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The greatest Warroad Warrior dies at 72

Henry Boucha was Warroad.

He was blue collar and a gifted athlete who overcame serious setbacks.

He was a unifier, a fighter in the best sense of the word, and a proud Ojibwe.

He is Warroad, he will always be Warroad, he will always be a Warroad Warrior.

When Henry died on Monday, my first thought was the first time I ever heard of him.

Sorry, I didn't live up here 54 years ago.

It was the 1969 Minnesota State Hockey Tournament, and little Warroad was playing the powerful Edina Hornets in the state hockey tournament finals.

We watched it on TV.

The underdog Warriors were leading the Hornets in the second period when two Edina players waylaid Henry, the star of the Warroad team, checking him hard into the boards.

He lay there motionless.

Maybe five minutes later, medical personnel arrived with a stretcher to carry him off the ice, and I swore most uncharacteristically, "Those lousy bastards!"

Edina was the team to hate.

The only people cheering for Edina were the Edina fans.

Everyone else was cheering for the Warroad Warriors.

Edina later won it in OT.

Over the years, I interviewed Mr. Boucha numerous times.

Within the past six months, speaking by cellphone, Henry mentioned that he had serious health concerns.

I didn't press the issue because shortly he was talking about keeping the Warriors nickname.

He was the most renowned and accessible individual I ever interviewed.

The thing is, he considered himself a regular guy.

He was, of course, but he was a special regular guy.

Take, for instance, the February 19, 2022 RTR article - Henry Boucha earns Indigenous Athletic Honor

He seemed somewhat taken aback by still another prestigious but well-deserved honor.

That was his lineage.

He didn’t sleep on silk sheets. He was a rugged individualist, who had to earn success the hard way,

At 70, Henry - an Objibwe, author, and film director who has been to the highest peaks and then to the lowest valleys, the result of an intentional jab to the right eye socket by Boston Bruins' Dave Forbes stick following a fight on the ice in January 1975, was recently inducted into the inaugural class of the 2022 North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame.

A helluva honor, Henry, I said.

Talk about humble.

"I don't know how they selected them (the inductees). I'm not even sure how I got selected," he said.

He never tooted his horn.

Above all, he was an interesting and caring individual. You got the whole package with Henry - decency, resilience and honor.

Yes, he was a great athlete, but he was a greater person - a man of his people, a man of his community, a man for these times.

In that particular February 2022 article, he was asked about his biggest thrill.

It was mentioned that he had definitely enjoyed some great athletic achievements - earning the silver medal for Team USA Hockey in the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, and having a great NHL career until being injured.

What could top that?

"Playing in the state tournament at the Metropolitan Sports Center," he said, cherishing a special time.

Then came the reminder that he had suffered a concussion and a broken eardrum in the title game.

He laughed when it was mentioned that maybe it had been an accident.

"Well, I don't think it was an accident."

If he isn't Warroad's favorite son, he's right up there at the top.

On December 29, 2022, Henry was honored at the Gardens in Warroad before the Warriors faced off against Orono during the Hockeytown Holiday Classic Tournament.

The Warroad boys coach, Jay Hardwick, honored Mr. Boucha for his efforts in behalf of the school.

"When the Warroad logo was challenged in 2014, you were the first to rise up and explain why the Warroad Warriors logo is appropriate for Warroad. It's the way it's always been since hockey became a Minnesota high school sanctioned sport."

There were times, even recently, that Henry expressed his frustrations that the Warroad community had to keep its guard up.

He recalled in early January for the above article that it has been a battle with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) since 1988 when the ACLU had begun to legally discourage school sports teams from using racist team names and logos.

"It was about 2014 they had us against the wall. There was no way we could have defended keeping the Warrior logo without about a million dollars in attorney's fees."

There was no quit in Henry.

Back in 2014, he traveled to the Twin Cities to speak in behalf of Warroad before the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media.

"I joined the National Coalition, and I'm the vice president now. We do it together with the Minnesota Vikings and the National Football League. We protested for a number of years to get rid of the Washington Redskins name."

It's always been going the extra mile for Henry.

In late March, as reported in the April 8, 2023 edition of the Roseau Times-Region, the front page headline read: Warroad delegation traveled to the State Legislature

How else to explain the spunkiness of Warroad than a fired-up bunch of kids and adults traveling all the way to the Capital.

It's a personal issue when it comes to old traditions. You fight for what is right.

For the Warroad community, it's retaining the Warriors' sports name and logo.

There they were down in St. Paul attending the House Education Finance Committee hearing.

Naturally, Henry spoke in favor of protecting Warroad's right to have an Indian sports name and logo.

Afterwards, he sounded optimistic.

"Hopefully, they can grandfather us in, said Mr. Boucha about their concerns to protect the Native-American interests in Warroad.

In that interview, he singled out a couple of Warroad High School hockey players - the Sandy sisters.

"They were not shy. They spoke out about Warroad's Indian name and logo. We don't have a mascot. The Sandy sisters were straight up and said, "No, we don't want to lose this. It's our heritage."

To honor the late Henry Boucha, the Minnesota State Legislature should unanimously pass an amendment guaranteeing that it will forever be the Warroad High School Warriors.

And also declare an annual special day on the calendar as Henry Boucha Day.

He was a true Warrior for Native-American education and the community of Warroad.

That’s quite the legacy.

 

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