Mourning the loss of his father, Fargo North community rallies around beloved teacher, boys basketball coach
Leon "Chip" Hoeg passed away last Saturday at 75 and his son, boys basketball coach Travis Hoeg, has remained on the Spartans' sideline thanks to the support from students, players, colleagues and friends
FARGO — When tragedy hits, sports are often used as a healing mechanism.
That was the case at Fargo North this week after teacher and boys basketball head coach Travis Hoeg's father, Leon "Chip" Hoeg, passed away last Saturday at age 75.
Leon passed away peacefully in the comfort of his home, surrounded by his loved ones and under the care of hospice. The loss of a dear relative is nearly impossible to comprehend. The grief remains in the days, months and years that follow.
Losing a father is tough on any son, but luckily for Travis, he's backed by a strong supporting cast on the north side of town.
"I'll tell you what, I would not want to live, teach or coach in any other community in the world," Hoeg said. "North Fargo is a special community. It's like a small town in a big town. All of the support from my north side friends and colleagues at school has just been tremendous."
A science teacher at Ben Franklin Middle School, Hoeg took this week away from teaching to be there for his mother Diane and with the rest of his family.
But one place Hoeg wouldn't be staying away from was the basketball court.
Hoeg continued to coach the Spartans through practices and two games this week, picking up emotional wins at Valley City on Tuesday and at rival Fargo South on Friday.
"I did have (assistant coach Paul) Zens take a couple of practices so I could be with family," Hoeg said. "But for the most part, for me, (team members) have brought me comfort. They've been awesome. We came together in a huddle one night and they had a card for me. We hugged it out. It was just something special."
Because of Hoeg's urge to return to the court right away, Spartans senior captain Welcome Muhoza wanted to make sure he and his teammates made their coach feel as comfortable as possible.
"Obviously he's a great coach and he puts all of his heart into the team," Muhoza said. "He gives us everything he has at every practice and he doesn't leave anything on the court. So as his players, we know that since he does that for us, we want to give him as much time as he needs."
A day before Leon's passing, North won a 78-68 overtime thriller over Wahpeton. It was the last game he would ever hear his son coach.
"He was a huge basketball fan," Travis said. "We played Wahpeton and my family had it on YouTube. He was not awake but they knew he was listening to the game, and he ended up passing away that next morning."
The Spartans picked up another win over the Hi-Liners three days later — a win that this time felt different from the rest.
"Tuesday when we came back in Valley (City), the guys rallied around me and it was a really fun win," Hoeg said. "I immediately thought of my father and how proud ... he was always so proud of me."
Leon attended Wakonda High School in South Dakota, just outside of his hometown of Yankton. According to Travis, his dad was always adamant he would've been Wakonda's greatest basketball player had the high school 3-point line been implemented 20 years earlier, during his senior year in 1965.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't say this: (Leon) always told us boys growing up that had there been a 3-point line in South Dakota when he was growing up, he'd have been the best 3-point shooter in the state of South Dakota," Hoeg said.
Leon was never a coach himself. According to his obituary , he had passions beyond sports, including astronomy, Western and Native American culture, history and more. A graduate of South Dakota State University, he also served in the U.S. Army.
Life has thrown Travis his fair share of curveballs lately. Not only is he currently dealing with the passing of his father, but his son Bode — a promising junior guard for the Spartans — has been plagued by injuries this season.
While Hoeg said those are just bumps in the road on the journey of life, he didn't shy away from the fact that it's been hard to remain focused.
"I go back to what I tell my kids and my athletes all the time: That life is a series of peaks and valleys," Hoeg said. "And to have that mindset as you go through life. Peaks and valleys. And right now, I'm kind of in a little valley. But I do know what's healing and in a little time, I'll be back in a peak. I'm trying to take my own advice right now.
"As far as the focus, yeah, I'll catch myself sometimes staring off into space thinking of my dad here and there, but I hope that doesn't ever change. I hope that once in awhile I can get off into space — and people will think I'm daydreaming — but what I'm really thinking about is my dad."
Leon's celebration of life is set for Saturday night.
Muhoza said all the team wants to do is support their bench boss as much as possible without being much of a distraction.
"Don't make it obvious as much but still send him as much love as we can," Muhoza said. "We're trying to keep it as a normal day really, because bringing it up isn't the thing to do in that situation. We just try to be as comfortable as possible with him. He's a really cool guy so you can talk to him about anything. He's been handling it well. He's a strong dude mentally. We really appreciate him for that and we appreciate him coming to practice still and coming to games."
Leon surely left a lasting impact on Travis and his three other sons — Jesse, Adam, and Lucas. Travis will take with him for the rest of his life a simple piece of advice his dad offered: Do things the right way.
"I go back growing up with my dad and working with him — we kind of grew up out of town," Hoeg said. "Not on a farm, but out of town, in a house on about 3-1/2 acres. And one of the things he instilled in me at a very young age and reminded me often was, 'Travis, if you're going to do a job, do it right the first time so you don't have to go back and do it a second time.' I think that part of his legacy will live with me for the rest of my life. It's something that I try to pride myself in.
"But I crack up when I think about it, because in teaching and coaching, it doesn't matter how great you do a lesson or how well you coach, there's always kids who are going to need to be retaught and to be relearning. But that's one of the things I think will stick with me for a lifetime. If you're going to do something, do it right the first time."