Feek’s Fight: He’s changed a team, a town and many lives. Now Coach Feeken fights for his own.

One of Nebraska’s best basketball coaches loves wind sprints, hates texting, demands accountability and refuses to give an inch. His hoops golden rules are being tested outside the gym walls.


The sound springs from his lips, quick and sharp, bouncing off walls and turning heads. Brad Feeken’s whistle isn’t a gentle bird singing at dawn. It’s a warning. Attention!

“God, I hear that fricking whistle in my sleep,” said one of Feeken’s colleagues.

Then comes the voice, rising from his chest, vibrating the vocal cords and exiting in a deep, scratchy growl. It’s a timpani in an orchestra. A lion in a zoo.

At school, the voice prompts teachers down the hall to shut their doors. In a gym, it adds greater force, especially during one of his rants. Like this September afternoon at Harvest Hills Elementary, where his high school boys’ team shows up for a preseason workout. 

Feek just came from the cancer center, where he shared the treatment room with a 10-year-old girl. She didn’t have hair. When her mom walked away and started crying, Feek thought of his own kids. I got no problems, he thought. None.

The scene does not mellow him today. It makes him louder, bigger, more Feek. Ready to act on his latest Google search: “European basketball conditioning.”

Defensive slides. Vertical jumps. Sprints. Touch every line! One freshman hurries to the trash can — he’ll vomit twice more on the way home. Feek accompanies orders with a reminder: 

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“You’re OK! You’re not going to die!”

He is the energy source of every room. The magnetic center of every conversation. He is a family man with a wife, Jenny, and three kids — Rylinn (13), Maylee (11), John (6). He is one of Nebraska’s most veteran high school basketball coaches, a two-time state champion, owner of 350 victories.

Brad Feeken with his three children: Rylinn (left), Maylee (right) and John (front). Family photo

He is not a fire-breathing dragon. There’s a method to Feek’s madness. In a world of encroaching gray areas, Feek waves a black-and-white flag. Right v. Wrong. Truth v. Compromise. Tough v. Soft. 

Toughness, he growls at the boys, is not pushing and shoving. Tough is not talking big.

“Tough is doing things right, over and over and over and over, LONGER than the other guy. Because it means more to you!”

This game has never meant more to him. Mere inches from his voicebox, tumors quietly attack his body. They never stop. Players know the diagnosis: neuroendocrine cancer. They knew today’s workout was going to be rough — his radiation days always are.

“You’re gonna go up against a team that thinks they know what toughness is. Uh uh (he shakes his head). Not this year. Not with this group.”

Twenty years of program-building has culminated with this group of Gretna seniors, potentially the best in the entire state. But the margins are thin. Feek needs to push them harder than ever.

“My expectations for you are going to be through the damn roof. As basketball players, as students, as whatever you grow up to be. That’s how it works here. If our first step is getting in shape and being tough as hell, check it off the list and move on to the next. 

“Pretty good job. Nothing tomorrow morning. Sleep in.”

Three months later, as Christmas nears, Feek isn’t coaching his signature team. He hasn’t seen his players in nearly three weeks. He’s home in bed, his heart failing, hoping his body is strong enough to survive a life-saving surgery. (Learn how to help Feek here.)

Meanwhile, his best friend, Bill Heard, coaches the Dragons. His 6-year-old son, John, sits on the Gretna bench at games, completing word puzzles. And Coach Feeken’s players confront a dilemma. 

How can they possibly compete without the coach who delivered them here? But how can they NOT? For now, they play one day, one possession at a time, recalling his truths, waiting for the moment this all makes sense and Feek walks back in their gym. 


They’ll run as many damn sprints as he wants.


He seems like the youngest and oldest 48-year-old on Earth, simultaneously. Sometimes he acts 8, sometimes 88. 

Take technology. The 7th grade reading teacher might be the only Gretna employee left who budgets for overhead projector bulbs. Any computer task prompts a call for help. 

Email? He writes 3/4 of a message in the subject line. 

Google Drive? His assistants won’t even give him access to scouting reports or practice plans because he’ll screw up the document. Once Feek needed to request access to an assistant’s Google Doc. He got so irritated, he just kept pushing the button. Bill Heard received 25 notifications. 

Texting? He hasn’t come around yet. He prefers to ignore them and respond with phone calls. If absolutely necessary, he’ll engage. Like when his youngest of three children arrived, Feek sent a one-word obligatory text to close friends: “Born.”

