In the C Bracket championship at Gold Medal on Saturday, Hydaburg was playing for its third title in six years.
It was also playing for a man in a wheelchair sitting courtside.
Freddy Hamilton, one of the last remaining elders from the village, sat directly across the court from the Hydaburg bench as the team played against Klukwan. Hydaburg fended off numerous late runs from Klukwan — the three-time defending champion — and claimed victory by a score of 93-81.
Tournament MVP and Hydaburg player T.J. Young said they were very aware of Hamilton’s presence.
“It was a real honor playing in front of him,” Young said. “I’m glad we got a win. He’d probably tell us not to come home if we lost.”
Hamilton’s grandsons Freddy and Eric Hamilton were on the team, and Freddy ended up leading the team with 18 points in the victory. Eric finished with 16 and Young had 14.
For this Hydaburg team, Gold Medal is very much a family affair. Take a quick look at the roster and you’ll see very little variety in the last names. T.J.’s brothers Joe and Ben are on the team, as is their cousin Kevin, all of them sharing the last name Young.
Fittingly, they tore through the C Bracket undefeated thanks to a balanced attack. Four players scored in double digits in the final, and five players scored in double digits in the semifinal.
Hydaburg also won the tournament in 2014 and 2015. Klukwan then won the next three tournaments before falling to Hydaburg this year.
Saturday’s game was back-and-forth at the beginning, but Hydaburg pulled away near the end of the first half to enter halftime with a 50-39 lead. As Klukwan has shown in recent years, no lead is safe with shooters like Jason Shull, Stuart DeWitt and Andrew Friske on the team.
Shull in particular was lethal from long distance, nailing eight 3-pointers and scoring 28 points in the losing effort. Friske missed the first half and DeWitt was slowed by a slight leg injury, and they each scored 15 points.
Hydaburg held off numerous late rallies from Klukwan, playing stifling defense and keeping their cool despite Klukwan’s aggressive defense.
After the game ended and Hydaburg players received their medals, Ben Young ran across the court and draped his medal around the elder Hamilton’s neck. To T.J., moments like that sum up what Gold Medal truly is.
“It really is like a reunion coming here,” T.J. said. “It’s a little bit more than basketball for a lot of us.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.