Denfeld News

Jan. 26, 2010
Duluth News Tribune

Denfeld versus Central ... versus cancer
By Rick Weegman

Instinctively, Duluth Denfeld senior Liz Beeksma will look into the crowd for her father at tonight’s girls basketball game against Duluth Central.

But the result will be the same as it has been in the four years since Richard Beeksma lost his battle with cancer: He’ll be there in spirit only.

“My dad was my best friend,” said the 18-year-old Beeksma, whose father coached her from third through fifth grade. “We were pretty much exactly the same person. He was my coach since I was old enough to dribble a basketball, and he was always there pushing me. To lose not only my dad, but my best friend and my coach, is hard.”

That’s why Beeksma expects tonight’s game against the Trojans to be special. The schools are participating in the first Coaches vs. Cancer event at 7:30 p.m. at Denfeld High School.

Richard Beeksma died at age 47, just a week before Liz’s 14th birthday. He had fought mantle cell lymphoma, a rare non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that usually strikes the lymphatic system in people 60 or older.

Beeksma, a reserve point guard/small forward, said the American Cancer Society fundraiser is close to her heart.

“As soon as it was planned, I was like, ‘I’m in this all the way. How can I help and what can I do?’ ” she said. “This is such a good cause.”

Players, who will wear orange and blue shoelaces in honor of the event, are selling $1 ribbons today during school and before the game. They have a fundraising goal of $500 that they hope to give to the American Cancer Society.

Denfeld coach Jim Jubenville and Central coach Greg Goman plan to wear suits and ties with sneakers a la college coaches. The Coaches vs. Cancer college men’s tournament, a collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches, began 15 years ago and has raised nearly $50 million for cancer research.

“It’s a cause that’s close to me, losing both my parents [to cancer] when I was younger,” said Jubenville, whose mother, Catherine, died when he was 9 and father, Gene, when he was 17. “So this came along and I thought it would be a way of recognizing and giving back to help that cause.”

Jubenville said he hopes the event continues with another school since the Duluth school district’s long-range facilities plan calls for Central’s athletic teams to dissolve this spring in preparation for a two high school district. He says it’s a cause students and coaches from both schools can rally behind.

“It’s a good first step, especially with Central and Denfeld coming together next year,” Jubenville said. “It’s good for team-bonding, and you’re giving to the community as well.”

It’ll have a different meaning for Beeksma, especially when she seeks out her father in the stands.

“I swear I can still hear him yelling at me, ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘Why did you do that?’ ” the coach’s daughter said. “I still look for him every single time.”

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