He’s consistently terrible with names, even NBA MVPs. “Who do you think you are,” he told one of his players, “Nicola Djokovic?” He prefers nicknames, as corny as possible.

A boy named Lund becomes Lunderstruck; a girl Nix becomes Sir Nix A Lot. When a student named Tory complained about her nickname — Tory Story — Feek called her Mom and Dad to sign off so he could keep using it. He was so proud.

Brad Feeken has taken his team to 11 state tournaments in 20 years as Gretna boys basketball coach. Photo courtesy of Abigail Turpen

Some of his most prized possessions are rare basketball cards — he still gets fired up for local trading shows. If he isn’t bragging about his Celtics, he’s touting his fantasy football team. He’ll drive around Omaha all afternoon to look for the cheapest Fla-Vor-Ice popsicles for summer camps and workouts, then gleefully distribute them as prizes.  

Once Feek noticed an opposing team trying to decode his signals. He didn’t just respond with fake calls, but the most ridiculous fake calls. Picture one of the state’s most accomplished coaches standing at half court shouting a dummy play: 

“Walrus! Walrus!”

String these stories together — there are hundreds  — and they don’t exactly sound like a master reading instructor. But listen to his middle-school principal.

“This is year 28 for me with Gretna Public Schools,” Principal Matt Bruggeman said. “He is hands-down the best teacher I’ve seen. How he can get a seventh grade kid to buy in and read books is amazing.”

Another teacher might know the techniques, commit the time. But no one else takes a yardstick and slams it across a desk to get everyone’s attention.

“Even I,” said Joe Dalton, the new head Dragons football coach who frequently worked with Feek, “would jump in the back of the room.”

Would a new teacher get away with making a student cry? No. But Feek has 25 years of credibility. He’s the same guy who sits down before school with struggling readers.

The principal wishes he could use Feek as a model. He can’t. 

“That voice. You can’t make that up. You can’t put a new teacher in his classroom and say ‘Sound like him.’”

That’s probably a good thing. No way one school could handle two Brad Feekens.


Full disclosure: I am not an impartial observer. Feek lives a block down the hill in my neighborhood. He’s a friend directly responsible for my Dragon basketball interest — and my kids’ basketball card addiction. 

Over the past two years, Feek and his wife took countless long walks, often by our house. I poked my head out the door to chat hoops, hoping Jenny would forgive me for interrupting. 

In June, Feek opened his program to me. He asked me to coach eighth grade — my son’s middle school team — and help with high school workouts. 

Brad Feeken’s hard-nosed coaching style transformed Gretna basketball. Photo courtesy of Abigail Turpen

One reason I got out of daily journalism was its solitary nature. Especially the way I performed it. Long hours at my kitchen table in front of a screen. Not enough community. Feek gave me that, the chance to feel part of something vibrant and big. 

I took notes. I recorded instruction. I picked his brain on offensive strategy. When things get tough, Feek said, don’t add stuff. Simplify.

Feek’s success is a four-legged stool. The first leg is presentation — whistle + growl = attention. The second leg? Confrontation.

“Feeken never lets anything go,” Gretna assistant Cody King said. “Ever. It was accountability at the highest level I’ve ever seen. He is on every minute of every day.”

When he spots one of his best players struggling in a drill, Feek doesn’t love him up. He pokes and pokes until the crack becomes a chasm. Expose the flaw. Make the player decide: You gonna fix this? Or prolong the scrutiny? Only then does the player feel empowerment.

He doesn’t shy away from conflict, he pursues it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a fellow teacher, an administrator, a parent or player. “I just think conflict is a great way to grow,” he said. “It’s OK to disagree.”

“Feek has a hard conversation with somebody every day!” former Dragon point guard Trent Miller said. “There are so few people that are willing to do that. He can’t live with himself if he’s responsible for you and he doesn’t hold you accountable.

“That’s why he’s so annoying. That raspy voice, stupid whistle, it doesn’t waver.”

To confront every flaw is flat-out exhausting. And it comes with risk. If you snap at kids over and over, you become the jerk who yells too much. Some kids tune out. 

But Feek believes a critical truth: Most kids crave accountability. They will lower themselves if you permit it. They will rise up if you demand it. 

“You let a kid start cutting corners on lines,” Feeken said, “next thing you know they’re barely touching them, next thing you know he’s cutting free throws short, next thing you know he’s not running hard on defense. Every inch. Can’t give it.”

