ANNANDALE – Two comments overheard during a grand Tuesday evening of basketball in a packed gymnasium do a pretty good job of telling the story.
Quote No. 1: “This is just a game. There’s a little kid fighting for his life.”
Quote No. 2: “Those were two dang good teams going at it.”
Both quotes are accurate. These were just games, with the girls and boys basketball teams from Hopkins heading to Annandale for a varsity doubleheader. The overall focus was on a little boy who is in the minds and hearts and prayers of everyone who attended.
Henry Dolan is the grandson of Annandale boys basketball coach Skip Dolan. Henry was born with heart defects and given a two percent chance to survive for a week after birth. That was nine months ago. Henry, who has undergone a heart transplant, remains hospitalized and hopes are high for his long-term health. But the road will be long for Henry, his parents, Sam and Mollie Dolan, and his two big sisters.
There were signs on the gym walls proclaiming it a “Night of Hope.” Hope For Henry t-shirts, hats and bracelets were sold. The teams wore Hope For Henry shirts during warmups.
The girls game was, well, one-sided. The Hopkins girls are the top-ranked team in Class 4A and ran their record to 22-0 with a 79-35 victory over the Class 2A Cardinals. The boys game was not like that at all. Here were the mighty Hopkins Royals, longtime power in Class 4A and currently ranked No. 6 in that class with a pregame record of 14-5, and the Annandale Cardinals, unranked in Class 2A and holding a record of 15-3.
Between warmups and tipoff of the boys game, Skip Dolan and Cardinals senior guard Connor Magrum each spoke to the crowd.
Magrum and his teammates have made Henry part of the team. He is an honorary Cardinal, with a number 13 jersey dedicated to him (that’s the number Henry’s dad wore). The players all wear Hope For Henry wristbands, which they hang on a makeshift wooden tree during games. The Hopkins players did something special, too, writing personal notes to the Dolans and hanging them on the tree before warmups.
“Tonight we would like to draw attention to a special little boy who has been in our hearts since long before the season began,” Connor said. He stressed the importance of organ donation, saying, “One way we can all be heroes in our community and beyond is by considering becoming an organ donor.”
Coach Dolan thanked the Hopkins teams for coming to Annandale, and thanked all the people behind Tuesday’s events. It was clear that Skip and his family have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. (Skip is pictured here with the Hopkins girls team.)
“We are truly, truly thankful to this community, to this student body, to this school district,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of a community and what you’ve done.”
The longest ovation of the night came when Skip introduced Sam and Mollie, who were in the stands while grandma was with Henry for a few hours.
“Imagine being told that there’s a two percent chance at birth that your child will live the first week,” Skip said. He ended his comments with this: “Let’s play basketball!”
And oh did they play basketball. The Royals shot the lights out early and led 29-11 midway through the first half. The Cardinals began finding the range and were only behind by five at halftime, 45-40.
The halftime entertainment included a free throw contest. The hopefuls paid a dollar for the chance to sink a shot and win a two-liter jug of pop. The 50-50 raffle winner also was announced. The pot was north of a thousand dollars and the winner would take home more than $500. But, as expected, the holder of the lucky ticket simply said, “keep it all” and the money went toward Henry’s care. Huge round of applause.
The boys from Annandale did not waver in the second half. The score was 50-50 with 14 minutes to go and the atmosphere was electric. After that? Bedlam.
A three-point play by Trent Pepper and a three-point field goal by Jarod Wilken gave Annandale a 61-57 lead with 8:56 left. The crowd was screaming and that never changed. Joe Hedstrom, Hopkins’ 6-foot-11 junior center, powered to the hoop to give the Royals a two-point edge and Wilken tied it with a layup. There were missed shots and turnovers in the final minutes, and the verdict was finally sealed with Hopkins senior Ishmael El-Amin making two free throws to give the Royals a 72-71 win that they will long remember.
The postgame scene was just as special. There were handshakes and hugs, “thanks for coming” and “wow, what a game!” Skip Dolan posed for photos with Hopkins players and coaches, big smiles on every face. It was truly a night to remember.
Someday, Henry will hear all about it.--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 349
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 7,815
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn