Sartell High School’s gym was packed Friday night for the boys basketball team’s game against Rocori.
It was the type of game that Tom Bearson would have liked to have been at, Debbie Bearson said. Her son, who was the Sabres’ MVP in basketball in 2013-14, relished playing in front of big crowds.
“It’s heartwarming, and it’s bittersweet,” Debbie Bearson said.
Friday night’s “Hoopin’ for Tommy B” was dedicated to Bearson and his family; the 18-year-old was killed in 2014 during his freshman year at North Dakota State University. His death was ruled a homicide, and the case remains unsolved.
The crowd was filled with people wearing neon green shirts reading “Tommy B: Hoopin’ In Heaven.” The T-shirts were sold to benefit the Tom Bearson Foundation, but organizers made it clear that Friday was about honoring Bearson and supporting his family, not just about raising money. The shirts were sold out more than an hour before tipoff at 7:30 p.m.
“We can’t say enough about the outpouring of support,” Debbie Bearson said about Sartell residents. She sat in the front row for the game.
There was a raffle, too, which had earned at least $750 before the game started, said Kristin Olson, who was wearing flashing green sunglasses as she doled out tickets.
“It’s not so much about the sales. I just think everybody wants to help the foundation and the family,” Olson said.
Even the Rocori players wore the green T-shirts during warmups. That illustrates how interconnected the Sartell and Rocori communities are, said John Ross, Sartell activities director.
“It just shows you can have rivals, but you support each other when it’s really needed,” he said.
Sartell senior Trevor Erickson sat in the front row and had a sign reading #JusticeForTom. He said his brother was good friend with Bearson.
“I know we all miss him,” Erickson said. “I know how much it would mean to his family and friends to get an answer.”