.

Gerald Kingbird, only a sophomore, repeatedly slashed through Wabasso’s defense and scored 19 of his 37 points in the final eight minutes, leading a furious rally that tied the game at the end of regulation.

In the end, Wabasso scored four more points than Red Lake in what was a record-setting game. The game is still talked about today.

I often wonder what would have happened if we won that game. In a way, I think we did.

You can watch video of the game here:

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