By Dan Ninham
Native college athletes are trailblazers and pacesetters. They set precedence by going to college to be student-athletes, staying in college and graduating, and setting the pace for others to follow their trail.
Grace White and Alexis Desjarlait are Anishinaabekwewag (Indian women) who are blazing their trails and setting their paces by excelling in college basketball. Both are graduates of Red Lake High School, Red Lake, MN and were teammates.
Grace White, daughter of Roger White and Tara Graves and sister to Ashley and the late Aaron, was the first Red Lake HS student-athlete to be an NCAA DI scholarship student-athlete. She played two years at the University of Denver (CO) and transferred to Valparaiso University. She is a 5-10 junior guard/forward for the 8-3 Crusaders this season.
Grace is studying psychology and communication with a bachelor and master’s degree goal. She scored 2397 points and had 1197 rebounds in high school and was a three-sport athlete.
In their last non-conference game on Dec. 30th in a 78-66 win vs. Eastern Illinois University, Grace came off the bench and scored a season-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. She was named the Indiana Army National Guard Co-Player of the Game sharing the honor with teammate Grace Hales who scored 25 points. Grace is averaging 20.8 minutes a game, 9.0 points per game, and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Alexis Desjarlait, daughter of Nolan and Nicole Desjarlait and a big sister to Skylar, Emerald, Aishja, the late Nolan, Jr., and two adopted brothers in the Indian way, Gerald Kingbird, Jr. and Brayden Beaulieu, is a 5-9 sophomore guard at Hibbing Community College (MN). She is the first Red Lake athlete to earn 18 varsity letter awards since the seventh grade. Alexis scored 2190 points and had 995 rebounds for the Lady Warriors.
Last year she led the Hibbing CC Cardinals to a 29-3 record, a conference championship and a trip to the national tournament. She was a First Team selection to the 2018-19 MCAC Northern All Division Team, member of the MCAC All State Team, and was named to the NJCAA All Region XIII Team.
This season the NJCAA named Alexis a 2019 DIII National Player of the Week for December 9-15. She averaged 22.5 ppg and the team has a 5-2 record. Alexis plans to attend a four-year school next year.
Both players tragically lost a brother that left at a young age in the same year. Nolan Desjarlait, Jr., 10, passed on to the spirit world on May 29, 2015 as the result of being in an ATV accident. Aaron White, 15, died of cancer on Nov. 1 just before the 2015-16 basketball season. Nolan Jr.’s dad, Nolan, Sr., is the Red Lake HS Athletic Director and Lady Warriors assistant varsity basketball coach. Aaron’s dad, Roger, is the head varsity boys’ basketball coach at Red Lake HS.
Zoongide’ewag means ‘they have a brave heart’ in Ojibwemowin and is one of the Seven Grandfather’s Teachings in Ojibwe cultural practice.
Nicole and Nolan Desjarlait shared how this Grandfather teaching applies to Alexis and Grace playing college basketball: “Zoongide’ewin is represented by Makwa (bear).
Bravery is facing the most difficult situation with integrity. Courage is the strength and natural ability to overcome the challenges one faces. It takes courage to be a student athlete in college. It’s tough being away from your loved ones, the lonesomeness for everything, the home cooked meals, the usual environment. The loss of your only little brother is very painful and living with grief can be very rugged, but we must keep going forward and brother would want big sister to be the best. It takes a lot of self-discipline to be a student-athlete. The studies in college are tougher. Staying committed by not missing class or practice are critical to being successful and really help the transition to a new normal to be easier. Leaving home is never easy. These young women are paving the way for all youth. They are putting in the work on and off the court to prove that they belong where they are. Apiitenim. So proud of our young Red Lake Anishinaabekwewag, Alexis and Grace. Zoongide’ewin.”
“As their high school coach, I was blessed to have these young women being part of something great!” said Randy Holthusen, head girls’ basketball coach, Red Lake HS, Red Lake, MN. “They changed Red Lake girls’ basketball and how we play the game today.
They inspired many kids and continue to show great responsibility. They are reaching for the stars and following their dreams. That’s how life is meant to be.”
“This is for ‘Aaron and Nolan’”, said Coach Randy.