Hermantown and Proctor rally around eighth-grade boy with leukemia

School colors were discarded Friday evening during the Northland's fiercest football rivalry. No green and white for the Proctor Rails. No navy blue and gold for the Hermantown Hawks. Instead, the color of choice at Terry Egerdahl Field was orang...

hammer out cancer
Hermantown fans wore orange in support of 13-year-old Cade Slattengren, who has leukemia, during Friday's football game against Proctor. Clint Austin /

School colors were discarded Friday evening during the Northland’s fiercest football rivalry.


No green and white for the Proctor Rails. No navy blue and gold for the Hermantown Hawks.

Instead, the color of choice at Terry Egerdahl Field was orange.

Orange to symbolize awareness for leukemia. And to show unity for 13-year-old Cade Slattengren, a Hermantown eighth-grader who was diagnosed with the disease in July.


The Rails and Hawks, immersed in their annual grudge match for the Hammer, dedicated Friday’s game to Cade. Hermantown players wore orange socks, while Proctor sported blue ones - in conjunction with the Minnesota football coaches association’s Tackle Cancer program. Many fans were decked out in bright orange shirts, the words “Hammer Out Cancer” on the front and “Team Cade” on the back.

It was representative of the outpouring of community support that has enveloped the Slattengrens.

“The love that our community has showed us is hard to put into words,” Christi Slattengren, Cade’s mother, said with her voice cracking. “It is beautiful and it has carried us through this difficult time.”

Proctor athletic director Rory Johnson said the football rivalry between the Rails and Hawks, which dates to 1941, obscures the fact that the neighboring towns work well together.

“It’s a great community,” Johnson said. “We help each other out.”

Christi and her husband, Mark Slattengren, are both Proctor graduates. Johnson coached Mark in youth football.

For Christi, Friday was the definition of “life coming full circle,” as she wrote on Facebook. When she was just a girl, her father, Bob Pionk, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Even while sick, Pionk remained steadfast in his ambition to build a football field in Proctor. Hence the road that leads to Terry Egerdahl Field is Pionk Drive.

Christi was 13 when her dad got sick, the same age Cade is now.


“It almost feels like he prepared this field for Cade so this beautiful moment could take place,” she said.

Christi and Mark, along with their daughters, Cierra and Camryn Slattengren, were at the game Friday. Cierra is a senior at Hermantown; Camryn is in sixth grade.

Their brother was a normal, hyperactive teenager before his diagnosis. His mother said his days were consumed by hockey in the mornings and baseball in the evenings. In fact, it was only hours after Cade stole home plate to score the winning run in a game that sent his baseball team to the state tournament that he noticed something was amiss.

“He literally came home, took a shower and said, ‘Mom, look at these lumps under my armpit,’ ” Christi recalled.

The family went to the hospital the next morning. Doctors spotted something that made them want to take an X-ray. They found a large tumor in his chest. So large, Christi said, that it was compressing his airwave. When they tried to get a biopsy, Cade stopped breathing. He eventually was life-flighted to Minneapolis, where a biopsy determined it was leukemia.

“Cade had no symptoms” before July, Christi said.

Today, Cade is cancer-free. He has an in-home teacher and is doing “as well as can be expected,” said his mother, who admitted it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.

“Leukemia (can come back) and it likes to come back in the brain, so Cade has to have chemotherapy and radiation for the next three-and-a-half years in order to keep it away,” she said. “It’s deceiving in a way because on one hand we celebrate that he’s cancer-free. In the next breath, we’ve been told that the next 10 months are going to be brutal on him.”


Despite his team beating its archrival for the fourth consecutive season to retain the Hammer, Hermantown coach Daryl Illikainen was just as inclined to talk about Cade afterward.

“It’s something that the guys realized is bigger than anything to do with the football game," Illikainen said. “Helping out and supporting people in our community, that’s what it’s about.”

A benefit for Cade takes place from 4-8 p.m. today at Skyline Lanes. Along with food, there will be more than 300 silent-auction items.


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