Ever since Brent DeKok’s cancer diagnosis nearly four years ago, it has been an on and off battle, with many ups and downs.
“I learned a couple of weeks ago that things are still progressing, things are still going on,” says head coach Brent DeKok. “And it’s just been this hamster wheel that I just continue to ride with. Chemo, where it shuts things off, it fights it back, and we scan as soon as I get off chemo, here it comes back again.”
But as DeKok started to prepare for another season at the helm of St. Mary’s Basketball, a call from an old friend and coworker, Kyler Olson, proposed the Brent’s Bearded Brigade movement.
“It was kind of a surprise me when he called me and said ‘hey, this is something I’m thinking about doing.” says DeKok.
For Olson, it seemed like a no brainer.
“Again, I’ve been part of Movember and No Shave November fundraisers in the past,” says organizer Kyler Olson. “So it just seemed like the right thing to do, I guess, and seemed like a good idea and when I brought it up to Jordan Wilhelm, he said lets do it.”
“Whatever I can do to support, whatever I can push out for you,” says head coach Jordan Wilhelm. “We decided to get together and made a little Facebook video and he created the Facebook page, Brent’s Bearded Brigade, and I guess from there, we’re just trying to grow their facial hair out.”
From there, the posts pour in every Friday. Coaches and members of the basketball community showing their best scruff in support of a friend. It’s a fraternity that transcends decades’ old rivalries.
“When I first started as an assistant, got to know Coach DeKok a little bit, and got to learn about his character and who he was as a person, and we kind of clicked right away,” says Wilhelm. “Someone I always looked up to and call a mentor.”
“He was just one of those guys that just, some of our refs, we would fight over who got his game just because he was fun to be around,” says Olson.
With the season on the horizon, DeKok says he coaches because it’s such a big part of his life, as big as his faith, that has carried him through this whole experience.
“We quickly turned that around to not ‘Why me?’ but ‘God, how can you use me through this, and how can you use my journey, my battle, my fight to let your light shine through me?” says DeKok. “And that’s been a big focus of mine and I think that’s given me a ton of strength to move forward and focus on what tomorrow brings.”
One memory that embodies that strength was his return to the court after his first surgery in 2017.
“For him to have the energy to be out there to coach the game was uplifting,” says Wilhelm. “You look across and think it was unbelievable for him to do that. And that was when we got these shirts going, these ‘Brentstrong’ shirts, and the whole crowd was wearing yellow.”
Brentstrong, one phrase, with numerous meanings to those that matter to coach DeKok and his journey.
“He’s the most positive person you can be around especially in the times we’re living in now,” says Olson. “He’s an inspiration and I’ve told him a ton of times, and he just kind of laughs it off, and he moves on because I’m sure he’s been told that 100 times.”
“If someone is going through the things that he is going through can attack each day and have that mentality,” says Wilhelm. “I hope that Brentstrong, that kind of, have that mentality as well because we aren’t going through the things that he is.”
“The words Brentstrong to you. When you see those words, what does it mean to you?”
“Wow. It’s hard to say. Those words have meant so much,” says DeKok. “You ask me that, and I just get chills. Because it represents to me, the strength I have inside, but it also represents to me, the care, the kindness, and the generosity of so many others who have given so much to me and not just financially but support mentally, physically, it’s just been a blessing.”
If you want to make a donation to Coach DeKok, you can write a check in his name and drop it off at any American Bank Center in the Bismarck Mandan Area.