Bison Media Blog: Brent Hedberg was special to prominent athletic family
The younger brother of Randy Hedberg died this week from COVID-19
It’s been a year to forget in so many ways for North Dakota State associate head football coach Randy Hedberg. At least after the Bison won their eighth Division I FCS national title in nine years in early January in Frisco, Texas, anyway.
Life was good. NDSU had a freshman quarterback who was bound to be the engine of the offense for the next three years. Hedberg, the quarterbacks coach, would be there every step of the way in preparing Trey Lance for the NFL.
Then COVID-19 hit. Spring ball was axed. The fall season was postponed to the spring, with the exception of one game against Central Arkansas and getting to that one was a cluster figuring out the coronavirus testing system.
The Bison won. Then Lance declared early for the NFL Draft, which wasn’t unexpected. The low of lows for Hedberg, however, came this week.
His younger brother, Brent Hedberg, died from complications of COVID-19.
Two years ago, when I documented the Hedberg family for my book “North Dakota Tough: Unknown and Forgotten Stories from a Rural State,” the Hedbergs were part of a chapter on great athletes from the Lake Sakakawea area, a region that is now underwater when Garrison Dam was built in the 1950s.
Randy, of course, had all the accolades. Public accolades. Privately, in the inner circle of the family, it was Brent who was the star.
He was born in 1964 with Down Syndrome during a time when so many special needs kids were institutionalized rather than living in the mainstream. Doris Hedberg, the mother, wanted no part of that.
“My mom didn’t want that to happen,” Rick Hedberg, Randy’s younger brother, told me, “so she made sure he was involved in everything we did. He trailed along to a lot of games … that’s a big part of our family.”
I remember talking to Randy about Brent in the book project. He said Brent “was pretty important to us.” I could tell he was starting to get emotional and it was apparent he didn’t want to let his guard down and continue that particular conversation.
I can’t imagine what it’s like this week for the Bison coach. A close friend of his also died this week of the same virus, which Randy mentioned in a tweet.
In the last 2 days I have lost a good friend & my younger brother to COVID. I am not posting this looking for sympathy. I only want to encourage u to wear a face mask & practice social distancing!
In the last 2 days I have lost a good friend & my younger brother to COVID. I am not posting this looking for sympathy. I only want to encourage u to wear a face mask & practice social distancing!— Randy Hedberg (@Coach_RHedberg) December 9, 2020
Brent wasn’t devoid of the athletic genes of the Hedbergs. He was part of the infant stages of the Special Olympics, something Doris pushed hard for.
In a Facebook post this week, Rick said his mother drove Brent from their home near Parshall to Underwood, N.D., for preschool because there was no special education program in Parshall. It was 160 miles round trip.
Later, after Brent graduated from high school, he was living in Grand Forks at the same time as Randy and Rick.
"Funny story," Rick wrote on his Facebook post, "was when Brent had Randy's car towed from his apartment complex. Randy had just started working at UND so he was staying with Brent for a few weeks. Randy left his car at Brent's while he was away recruiting in a UND car for a few days. Security asked Brent if he knew who was parking in his apartment spot at his apartment complex. Security knew Brent didn't have a car. Brent said, no, he didn't know whose car it was and that they should tow it. That one cost Randy a couple hundred dollars."
One of the founders of the state’s Special Olympics program was Roger Kerns, who as a professor at NDSU in 1972 got some of his students to help with the first event. Roger died in 2013.
The guess here is it won’t take Roger long to find another special athlete and/or coach in a heavenly world that has to be 1,000 times better than 2020. Brent did both in the program.