Sometimes, Dalton said, it feels like Feek is fighting the world one kid at a time. His style isn’t for everyone, but the ones who endure develop love and respect. 

“You’re in the bunker together,” Dalton said.

Which brings us to the third leg, the companion to confrontation: relationships. Be a kid’s biggest critic AND his biggest fan. For every minute growling in the gym, spend a minute telling a story in the hallway. Mock a kid’s NBA team.

“Stephanie Curry!” Feek teases my eighth grader, and pretty soon they’re going back and forth.

“They gotta love you,” Feek told me. “You gotta love them. You give away a little of yourself, those kids will eat it up.”

Miller, one of Feek’s favorite former players, calls it emotional IQ. The ability to read people. “Brad could do anything. He could be in sales and be a millionaire. I fully believe that.”

What’s the final leg of the stool? Passion. To Feek, the ultimate sin is indifference. Not caring enough. Whether it’s the classroom or the court, Dalton said, “if you’re not going to put in the time, it boils his blood.”

Sitting in his driveway one perfect summer night, as our kids weaved in and out of backyards, I asked about his longevity. Twenty years down the road, you could teach clinics and camps all over Nebraska. Make six figures! That wasn’t how his dad taught him, Feek said. Better to give away his time.

Plus, he’d miss Friday night. Big crowd. The beat of your heart in the locker room. The starting lineups. The first loose ball.

Win it!


CaringBridge Journal Entry by Jenny Feeken — Sept. 18, 2023

Brad … has had some stomach issues … Friday night he had the worst episode yet, with very bad stomach pain … We went to the ER and they did an ultrasound … The monthly shot he receives does tend to cause problems with the gallbladder, so this is most likely what is causing these “attacks.”


The School of Feek originates not in Gretna, but in Hastings, Nebraska. Mid-1980s. Brad missed two last-minute free throws to lose a grade-school YMCA game. His eyes welled up, so Dad took the long way home. Uh oh. He pulled over the family truck, a  yellow International Scout with a hole in the floor. 

“Son,” Dale Feeken said, “We can’t be doing this. We have a roof over our heads. Food on the table. If I need to walk you off the court, I will. This is not real life. This is basketball. If you can’t handle it, we’ll just play checkers.”

Dale coached track and field at Adams Central High School; Brad chose Hastings High, where he focused on basketball. When Dale wanted to catch up, he offered to drive Brad to Adams Central to shoot hoops. The radio didn’t work, so they talked. 

Brad Feeken with his father, Dale, in the mid-1990s. Dale Feeken was head track coach at Adams Central High School and a stickler for detail. Family photo

One year before Easter, Brad’s dad took him to a card show at the Hastings Holiday Inn. Brad spotted an autographed Larry Bird card, but the price was steep. $50. Too much for a teacher’s salary. They retreated to the car. 

I forgot my coat, Dale said, leaving Brad alone in his disappointment. He came back with Larry Bird. 

At Hastings High, Brad Feeken was part of a Class A state semifinal team. He broke the school record for career field-goal percentage. Family photo

At Hastings High, Brad joined a standout athletic class. He set thousands of screens, broke the school record for field-goal percentage — lots of layups! — and started on a Class A semifinal team his senior year, 1994. 

The Hastings memory that stands out, though, was freshman year. Feek was taking a test, lost track of time and missed the bus to a cross country meet. Dale made him call Coach.

“That night, me and my dad drive to his house. My dad stands by the car. He just said you handle this, son. I walk up to the coach’s house, ring the doorbell, apologize. I was wrong. It’s my fault.”

Feek made a lot more mistakes, but he never forgot Dale’s message. 

“It’s yours, not mine. If you got a problem, I ain’t gonna save you. You’re responsible. You can do it yourself.’ After I lost him, that’s probably the greatest gift he ever gave me.” 

In March 1995, Feek was a freshman at Doane College. His dad called and asked if he wanted to go to the state tournament — their tradition. Actually, Brad said, he was gonna go with his college buddies. OK, Dale said. No big deal. 

Couple days later, Brad called back. Come on down. He ditched his new friends and they spent two 12-hour days in the Devaney Center. Father and son ate Taco Bell. They watched high school hoops. 

Brad Feeken with his father, Dale, in the mid-1990s. Family Photo

The following Wednesday, nine days after Dale Feeken’s 47th birthday, a foggy morning in Hastings, he was driving to school when a stranger ran a stop sign. Brad returned to his dorm after class to find Doane administrators at his door. He called his mom, but it was too late.

