During the playing of the national anthem, Brittany Kumm has been taking a moment on the sideline this season to speak to her late father, John, and say a prayer for him.
The 22-year-old senior guard for Rocky Mountain College then steps out on the court and plays basketball the way her dad taught her -- with a lot of heart and determination.
Kumm, who is from Great Falls, is the leading scorer for the Battlin’ Bears this season. She is competing in honor of her father after he drowned last June while on a fishing trip at Lake Elwell near Chester.
“At first I was very hesitant about coming back and playing because it was so close to my father,” she said of the grief she associated with her favorite game. “It was a thing we shared greatly together.”
It was her father, a Great Falls optometrist, who first put a basketball in her hands at age 3 and later helped her craft her game.
He coached her through grade school, snagged rebounds whenever she needed to get shots up in the gym and was one of her biggest boosters during high school and college.
“It is hard,” Kumm said of her emotional pain. “It is hard being in the gym every day and it is hard looking up in the bleachers and not seeing him there at every game. But I know that he is there. I know that he is watching.
“He taught me well. He gave me a lot of insight to the game and in life in general, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Those fatherly lessons live on, and have provided a huge assist in helping her get through the sad turn of events and get back out on the court.
So has the constant support she has received from Rocky head coach Brian Henderson and her teammates, who quickly rose to the occasion and rallied around her.
“It has helped me cope, and it has shown me that even though life is not ever going to be the same, that we’ll be OK and we can make it through,” Kumm said.
"I'm glad that I stuck with it. I'm glad that I'm here today."
The 5-foot-4 team leader, who is one of the Bears’ steadiest players, said she has been motivated to play harder in memory of her father.
While expressing his admiration, Henderson sees things a little differently.
By darting into the lane, letting fly with a deep 3-pointer or coming away with a steal, he said Kumm has simply been her usual productive self in what has also been a tough season for the injury-plagued Bears.
“She’s a great teammate. She’s very positive. Super competitive," Henderson said. "She plays hard every possession. That’s one of the big lessons that I think (her father) did a great job of teaching and demonstrating in his life.
"She couldn’t play any harder than she always has.”
Rocky will be saluting Kumm and the team’s four other seniors on Saturday night in the Fortin Center before the Bears play nationally ranked Lewis-Clark State in their final home game.
Her mother, Tracy, is expected to be on hand to escort her during the ceremony, along with other extended family members.
“I think it will be an extremely difficult night, but I also know that he is so proud of me and loves me so much and wants me to go out there and shine,” Kumm said of her father. “That’s what I plan to do for him.”
Kumm, who is averaging 12.7 points per game, is best known as one of Bears’ most prolific outside shooters ever. She has scored 717 points in 88 games during her four-year career — and has knocked down 145 3-pointers.
She credits her father, who grew up in Great Falls playing a variety of sports, for helping hone her shot, which sometimes comes from far beyond the 3-point arc.
“I always remember him telling me to snap down on my wrist … put the hand in the cookie jar,” Kumm said with a smile. “Just little things like that.”
Her younger sisters, Brandy, 19, and Taylor, 17, have also continued to stay connected with their dad through hoops.
Brandy is a sophomore at Montana State Billings, while Taylor is a senior at Great Falls High.
Their father, who was 50, would be pleased with their decision to keep playing, Kumm said.
“No matter what we would have chose I know my dad would love us either way,” she said. “But I know he knew how much we loved the game and how much fun we had playing it, so I think he would be very proud that we stuck with it and kind of conquered that adversity.”
Kumm said she would like to become an example to others, “showing people that you can overcome obstacles and tragedies in life, and even though those things are hard and difficult to deal with you can take something positive out of it …
“This season has definitely shown me a lot about myself and about how strong I am as a person. I have surprised myself a lot throughout the season. It is definitely a special season for me.”
While wins have been elusive this winter, Kumm, a biology major who is planning on attending pharmacy school after graduating, said she is appreciative of all the opportunities, friendships and life lessons she has experienced by playing basketball at Rocky.
She is also grateful for the comforting nature of the close-knit campus.
“I think it was good going back to my normal routine and being in my normal environment,” Kumm said. “But, honestly, there’s nothing that I love more than when people — sometimes people I don’t even know -- approach me and tell me stories about my dad or tell me how much he may have helped them or meant to them. I have had a lot of that, even here at Rocky.
“Just the love and support from everyone that my father touched with his life has been overwhelming. It truly means so much to me and my family.”