WEST FARGO — Landon Solberg had just started his first stint with a travel basketball team a couple years ago when he was initially diagnosed with Grade III anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare malignant brain tumor.
Even after he was diagnosed and had undergone a couple brain surgeries and some cancer treatments, the West Fargo boy came back to play with his travel team, the West Fargo Warriors, as the season was first underway in December 2017.
Landon died earlier this year at 12 years old after a long battle with the aggressive form of brain cancer. He played basketball, his favorite sport, until he was unable to play anymore.
Almost four months after Landon died on Sept. 17, over 350 kids from around the area — including Landon’s travel team and his sister, Emry — rallied to compete in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament at Liberty Middle School on Saturday, where Landon would’ve entered sixth grade this year.
Landon’s Light, the foundation created in Landon’s honor, was formed within a month of his passing. It only made sense that the foundation’s first-ever fundraising event was a basketball tournament, said Landon's dad, Travis.
Landon’s travel team, the Warriors, is still together, and competed in the 3-on-3 tournament’s sixth-grade division. His teammates all threw on gray Landon’s Light shirts with yellow writing over their jerseys after their games were finished.
Landon’s lifelong best friend Parker Rolfson, 12, plays for the Warriors’ seventh-grade team. Landon and Rolfson were born two weeks apart, and Rolfson’s earliest memory is with Landon.
“It feels really good to know that I am playing in a tournament that is representing and remembering my best friend,” Rolfson said.
But for two years now, every single game Rolfson has played has been for Landon. The only difference about Saturday’s competition was that it was held in honor of his best friend.
“Ever since 2017 when he got diagnosed, every game has always been dedicated to him — baseball, basketball,” Rolfson said.
Landon's parents Travis and Andrea watched their fourth-grade daughter, Emry, play in Saturday’s tournament. Emry formed a team within the Solberg's neighborhood, the “Cancer Crushers.”
Emry and Landon were only two years apart, and over the holiday break was when she and Landon would spend a lot of time together. Emry had a tough time after her older brother passed, but over the holidays, it hit her a little heavier, Travis said. The Landon’s Light tournament was a bright spot.
“For her, I think it was a pretty quiet break, missing her partner or her friend to hang out with,” Travis said. “It was definitely a different holiday season for us and we expected it, but, this will be a good way to get her with her friends and thinking about Landon, and in a good way, too. Remembering him.”
The first holiday without Landon was difficult for the whole Solberg family. And hosting a tournament where Landon would’ve gone to school this year hit Travis and Andrea at different times, but it was a good, fun event that their family was looking forward to, Travis said.
“I think Andrea and I are going to have some tough moments. The grief hits you in waves,” Travis said. “Obviously, it’s something he loved and we’re going to be missing him, but we’re also celebrating him by having this tournament in his honor.”
Travis and Andrea were excited to watch the Warriors. They’ve gone to a couple games this year, and are still connected to the parents on the team.
“We’ve lost a son, but they’ve also lost a really good friend for a lot of those kids,” Travis said. “We just want to show them that we're still there to support them.”
The first tournament Landon played in was after he had brain surgery two years ago. The doctors cleared him, but Travis and Andrea cringed every time someone bumped into him or he had an elbow close to his head. Landon had a permanent shunt placed in his brain to help drain the immense amount of fluid found in it at the time, and if something would’ve happened to the shunt, he would’ve needed to undergo another brain surgery to fix it.
Still, Travis is glad he and his wife, Andrea, allowed Landon to compete on the court for as long as he could. As his tumor progressed, it started to impact his balance, and playing basketball became more of a danger with him falling. It got to a point where Landon was physically unable to play because of the tumor.
Landon was hooked on the team aspect of the sport. The friendship is probably what he loved most about basketball, Travis said.
With 16 teams in the sixth-grade boys division, Landon’s age group formed by far the biggest bracket in the tournament.
“It was really just a great thing and heartwarming to see that so many teams at his grade level are in the tournament,” he said.
The 3-on-3 tournament was more for fundraising, focusing on the foundation’s mission. Landon’s Light aims to help kids who have families dealing with medical situations, as well as kids in general, helping them grow physically, emotionally or in their faith. Landon is remembered by the community and those close to him for his unwavering faith.
Eighty-two teams, comprised of girls and boys from third- to eighth-grade registered to compete in the 3-on-3 competition.
The middle school was packed on Saturday with almost everyone in attendance sporting Landon’s Light apparel. The phrase “Landon’s Light” stems from a Harry Potter quote: "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Landon was a big Harry Potter fan.
The foundation had to close registration for the tournament about three weeks ago, two weeks ahead of the rough deadline. The event hit its target early, with the Solbergs not sure how it was going to go initially.
The 3-on-3 tournament wasn’t the only target Landon’s Light surpassed this year. Just a couple months into it, the foundation has generated what Travis projected would be raised in the next year after a full 12 months of fundraising.
“It really just opens the door for so much more that we can do to help others and try to do neat things in the community,” he said.
The tournament is also not the foundation’s first time giving back to the community. The foundation held “10 Days of Giving” from Dec. 5-14, where it picked out 10 different kids in the community to give back to, who were in similar situations as Landon was or as the Solbergs were as a family.
The foundation’s first-ever event coincided with when Landon first went into the hospital on Dec. 5, 2017 — when they didn’t know what his piercing migraines were yet — and stayed for 10 days.
“It ended up being really rewarding for us,” Travis said of the “10 Days of Giving. “Because for us, that was such a heart-wrenching time and really just changed our lives forever, from that initial diagnosis.”