At 19 years old, he held tight to his father’s lessons — and the autographed Larry Bird.


Sept. 26, 2023, by Jenny Feeken: We met with the surgeon today. He said that it sounds like the gallbladder is causing the pain. However, he also said it could be the tumors on the liver causing issues by pressing on the outside lining of the liver. … We have decided to go ahead and have the gallbladder taken out


On the first day of Feek’s first real job, Gretna superintendent Kevin Riley walked him into the gym and introduced the new boys assistant coach to “the best basketball player in the whole school.” She was a girl. 

The Dragon boys didn’t take basketball so seriously in those days. Feek spent four years cutting his teeth. Then Gretna promoted him to head coach. Game on. 


From the first whistle, he jolted the entire high school. Gretna was still a small town. Feek kicked kids out of practice. He assigned full-court tip drills. Players lost their will — and their lunch. 

Feek made it crystal clear: He’d rather have a B+ roster with everyone all-in than an A+ roster with a couple guys on the fence. Not even Gretna’s first-ever All-Nebraska football player avoided his ultimatum.

“First year,” said Trent Miller, “and you’re going to tell the top athlete in the school, ‘We’re good without you’? That takes guts.’”

Guts, Feek had. Control of his nerves? Not so much. 

Before games, he ate so many Tums (and so little food) that he often lost his lunch, too. One night he landed in the ER. Eventually he started popping mints instead. On the sideline, he paced so much that his black dress shoes left a trail of scuffs. His 18-page scouting reports read like cave markings.

Somehow it worked. The football star eventually bought in. Feek upset Bill Heard’s Ralston Rams in the district final and broke Gretna’s 22-year state tournament drought. Nine years after he spent a weekend at Devaney with his dad, he shepherded his own team to play on the same court. 

His dad always believed in the superstitious luck of a $2 bill. So Feek gifted one to each member of his team.  

Over the next decade, Feek made four more state tournaments and handed out dozens more $2 bills. Tradition didn’t come without confrontation.  

More than once, a parent complained about the starting lineup. Or let Feek know they were considering another school. Go, Feek said. Goodbye.

But he also offered grace. One of his favorite middle-school students, Nick Schram, quit after his freshman year at Gretna High. But they stayed in touch. 

Schram came back before his senior summer. Do you think I can still play, he asked. Nope, Feek said. But you can prove me wrong. 

Schram rose all the way to sixth man. That was 2007. Now he’s spent 12 years on Feek’s basketball staff. “I’m a teacher and a coach because of him,” Schram said.

Two years ago, right before the cancer diagnosis, Schram sent his mentor a photo of his sleeping first child, Ava, tucked in a baby blanket. 

Feek’s response: “That’s a bad swaddle.” Then he drove over to demonstrate. 


Nov. 21, 2023: Brad … has a large amount of fluid in his abdomen that needs to be drained. The paracentesis will draw the fluid out with a needle. He is terribly uncomfortable right now so please pray that the procedure will go smoothly and he will feel much better afterwards.  


The biggest recruit Feek ever landed was not an all-state player. It was a 37-year-old defensive coordinator with a state championship pedigree. His best friend. 

In 2013, Bill Heard left Ralston to assist Feek.

They bought houses a block apart the same year I moved to the neighborhood. Feek gave Heard total control over the defense. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give Heard’s priorities equal practice time. “Inevitably 40 minutes becomes 10,” Heard said. “Defense gets cut every time.”

With Heard, the scouting reports got a little shorter and a lot cleaner — no more Feek shorthand!

On game nights, Feek paces one end of the bench; Heard sits on the other. So when an official runs by the sideline, Feek cuts a joke: “Tell Heard to get a stop for once.”

One night in Heard’s driveway, they grabbed sidewalk chalk and designed a full-court press so unpredictable that it flummoxed rival coaches. This fall, Feek called me down the hill to show me the press on film. He giggled at its simplicity: Trap, trap, trap. Coax bad shooters into open jump shots. 

Do you think he’s going to make this shot, Feek said, pausing the film, as a gawky forward hoisted a corner 3. “He did NOT.”

One of Feek’s core pieces was Trey Brown, a power forward transfer from Western Nebraska. Brown’s father had died a couple years earlier and the family left Chadron for a fresh start. 

At one of first practices, Feek directed the team to shoot free throws. You need to understand: Free-throw shooting practice at Gretna is quiet. Focused. Brown hadn’t received the memo. Feek lit him up. 

“This isn’t Chadron anymore!”

