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Christian Babcock: Babcock Column: When a basketball game becomes an important life lesson

Feb. 27—To some journalists, covering sports is regarded as the toy factory of the news profession.

To them, sports are regarded as trivial, frivolous endeavors that don't truly impact everyday life. Sometimes, though, sports transcend life in a way that I would argue is unmatched by anything else in the world.

One of those moments took place on Monday night at the Bemidji High School Gymnasium. Right before halftime of the Bemidji girls basketball team's Section 8-4A play-in game against Rogers, senior Katey Milbrandt suffered a hard-to-watch upper-body injury. She remained on the court for a time and had to be helped off the floor ahead of the halftime break.

It looked doubtful that she would return to action. But there she was during the second-half warmup, intending to reenter the game.

She took one warmup shot and was in obvious pain, yet she checked into the game regardless.

Head coach Darin Schultz said the decision to play was ultimately up to her.

"She had 15 points at halftime," he said. "She was a crucial part of what we do offensively, getting to the rim and creating for other people. I would never take that moment away from a kid if she thinks she can try it. She (tried), she took one shot and immediately she knew that it wasn't going to work."

Milbrandt attempted a 3-pointer on the Jacks' first possession of the half and recoiled immediately in anguish. It was clear she would be unable to continue.

In that moment, I felt for Bemidji. It's always difficult to lose a player to injury, but it would be hard to imagine a worse moment for it — your season on the line, and one of your best players goes down. It was hard to watch, and I'm sure much harder to endure.

"You absolutely hate to see this," Schultz said. "Honestly, as a coach, this is the worst-case situation that you can have — somebody on your team gets hurt. Our thoughts and prayers are with Katey, and hopefully she's OK."

Sometimes, life sucks. It really, really sucks.

But in those moments, you have a choice — how will you respond? It's not always easy to keep going.

In the moments when athletes forge on despite adverse circumstances, that's when sports really shine. And that's exactly what the Jacks did.

Despite losing a five-point halftime lead, despite trailing by five later in the half, Bemidji walked through the fire and came out the other side, winning 72-70. With a true team effort, the Lumberjacks extended their season — and Milbrandt's — for at least one more game.

After riding that emotional roller coaster, Schultz had a lot to reflect upon.

"As a coach, a lot of times you're asked a question of what's your definition of success? For a lot of people, it's a lot of different things," he said. "Sometimes it's wins and losses. Sometimes it's a section or state championship. For me, my definition of success is to see our team improve and see them grow. And tonight, I saw them take leaps and bounds in a big way. So (I'm) incredibly proud of our team."

That says it all.

Bemidji's season could end as soon as Wednesday, when the Lumberjacks face defending Class 4A state champion St. Michael-Albertville in St. Michael. But I'd wager that win or lose, this BHS squad will never forget Monday's win.

Schultz agrees.

"That's the goal of high school sports, for our girls to make some memories that will last them a lifetime," he said.

There are many, many more important things in life than sporting contests. But there are moments when I'd put the morals gained from sports up against lessons learned in almost any other walk of life.

This was one of those times.