Hayfield girls basketball team leaves a lasting impression on a young fan

Published 9:26 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

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Although the Hayfield girls basketball team fell short to Goodhue in the Section 1A girls basketball title game, the Vikings can still call themselves winners.

On the eve of the game, the Vikings paid a surprise visit to one of their young super fans and they left a lasting impression that won’t go away any time soon.

On hearing that Hayfield first grader Nella Johnson was going to have a rescheduled surgery that would keep her from seeing the game, the team did all it could to comfort Nella and pay her back for her support.

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Nella’s mom Jenna Johnson said that when Nella got off the bus on Wednesday and found out she was going to miss Thursday’s game due to the surgery, she was very upset, which led to Jenna asking Hayfield head coach Kasey Krekling and assistant coach Keefe Zelinske to see if they could set up a video chat with Nella and some of the  players. 

What followed was nothing short of heart warming.

“It wasn’t even a question,” Krekling said. “When we mentioned Nella at practice, everyone was going. We’re in a K-12 school and Nella sees these girls every day and she looks up to them. They’re such good role models. The girls on this year’s team used to look up to Carrie Rutledge and Maggie Streightiff and now they lead the way for our younger girls.”

Not long after the call to Krekling, multiple cars flooded the driveway of the Johnson home and before Nella knew it, she was surrounded by most of the team, including Natalie Beaver and Jenna Klocke, who have both served as Nella’s babysitters.

The visit was a night to remember for the entire Johnson family.

“Both my husband and I are born and raised Hayfield natives and we can’t think of a single time a team has bent over backwards to make someone feel so special and loved,” Jenna said. “It was truly a dream come true for our daughter. The girls on the team treat all of these little Vikes like they are royalty. They are often in the elementary helping teachers and staff with whatever they need or helping out at sports camps. Their presence doesn’t go unseen. They’re just a class act group of gals.”

Klocke and Beaver also work as snack helpers during lunch at Hayfield Schools and they have gotten to know many of the elementary students quite well this year. Beaver was more than happy to pay Nella a vist.

“She’s a really special girl,” Beaver said. “I love seeing her every day. She always lights up the room, she’s so joyful and she’s going to be great someday.”

Jenna’s husband is David Johnson, who is the current all-time leading scorer for the Hayfield boys with 2,468 career points. Nella, who often brings handmade signs of support to the Hayfield girls games, has told her parents that she is going to break her dad’s record and she’s also motivated to break the 2,000-point career milestone that Beaver and Kristen Watson both accomplished this season.

Nella has a disease called Nontuberculous mycobacteria and she was diagnosed at age two. The disease recently flared up and the Johnson’s chose to get surgery. They tried to schedule the surgery away from basketball, but Nella’s condition worsened to the point that the only remaining option was to have it the day of the game.