In mid-January, Timothy Yarn was watching the North Marion High School girls basketball team play against Hawthorne High School.
Yarn, the head coach of the North Marion boys varsity basketball team, cheered on the Broncos and prepped his team for a matchup with the Hornets.
In the stands, Shirley Ann Brown, the aunt of Yarn, was supporting her daughter who was on the girls team.
Suddenly, Yarn saw her collapse in the stands. She had suffered a stroke. Four days later, Brown died.
“She was like my second mom,” Yarn said. “She raised me, looked after me and took care of me.”
Yarn and the Broncos had already lost members close to the program before or during the basketball season, as well. Clyde Neasman, Deb Bryant, Kenny Carr Jr., and James Wilkerson all passed away.
According to Yarn, Neasman was a longtime employee of North Marion, and he was the “ticket taker” for the boys and girls home basketball games. He was the first person to see when they walked into the gym. He passed away right before the season started.
Bryant, the grandmother of a player on the team, passed away during the season.
Then, Kenneth Carr Jr., 16, was shot to death in November. Although he was not a student at North Marion, he was the son of Broncos assistant football coach Kenny Carr and the nephew of head coach Greg Carr.
Wilkerson, a student at North Marion, died in a dirt bike accident on Jan. 31.
“It’s been a lot, Yarn said. “It’s been a rough go with a lot of people moving on and transitioning. This season was an opportunity to be able to do it in their honor and keep their legacy going. To find success in this basketball season, it’s definitely a blessing. It helps with the grieving process.”
But there was one person who Yarn said the team was dedicating the season to. Longtime Broncos running backs coach Darrell “Pookie” Collins lost his battle with lung cancer on Jan. 12. From football, track and field and weightlifting, he was a staple to the North Marion community, Yarn said.
“He was a guy who was always positive and full of energy,” head football coach Greg Carr said. “He always wanted the best for the kids. It’s somebody you were proud to have in your corner. He was willing to do all he could to help. He was North Marion through-and-through.”
Despite the tragic deaths of multiple people in the community, the Broncos made history. The team last month captured its first district title in 28 years, outlasting Santa Fe High School 71–69.
Yarn said the deep run in the playoffs was the longest he’s been a part of during his eight years as head coach with the Broncos.
“They bought in,” assistant coach Danny Smith said. “They fought through emotions and we had a great group of guys. It was a history-making year.”
The Broncos ended the regular season with a record of 18-6 after starting 6-4. But a six-game win streak and just two more losses on the year earned the Broncos the No. 2 seed in the district tournament. They would make it to the finals where they met the Raiders, who had won the last two district championships.
In a back-and-forth game, junior Sammi Yeanay led the team with 21 points while sophomore Brendan Barber added 15 points to propel the Broncos over the Raiders.
However, the miraculous season came to an end the following week when the Broncos fell to Villages Charter High School. Alvon Issac hit a game winning layup with two seconds remaining to end the Broncos’ state championship hopes.
“With us being a small, tight-knit community, we pride ourselves on being a family,” Yarn said. “They laid it on the line each and every night for each other.”
Andrew Zock, a junior on the team, plays football and basketball for the Broncos. He said this was the closest team he’s ever been a part of. And despite the loss the community endured, he said the North Marion family has only gotten stronger.
“This community, I don’t think it’s ever been stronger,” Zock said. “We lost so much within this past year. I feel like the environment has gotten so much stronger around here. The North side family has become a stronger family than I’ve seen it in the last couple of years.”