HENNING – On Saturday, three weeks to the day after winning their school's first state championship, members of the Henning Hornets boys basketball team will go to the gym and play. And laugh. And remember their friend and teammate Jacob Quam.
Saturday will mark the second anniversary of Jacob's death. Early in the morning on April 13, 2017, Jacob was driving six miles from his home in Vining to Henning for a before-school weightlifting session when the driver of a semitrailer heading in the opposite direction crossed the center line and collided with Jacob's vehicle.
Later that morning, the Henning students were informed of Jacob's death as they gathered in the gym. Four days after that, his funeral was held in the gym. He would have been a senior this year.
After the boys play basketball Saturday, they will go to Jacob’s grave a mile away at St. Paul’s Cemetery. Jacob’s mom, Angela Quam, will meet them there and they will celebrate Jacob with fireworks.
"We’ll do five grand finales," Angela said. "All the boys will be there, then they’re going to somebody’s cabin for a sleepover. Hopefully that’s a tradition they’ll be able to carry on."
The Hornets were the story of this year’s basketball tournament, coming to state for the first time since 1966 as a team that few outside of Otter Tail County knew much about. Their dedication to Jacob -- evidenced by his No. 33 jersey being on the bench for every game since his death – made the Hornets an easy team to cheer for.
Coach Randy Misegades is still receiving emails from strangers offering congratulations and wanting to order state championship apparel.
“Some of them had never heard of Henning before the tournament,” he said, sitting with the team’s four seniors Tuesday afternoon.
The Class 1A state championship trophy and net from Target Center are on display in the school office. Memories of Jacob are everywhere in the community of 800 people. Signs in the windows of businesses say “6 on 5” … a slogan about Jacob’s memory serving as a sixth man on the court. His 33 is a common sight. His locker, a few steps from the gym, bears a nameplate with his name and number; his basketball shoes are still inside, with his combination lock in place. A chain-link fence on the school grounds carries the message “6 on 5. Hornet Pride.”
A plaque in the school, with a photo of Jacob, says, “There are some people in life that make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger and live just a little bit better.” Jacob’s jersey, along with his gold medals from the Section 6 and state tournaments, hangs in assistant coach Mark Oscarson’s classroom.
Angela Quam calls herself “a lucky woman” because of how Jacob, her only child, is being remembered.
“It’s meant the world to me,” she said. “I was worried that people would forget about him. That was my big concern. And now he’s a part of history. I knew these boys were out there playing their hearts out for themselves and for Jacob. And for me.”
The players not only dedicated two seasons to Jacob, they also dedicated themselves to improving their skills in his memory.
“That summer after (Jacob’s death) we had basketball at 6 in morning,” said senior Dylan Trana. “I know I wasn’t excited to wake up before 6 but he would have been there, too, if he could.”
Fellow senior Adam Lange said, “It definitely united us all. It made us better friends.”
Trana added, “We wouldn’t have been nearly as close. It’s pretty much like we’re all brothers.”
Basketball is the only boys sport in which Henning still fields a stand-alone team. The others are cooperative teams with kids from Battle Lake and Underwood; those teams are known as the Ottertail Central Bulldogs.
“We hope we can hang on because you can look out there and see how much pride there is in the orange and black,” said Misegades, who is a special ed teacher and Henning’s athletic director. “We want to hang onto it.”
Senior basketball players Trana, Lange, Sam Fisher and Jack Bjorklund hope their state championship helps the program remain Henning-only forever.
Lange said, “It’s like we’re all a big family here. Once you add other schools it doesn’t mean as much.”
Henning has long been a basketball town; photos of the 1965 and 1966 state tournament teams hang in the gym lobby as a testament to history and tradition. Neal Oscarson played on those teams and later became the head coach of the Hornets. Misegades played for Neal, and now Neal’s son Mark is Misegades’ assistant.
“It’s really important,” Trana said of the town’s basketball tradition.
In Misegades’ first season as head coach, 14 years ago, the team won one game. Two years ago the Hornets finished 7-20 and last season they went 19-9. This season they finished 31-1, losing to Parkers Prairie in overtime in the regular-season finale but defeating the Panthers by two in the section title game.
“I’ve got to be honest; you go through those first years and think, ‘Is this worth it?,’ ” said Misegades, whose career record is 184-183. “Obviously this is pretty special, but you learn a lot when you get your brains beat in.”
The players and coaches still receive congratulations on a daily basis. They recall with amazement the giant crowds wearing Hornets orange and black at the state tournament.
“A number of people thanked me for creating an all-school reunion at Target Center,” the coach said with a smile. “I told these guys that for the rest of their life they’re state champions. We talked a lot about the journey, and the destination was pretty special, too.”
Like the players and coaches, Angela Quam continues to hear from people who offer support, along with memories of Jacob and what a special young man he was.
“It’s remarkable, I don’t even have words for it,” she said.
“As horrible as it was, I am blessed. I’m thankful for everyone and everything that people have done for me. The basketball team is always going to have a special place in my heart. Always.”--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.