AUGUSTA — The Rangeley girls basketball team has been unbeatable on the court this winter.

After racking up 17 double-digit victories during the regular season, the Lakers (20-0) have shown they can win close games in the playoffs too on their way to winning the Western Class D title this past Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.

Rangeley will go for perfection in the Class D state championship at 1:05 p.m., Saturday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor when it takes on another undefeated team in four-time defending state champ Washburn (21-0). Yet for all the winning the Lakers have done on the hardwood this season, their best performances have come off the court.

Over the past few years playing basketball at Rangeley has entailed more than just practicing and competing in games. Each year the team picks one national and one local charity to raise money for through donations and various fundraising activities.

“Those life lessons are what coaching is all about,” Rangeley coach Heidi Deery said. “Yeah we all strive to win championships and that’s great, but when you can impact kids to learn life lessons with dedication, commitment and hard work but also empathy for others, that’s the greatest success a coach can have.

“…Our team gets a lot of press and we have a successful program, but I don’t want it to be all about us. It’s important whatever community you’re in to find a way to help out and help others.”

In the past, the Lakers have raised funds for the Wounded Warrior Project and Pat Summit Foundation, but for the past two years they have donated to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Named after the former North Carolina State women’s basketball coach who passed away in 2009 after a battle with breast cancer, the foundation raises awareness for women’s cancers.

“You never know what’s going to affect you and I think we’ve really taken on that,” senior guard Seve Deery-DeRaps said. “We’ve made it a part of not just our basketball program but our life in general.

“…(Coach) wants us to go into the world and positively affect others and make a difference because we are so fortunate.”

This year the boys basketball team also got involved in the charitable efforts, in part because the girls team had already worked with the Yow Fund in the past but also because a team member’s mother had passed away from cancer.

Members of both the boys and girls teams agreed, though, that what they were doing really hit home through their experience with Parker Power. The story of Parker St. Onge, a third grader at Windsor Elementary School with leukemia, was brought to their attention by Rangeley’s athletic director Charlie Brown — a former teacher at Windsor.

The Lakers donated the gate from their first home game — about $500 — to the St. Onge family and also gave Parker a jersey autographed by both teams in between a pair of games on Jan. 2 against Islesboro at Thomas College.

“We had heard his story a little bit before that and it was very touching obviously,” Rangeley senior Valerie Roy-Lessard said. “My little brother had cancer and I could definitely connect with that.”

For Roy-Lessard — whose brother is now cancer free — and the rest of the basketball players at Rangeley, the work they do on and off the court are not separate.

“The big thing is that I think I’m having a bad day or not doing so well in basketball,” freshman Kyle Larochelle said, “and there are kids and people out there that are struggling with cancer.”

The Lakers have kept constant reminders of this all season. Rather than wearing warm-up shirts that match the school’s colors, they instead have black shirts with the logo from the Yow Fund in pink on them. The Rangeley boys also wear black socks with the same pink insignia.

“Often times if we got into a slump or were getting frustrated we looked at our shooting shirts and we’re playing for this person,” Mason Cavalier, a senior on the boys team, said. “It reminds us to be respectful.”

The Rangeley girls are hopeful that the team can win its first state championship since 2004 Saturday. Either way, the Lakers know winning or losing basketball games is not what will define them when the contest is over.

“On the court we give it everything and play our game without overthinking it,” Roy-Lessard said. “We’re just really thankful to have the opportunity to play.

“…We’re all team players and that definitely comes from being involved in our community, coming from a small town and helping bigger causes as well.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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