Craig Henderson walked into the Park Center High School gymnasium with a smile on his face. Henderson, 49, wasn’t smiling because he was being honored for his courageous fight against pancreatic cancer.
The St. Paul native was smiling because his son Mykeal Henderson, a ninth grader at Brooklyn Park Junior High and member of Park Center’s sophomore boys’ basketball team, was going to suit up for the varsity as the Pirates took on Maple Grove in a Northwest Suburban Conference showdown.
“I’m not sure if he’s going to play,” said Craig Henderson, beaming with pride. “I’m just glad he’s suiting up.”
Maple Grove won the game 80-63 but the evening belonged to Craig Henderson and son Mykeal.
The Park Center administration and athletic department hosted a “Purple Out” on
“Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Night” in honor of the elder Henderson, who was diagnosed in August. A purple ribbon and flyer featuring information about the illness and his personal battle were distributed at the ticket entrance.
The game itself had its share of excitement. With Park Center trailing 44-35 at halftime, the Pirates, behind Amani Hooker and Laurence Ogunti, went on a 9-0 run to tie the score before Tywhon Pickford and his Maple Grove teammates pulled away.
But Mykeal Henderson, with the help of the Park Center faithful, was able to further honor his dad and his courageous fight.
With about three minutes remaining and the game out of reach, the crowd started chanting his name, encouraging the coach, Gerard Coury, to insert the shooting guard into the game. After their request was granted, they erupted as he approached the scorers’ table. They erupted again when he entered the game.
They erupted a few seconds later when he scored his first basket on a layup, and a minute later when he buried a jumper from the top of the key. He finished with four points in three minutes of play.
Hooker led Park Center with 18. Oguni added 14. Pickford led Maple Grove with a game-high 22 points.
After the game, the Park Center faithful stood and applauded in admiration as both teams exchanged handshakes.
Mykeal isn’t the only Henderson who is part of the Park Center basketball family. Sister Vanessa, a junior, is a manager for the girls’ basketball team. She also played on last year’s Class 3A state champs.
Henderson’s wife was surprised at the amount of support shown throughout the entire game. “I am very amazed by the support everyone has showed us tonight,” Lorrie Henderson said. “It was nice of the school and basketball team to do this for Craig. It means a lot to our family.”
When initially approached to suit up for the varsity, Mykeal Henderson wanted no part of it. “He really didn’t want to do it,” Lorrie Henderson said smiling. “But I’m glad he did.”
Craig Henderson was glad his son ended up participating as well. “I’m glad he suited up in the end,” he said with a big smile. “I’m very proud of him tonight. I’m a proud dad.”
Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.