Feek issued a nickname that day. “Chadron.” But he also committed to long conversations about growing up without a dad. “He was the exact person I needed in my life at that time,” Brown said. “Without him, God knows where I’d be.” By senior year, Brown was an all-state forward.

In 2015, Feek probably had the best team in Class B, but Gretna lost a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. The following year, 2016, Feek broke with tradition at the state tournament. No $2 bills. 

They won big in the opening round and afterward Feek took the team to Valentino’s for lunch. He paid the hefty tab. The cashier, short on change, asked an unusual question. 

Is a $2 bill OK?

Feek knew right there and then. We’re gonna win it. 

Two days later, they rolled to Gretna’s first state championship in 34 years.


Nov. 30, 2023: Unfortunately, the paracentesis last Wednesday only made Brad feel better for a few hours.  The past week has been extremely difficult. We logged into a portal Friday night and read the results of Brad’s echocardiogram and it showed right side heart failure.  


It began with chest pain.

In November 2021, just weeks before basketball season, Feek spent an afternoon carrying branches out of his backyard. Nothing too heavy. When he woke up sore, he worried. Feek’s family history is littered with heart problems. Scans revealed something else: lesions on his liver. Cancer.

In those first conversations, from the locker room to the classroom, nobody knew what to say. Except Feek.  

“I’m gonna beat this. I want my kids to have a dad.”

That first winter, despite countless appointments and blood draws, Feek barely missed any basketball. The Dragons started 4-4, including a 25-point loss to Bellevue West. The next week, Feek’s whole staff tested positive for COVID-19. No matter. They upset Bellevue West and rolled off 14 of 16 wins. 

The district final — a double-overtime thriller against Lincoln Southwest — squeezed everything out of Feek. Afterward, as his team cut down the nets, he disappeared down a hallway to sob alone. 

A week later, in the opening round at state, Gretna blew an 11-point lead in the final three minutes. When the Dragons came to the bench before overtime, Feeken stood in front of the players and growled: “We’re gooood.” 

He was right. They got their first Class A state tourney win in school history. 

Two months later, Feek’s tumors attacked. He needed radiation therapy. Students at his middle school raised money, buying 700 “For Feek” bracelets in 24 hours. One girl alone donated $100. My birthday money, she said. (Editor’s note: Want to help Feek, too? Do so here.)

In June 2022, some of Feeken’s biggest fans organized a fundraiser. The event sold out at 500 tickets. Tom Osborne and Greg McDermott cut videos. It turned into a roast, with Bill Heard throwing the biggest punches:

In their early 20s, Heard recalled, Feek drove him to the doctor with a sore stomach. 

Doc said Heard needed an emergency appendectomy. Do you need an ambulance? “Nope, got my good buddy Brad here.” One problem: Feek was hungry. So as Heard agonized in the front seat, Feek pulled off Dodge Street into a Burger King drive-thru and ordered three hamburgers, plain. 

“We had to pull up and wait for our order,” Heard told the laughing crowd. “That story could not be more true.”


Dec. 2, 2023: Surgery to replace some of the valves in his heart will be the only thing that we can do to improve his quality of life. Right now he doesn’t have enough energy to do much other than lay in bed.


Feek’s radiation therapy started in July 2022, the week of his 47th birthday. He had to quarantine in his basement, too radioactive to play with his kids. He ate ice cream cake alone.

That next season, Feek’s last treatment coincided with the Metro Conference tournament. The Dragons lost a nail-biter to Creighton Prep. 

Feek could’ve – probably should’ve – missed practice the next day. Instead, he sat atop the stacked bleachers at Aspen Creek Middle School, 20 feet above the court. For the better part of two hours, he called players over and cut loose.

“Alright, we’ve had plenty of nice conversations,” Feek told one junior. “But now it’s out-loud time!” 

The Dragons made it back to the state semifinals, losing in the final seconds to Millard North. After the season, Feek gathered the team for a casual postseason banquet in the high school cafeteria. 

For the first time, within earshot of parents, pacing back and forth, he explained his philosophy.  

“Outside of these walls, it’s gonna get real. It does. … I want you to be OK no matter what comes your way.”

But to get there, you have to be confronted. Challenged. 

“That’s what love is.” 


Dec. 6, 2023: Great news today! We met with both a heart surgeon and our oncologist. … They also talked to each other and agreed that heart surgery is the only way to improve Brad’s condition.  

