Hager finds wins amid loss

Brooklyn Hager

RUGBY – Brooklyn Hager found her friends through sports. More importantly she found herself.

Hager always loved basketball. One of her earliest memories was when her mom still coached at Towner, and her entire team insisted that Hager, then just a toddler, be included in the team photo.

“My mom is a second generation basketball coach,” said Hager. “When I was around five years old she put me in my first basketball camp and I just never stopped.”

Hager also plays both softball and volleyball. She started softball in fifth grade in a summer rec program. Today, it is her favorite sport.

She also helped birth the varsity program in Rugby.

When Hager was a seventh grader, the first year North Dakota students could play at the high school level, softball was just a club sport in Rugby, lacking both school sanction and funding. It was also amidst the pandemic, so she didn’t get to play that season.

Hager’s eighth grade year was the first official varsity season for Rugby, and her freshman year saw the program become school funded.

“It was definitely tough, but we had a lot of older girls that had also started in fifth grade,” said Hager. “They were really good leaders for the team, and they led us through a lot of fundraising that we had to do.”

The Panthers managed a 7-8 record during her eighth grade year.

“Not too bad for a first year sport at a school.”

Hager started volleyball in seventh grade, and found it “really fun.”

“I had a good time with all my friends in it, and I continue to play now with a lot of my friends,” said Hager.

While faculty and staff might be quick to disagree, Hager doesn’t consider herself involved in the school academically. She acknowledges that she isn’t involved in FFA or other non-athletic pursuits.

Plus, sports are where her friends are, and she’s played three sports throughout high school.

“I like to hang out with my friends and through sports, I’ve made a lot of cool friendships.”

That’s why when Hager lost the past year to a devastating knee injury suffered during softball, she felt like part of her identity was lost too.

Hager dislocated her knee cap and tore her patellar tendon, along with significant amounts of cartilage while pitching. Her first surgery in August removed most of the cartilage pieces that were “free floating” inside her knee, and following the surgery, Hager spent several days on crutches before being able to walk around with some normalcy.

She was also put on a donor list to replace the lost cartilage, and prevent arthritis and other complications from the injury. It took approximately two months for the procedure to be approved by her insurer; however, once she was on the donor list, it wasn’t long before a cadaver became available.

“By some miracle, I was only on this list for 12 days before they found a donor with the right blood type and measurements,” said Hager.

That surgery in November only lasted about two and a half hours, but her road to recovery has been much longer.

At times, she struggled with how mentally exhausting it all was.

“There were days when I was trying to go back to school where I would get up and I would just not be ready.”

One day her mom came home to find her sitting on the steps crying from stress and unable to attend school that day. Other mornings, little tasks, like getting out of bed in the morning were struggles.

“I had to take more time to do it [return to school]. It became a big challenge to even get myself ready for school, much less crutch around all day and have the mental capacity to listen and get all my work done.”

Nonetheless, she continued to attend her athletic practices to support her teammates, and that perseverance caught the eye of many including her principal, Jared Blikre.

“You know, for her to go through a traumatic injury and still show up every day, every practice and every game and be there for her teammates, that’s what stood out for me,” said Blikre.

He also saw the effort cross over into the classroom.

“She’s a very, very bright young woman,” said Blikre. “She’s got a great career ahead of her. She’s dedicated, passionate and driven in everything that she does. I really look forward to seeing how much she’s going to achieve in the future.”

After graduation, Hager plans on studying speech and language pathology, and she is considering Minot State University.

When it came time for Blikre to nominate a Rugby High School student for the North Dakota High School Activities Association Distinguished Student Award, he knew exactly who to tap.

“He pulled me into his office at school,” said Hager. “He said, ‘I have this award for a junior every year. This year I’m choosing you.'”

After filling out the application, Hager was selected as one of six finalists for the award. The winner will be announced on May 1, 2024, following interviews with the finalists in Jamestown. He or she will receive a $2,000 scholarship and be invited to be the Grand Marshal of the NDHSAA ‘Parade of Champions.’ The runner-up will receive a $1,000 scholarship and the remaining four finalists all receive a scholarship worth $500.

The other finalists are Laela Jensen, Hettinger; Zach Volson, Drake-Anamoose; Scout Woods, Wapheton; Martin Bergstedt, Enderlin and Sadie Aamodt, Larimore.

Each nominee was required to write an essay, and Hager’s spoke of the opportunities she found in loss.

“To me, one of the most important benefits I have from sports is a principle that is not talked about enough: how to lose,” wrote Hager in her essay, which she shared with The Minot Daily News and Pierce County Tribune. “At the end of day, sports are just a game; but through high school sports, you experience both the highs and the lows. You learn how to lose with grace and dignity and how to work harder to come back stronger. This is a key value because it is something that can be carried into life. Besides losing, you also learn to win with compassion and honor. My coaches and teammates push me to not only be a better athlete but also a better person, even when I am not on the court.”

She closed her essay with the following:

“Despite the extreme low, I am thankful for the chance to get better through observation. I discovered a lot of ways I can make myself a better athlete and teammate.

Had I never been involved in sports, I never would have had this injury, but then I also would have never learned these valuable lessons and earned those friendships. To me, it was an opportunity in disguise. The good will always outweigh the bad.”


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