Two families unite to bring ‘Game Plan 4 Hope’

By: 
Jill Meier, Journal editor

Jill Meier/BV Journal 

The Trenton Strong sign was outside the Bass family home for community members to sign after the football injury that left Bass paralyzed in 2017. 

Two families who faced two life-altering experiences now have one mission: Game Plan 4 Hope.
 
The all-volunteer, non-profit organization, based in nearby Hills, Minn., was started in September 2019 by the Bass and Erickson families, whose mission now is to assist families who lives are in despair because of a life-changing event.
 
For the Bass family, that event came on Sept. 8, 2017, when Jeff and Missy Bass’ then 17-year-old son, Trenton, was playing his second football game of his senior season. The Hills-Beaver Creek Patriots were playing in Mountain Lake, Minn., about a two-hour drive from their home. With 90 seconds to play and the game score at 28-20 – H-BC’s favor – Mountain Lake had the ball and were marching down the field. 
 
In his own words, Trenton shares, “I was on defense and went to the outside of the field to go around a blocker and came around to tackle the running back who was coming from the opposite way. I dove for his legs to tackle him and my head got in front of his leg and the force of his thigh came across my helmet from the opposite direction. I immediately went to the ground. As I was laying there, I realized that I could not move anything. I did not have any pain. It was a really weird feeling. I wasn’t scared and I really didn’t think much of it, because I’ve had stingers before. But, as I laid there, and everyone kept coming around and asking if I could this and feel that, I didn’t know what to think. However, I felt a sense of peace. I never panicked. Because I was not getting any feeling back, they had to put a neck brace on so I did not move it, and they carried me off the field on a stretcher.”
 
He was whisked off to the hospital in Windom, Minn., and following a CT scan, the Bass family soon learned that Trenton’s C5 and C6 vertebrae were broken. He was then airlifted to Avera Hospital in Sioux Falls, where he underwent emergency surgery to decompress his spinal cord.
 
Aaron and Heather Erickson’s heartache stems from their 12-year-old son Ethan’s relentless fight with Burkitt Lymphoma/Leukemia. Ethan lost his battle after 18 months on Oct. 13, 2019, but never complained, rarely ever cried and was determined to do what he had to do to get better.
 
Heather said her son never asked, “Why me?”
 
Instead, wise beyond his years, he grew deeper in his faith in God, where he found strength and courage along with peace, comfort and hope. Over the course of his 18-month journey with cancer, Ethan went into remission and relapsed three times, but each battle became more difficult, and with his bone marrow affected, he was preparing for a Bone Marrow transplant. One week prior to transplant, blood work revealed that the Burkitt Leukemia had returned.
 
To honor their son’s battle, the Erickson’s desire is now to bring peace, hope and courage to others facing similar life-changing circumstances.
 
That desire is now coming to fruition as Game Plan 4 Hope transforms a 1970’s elevator office into the Team E Fieldhouse. The Bass family officially launched the non-profit in October of 2019, and as donated medical equipment and fundraising merchandise began to take over their home in Hills, they rented space.
 
“That’s when we began talking about what the future was going to be like and the number of families keeps growing and growing, so we decided we needed a building,” Missy shares.
 
They initially asked to rent the former elevator building, but when New Vision said they’d like to sell it, the Bass’ signed the purchase paperwork.
 
But Team E Fieldhouse is more than just a warehouse for donated medical equipment and fundraising merchandise. The former elevator’s front office is being renovated with a conference area, Zoom room for online support group meetings, staff offices and a 24-hour access fitness center, which fills a need for the Hills community, Missy said.
 
Erickson is excited about what Team E Fieldhouse brings to the tri-state area, citing the Zoom room.
 
“So many of the families, especially with COVID, are in Omaha, Colorado, all over the place and face to face connections for cancer families are hard, since they don’t want everyone coming to the hospital,” she said.
 
Both families said they had great support from family, friends, the community and beyond, but Bass said the intent of Game Plan 4 Hope and Team E Fieldhouse is simply to “fill the gap” by providing families with more resources and that all-important support.
 
“We had support, we had people reach out to us,” she said. “Spinal cord injuries aren’t as common as cancer and we’re not focusing on just cancer or spinal cord injuries. We’re expanding it to any families experiencing any life-altering events.”
 
Erickson remembers even the smallest of gifts making a big difference, like a lint brush that was included in a “Dancing While Cancering” backpack, for example.
 
“I wondered what it was for, but it’s for when you start losing your hair,” she said, noting she constantly used it on Ethan’s pillow or his pajamas.
 
“It’s the little pick-me-ups, and for the kids, just stuff to let them know they’re thinking about you and that you’re not alone,” she said.
 
“That’s the emotional side of it,” Bass said.
 
The non-profit is now working to raise $135,000 in its Team E Fieldhouse capital campaign, which recently surpassed $75,000. The goal is to open the doors by April 1.
 
“It’s going really good so far. When you start reaching outside of your community and talking about why you’re doing what you’re doing, it seems to go over really well. A lot of companies, especially, but even people look for non-profits to donate to every year, and we just want to get our name out there.”
 
Although Game Plan 4 Hope is based in nearby Hills, Bass and Erickson said their mission extends far beyond the town’s borders. For a number of years, H-BC has bussed student-athletes to BV’s annual prayer breakfast, and through that connection, the Lynx football program showed its support to the “#Trenton Strong” movement by taking in one of the Patriots’ games.
 
“I’ll never forget when they showed up at the football game and came off the bus,” Heather recalled. “Our kids were really blown away by that kindness, and they still talk about that. It was pretty impactful for a lot of kids.”
 
BV student-athletes also showed up a prayer gathering on Trenton’s behalf in the H-BC gym.
 
Trenton was scheduled to be the guest speaker at the 2020 Prayer Breakfast, and is now on tap for the 2021 event.
 
Both Bass and Erickson said Game Play 4 Hope has received a great deal of strength through prayers and the Christian aspect.
 
“I 100 percent believe that’s what got us through, just taking things one day at a time and knowing there’s hope, but we’re not forcing it on anyone,” Bass said.
 
Team E Fieldhouse, which is not an actual fieldhouse, ties into the mission of Game Plan 4 Hope.
 
“I think Ethan would want everybody to have hope,” Heather said.
 
“And so, it’s fitting to name the building after him (Ethan),” adds Missy.
 
Game Plan 4 Hope continues to accept donated medical equipment, but Bass said they won’t accept everything offered to them. 
 
“We don’t want to just fill up our building with a bunch stuff that we’re not going to use. Right now, we’re working with ALS Loan Closet out of Minneapolis with Lori Rentschler, who works with ALS after her husband died, who have stuff donated to them that they have no use for,” Missy said.
 
The fitness center is also being outfitted with a plethora of workout equipment that was donated, and volunteers continue to step up and lend their talents in renovating the former elevator office building to the non-profit’s headquarters and fitness center.
 
For businesses and individuals who want to donate to the Game Plan 4 Hope cause, whether that be in the form of volunteer time, equipment or monetary donations, visit Gameplan4hope.org, email info@gameplan4hope.org or call (605) 743-4902.
 
Heather believes Ethan, who “didn’t want a lot of hub bug or to be in the spotlight” would be “all in” for helping others. 
 
“I think if he was here, like Trenton, he would want to have that interaction, wanting to help others but he wouldn’t want it to be about him.”
 

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