It’s mighty interesting what can happen during a day in the life of a journalist. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I knew I would be at Minnetonka High School in the evening for a girls’ hockey game. But the biggest story of the day turned out to be a remarkable return to the athletic arena by a boys’ basketball player.
Stay with me here.
The plan was to attend a girls’ hockey game between Minnetonka and the St. Cloud Icebreakers, a cooperative team with players from Tech, Apollo and Cathedral high schools. And that did happen. I was inside the arena at Minnetonka when the Skippers and Icebreakers began their game. It ended with a 7-0 victory by Minnetonka.
The Skippers (9-1), who are ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, have lost only to Shattuck St. Mary's. Last Friday the Skippers defeated Blake, the No. 2 team in Class 1A, 2-1. Next up for Minnetonka is a game against Benilde-St. Margaret’s (No. 7 in 2A) on Saturday.
Minnetonka had outscored its opponents 13-4 in the first period prior to Tuesday. The opening period this time was scoreless, which was agood omen for the Icebreakers. But the Skippers sealed the deal with four goals in the second period by Hadley Cookson, Amy Peterson, Laura Bowman and Carolyn Draager.
The Icebreakers fell to 6-3. Tuesday’s game was their first trip to the Twin Cities this season; they also will play at Blake on Jan. 6.
Earlier Tuesday I had received this email from Tom Dasovich, the boys’ basketball coach at Minnetonka:
I know it is short notice but I wanted to make sure he was healthy enough to play. Larry Rice, a senior at Minnetonka, is going to play in our varsity basketball game tonight against Rosemount. He had open-heart surgery in late August and has been cleared. He is a great kid, I haven’t seen many kids work as hard to come back or overcome as much.
I hope all is well!
A little sleuthing uncovered the fact that this would be a home game for Minnetonka. Knowing the gym is a very short walk from the ice arena – like about 50 feet – this was a doubleheader jackpot.
After arriving at the school, I walked back and forth between the rink and the gym several times, darting across a road on the school grounds. I watched the basketball teams warm up for a while, snapped a photo of the Minnetonka pep band and put it up on my Twitter feed, chatted with one of the officials briefly and talked with Dasovich for a minute about Larry Rice.
Then I hit the rink for the opening faceoff and scoreless first period. Back to the gym in time to see Rice come off the bench for the Skippers in the first half. Back to the rink as the Zamboni finished its work and the teams came out for the second period. Then it was bang-bang-bang-bang and Minnetonka had a 4-0 lead.
I returned to the gym for the last eight minutes of the basketball game, which was close throughout until Rosemount won 61-57. As the teams went to the locker rooms, I asked Dasovich if I could talk with Rice. We chatted for a few minutes about his heart, his surgery and his return to action.
Rice (shown in the photo at left with Dasovich) is a top-flight football player and he missed the entire football season after a heart defect was found over the summer.
“Basically I was conditioning and I felt a little tightness in my chest so I had to go get it checked out,” Rice said. “A cardiologist said one of my arteries wasn’t pumping enough blood to my heart. I had to get that taken care of as soon as possible because it’s sometimes fatal.”
He had surgery on Aug. 27. There were some complications along the way, but two weeks ago he was given medical clearance to play basketball. Tuesday’s game was Larry’s first competitive activity since the last game of the 2009-10 basketball season.
Being cleared to play again “was just a relief after everything I’ve been through and all the training I’ve been through,” he said. “Just to be out there and compete again is a blessing.”
Before the game, Dasovich had told me that Rice was wearing an undershirt with a special pad over his heart. I assumed that it was a specialized piece of medical equipment. But after the game, when Larry had taken off his jersey, it was clear that his special shirt was homemade.
A pad had simply been sown into a blue sleeveless shirt. My question: Did you make that yourself?
“I did some of it,” he said as he smiled. “Well, my mom helped me. I can’t take the credit for this.”
No, maybe not for the shirt. But he can take plenty of credit for being an inspirational young man. Have a great season, Larry.
--To see photo galleries from both games, check out the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 265
*Miles John has driven: 5,575
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn