MONROE — From time to time, the human spirit can amaze, inspire and even surprise.
There was a little bit of all three Sunday at Monroe High School. Nearly 50 former Bearcats girls basketball players showed up at the gym for a 2 p.m. alumni game. But this wasn’t just any old game, it was a game to help raise money for — and honor — former Monroe girls basketball coach Alan Dickson.
The 69-year-old Dickson coached at Monroe from 1994-2007, retiring because of his ongoing battle with prostate cancer. He has spent the better part of the past decade fighting the illness and recently was informed the cancer has reached stage-four hormone resistant levels.
As if his own battle wasn’t enough to deal with, two of his grandchildren are battling health problems: A 10-year-old granddaughter recently was diagnosed with leukemia and he has a grandson with a brain tumor.
With the Dickson family facing tough times, some of his former players decided to take action.
Kaylee Hansen, a 2002 graduate of Monroe, came up with the idea of an alumni basketball game as a fund-raiser and posted an event notice on Facebook. Hansen quickly got responses from Ashley Robertson as well as Dani Drivstuen, Brandy Dunsing and Joni Edelbrock. Seems some of them had had the same idea.
“It was kind of funny because Dani and Brandi and Joni had already been planning on doing this,” Hansen said. “So without us even talking, we were all kind of thinking about doing the same thing.”
Together the group planned Sunday’s event, which featured a team of graduates from 1996-2002 going against a group from 2003 and up. Admission was free, but donations were encouraged. The event also included raffles and a chance to win a $1,200 gift card to Grocery Outlet of Monroe by sinking a halfcourt shot.
The girls took the floor for warmups about a half hour before the game’s scheduled start time, but took a break around 1:50 p.m. when the man of the hour made his entrance. The players and fans in attendance stopped and gave Dickson a standing ovation as he walked into the gym, some with tears in their eyes.
Dickson appeared honored and humbled. It was just the reaction Drivstuen expected.
“This is going to mean the world to him,” Drivstuen said before Dickson arrived. “This is just going to make his day. This is what he is all about, basketball is his passion. These girls showing up and this being in his honor, I’m so excited to see his reaction.”
Once the game started, Dickson spent time shaking hands and giving hugs to people who stopped by to greet him on the sidelines. But when the 2003-and-up team fell behind 15-5 early in the second quarter, Dickson’s coaching instincts kicked in and he got to work. He began encouraging the bench and giving commands to the players on the floor.
Less than five minutes later, the 2003-and-up team found itself with a 24-17 halftime lead and would eventually go on to win 38-31.
The game raised $2,829, all of which goes to the Dickson family to help defray medical costs.
“Hopefully he will just leave here knowing how much he was respected and how well-liked he was and how much we all just love him,” Edelbrock said.
Robertson said seeing the way Dickson and his family have been dealing with the tragedy of illness has brought perspective to her life.
“I don’t think this is about basketball,” Robertson said. “I think it’s about them as people. They are such good people and they are faced with such tragic illnesses, yet they stay so positive and loving and faithful. It’s so inspiring to me.
“I can’t sit there and say, ‘Oh, I’m having a bad day,’ because this little thing happened. When you see someone going through cancer and their granddaughter going through leukemia, and yet they are being so positive, the whole thing is just really inspiring.”
Dickson coached at Monroe for 13 seasons, guiding the Bearcats to seven state tournaments and placing four times. The Bearcats’ highest finish under Dickson came in 1996 when they placed third.
Dunsing and Edelbrock were on the 1996 team.
“Being a state champion was always his goal,” Dunsing said. “But he’s given so many people so many things that I think what he’s done for the community is more than a state championship.”
Seeing the community support for Dickson on Sunday, there is no question he is remembered fondly by the Bearcat faithful.
“When you say Monroe girls basketball, he is who I think about,” Edelbrock said. “I think that goes for a lot of people. This just gives us a chance to kind of give back to him a little bit.”
Nearly 20 years later, Edelbrock still recalls fondly the state run of the 1996 Bearcats.
“It created a family, I think, with all of us,” she said. “There will never be another team like it. We just came together. It was the best experience that I think most all of us have ever had. We didn’t come out on top, but third in state is right up there. Just being there was just amazing.”
Although Dickson’s teams would never place as high again, they made it a habit of qualifying for districts and state. The Bearcats missed the district tournament only once under Dickson.
“I enjoyed immensely my 13 years at Monroe,” he said. “I would have never quit had I not been diagnosed with cancer.”
After leaving coaching in 2007 and retiring from teaching a year later, Dickson felt healthy enough to return to the sidelines in the fall of 2008, taking over as head coach at Bear Creek High School in Redmond. He coached there for two seasons before taking the head-coaching job at Cedar Park Christian in Bothell, where he has been since. He has 293 career victories in 17 years as a head coach.
While Dickson has again been forced to take time away from basketball to deal with his illness, he is not officially retired from coaching and still has his eye on his 300th victory.
“Who knows, maybe I will be back one day,” he said. “That’s my hope.”
He said doctors recently told him he had anywhere from two to 18 months to live. He visited the doctors at the University of Washington and they were more optimistic, saying he could live years if everything goes right.
His energy continues to be high and he’s even spent recent weekends coaching Cedar Park Christian in tournaments.
Sunday’s outpouring of support left him overwhelmed, Dickson said.
“This is like a good human-interest story,” he said. “I can’t believe they are doing this for me, I was just there coach. Not all of them were the leading scorer. Not all of them got all the press — but they are all here.
“That’s really what it’s about, being part of a team. This is a team thing today.”
Aaron Lommers covers sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.