Neuroendocrine tumors can sometimes release hormones and Brad’s do and these hormones damage the right side of the heart. Therefore the two valves on the right side of the heart … will need to be replaced. Keeping in mind that Brad still has a pretty significant tumor burden and the fact that the hormones will damage the new valves eventually, the doctors think he can get at least 5 more years with the new valves.

The recovery will be long … but what a gift it would be to have the loud, energetic Brad back!

Brad and Jenny Feeken have fought Brad’s neuroendocrine cancer together the past two years. Family photo


The transformation is comical. 

In Feek’s first decade at Gretna, Class B resembled a grinding tug-of-war. And the Dragons embraced it, earning a reputation for snooze-inducing ball control. In 2008, Gretna beat Gross Catholic 29-24! Trent Miller remembers Feek’s orders during those games: “We’re going to pass it 75 times until we get a set 3 or a layup.” 

Now, 15 years later, the Dragons might score 29 in a quarter against the big boys of Class A. Feek spent his offseason studying European offenses on YouTube. It’s paying off.

Gretna isn’t a traditional hotbed for basketball talent: Feek’s best-ever college prospect walked on at North Dakota State. But this team, especially his two four-year starting guards, Landon Pokorski and Alex Wilcoxson, can light it up. 

With their old-school plain jerseys and mediocre size and athleticism, Gretna still resembles a team from another century. “We don’t look very good getting off the bus,” Feek said. But these Dragons average 82 points per game. A decade ago, Gretna lost 34-32 at Lincoln Northeast. Last Saturday, they recorded 29 assists at Northeast in a 93-78 win. 

Giving up 78 points in 32 minutes?!? 

Pokorski joked afterward that Feek would be waiting for them in the top bleacher at Monday’s practice.

As Coach waits for a heart surgery that might save him, he endures long days of pain, barely eating because it hurts too much. He keeps tabs on his team through Hudl film. Following a Friday night 77-74 loss to Westside, he actually texted Heard screenshots with his short-hand criticisms. 

“Cut. Raise. Something.”

“Power. Low guy may have to get open by self. So soft”

“Off Reb on ft. They have 1 guy in. No focus”

Heard never felt so good seeing Feek irritated.


Dec. 11, 2023: Brad had a cardiac MRI … a very difficult test for him in his condition but he did great. … Surgery is still set for December 19th. … Keep the prayers coming!  Please pray specifically that Brad’s body will continue to stay strong.



The last time the players saw him pacing a gym floor was the day before Thanksgiving. 

Feek’s stomach hurt so badly that he wouldn’t make it home without vomiting, but he prowled the practice court with his typical roar. One player missed a layup and slapped the mat behind the basket. Feek took off his shoe and tossed it. 

“I can throw fits, too.”

But that’s not the line that stands out. At the end of practice, the Dragons gathered at mid-court like they always do, 15 sweaty teens in a circle. Feek paced back and forth, issuing a string of compliments. “I’m thankful for you,” he said. “I’m lucky as can be.” 

He praised his seniors’ commitment to the hard things. Ride this season the same way, he said. Stay focused, stay humble, stay together.

Then his eyes caught a little fire and the voice growled. 


It’s one of his absolute favorite themes. Like the $2 bills, it’s superstition bordering on sports religion. Basketball is bigger than any person. If you don’t honor it, Feek believes, it won’t honor you. Because deep inside your heart, if you know you haven’t done everything you can, doubt will creep in. Fear. You’ll fall short. But if you do the work, if you empty the tank, if you go all-in, you’ll reap the rewards. Good things will happen. The ball will bounce your way. The game will find you. 

As a competitor, you buy into the message. You must.

But outside the gym walls, the game doesn’t follow his rules. A disease ravaging the heart of a man who has so much left to give? Doesn’t make sense. You want to smack the wall. Dammit! 

But this is no time for fits. 

There’s countless friends waiting for daily updates and praying hard. A group of parents leads a benefit event Wednesday for his medical bills. At school, an assistant coach teaches his reading classes. Former players write him personal notes on $2 bills. 

A 24-year-old from Chadron stops by Feek’s house to hug him one more time. “I wish I could trade places with you,” Trey Brown said. Feek’s response: “I wouldn’t let you.” 

On Friday night, his best friend delivers the locker room pep talk, wondering what Feek would do next. 

Gretna players break every pre-game huddle with hands together: “1, 2, 3, Coach.” Even in timeouts at crunch time, his starters look after Feek’s 6-year-old son, like he’s their own. All-in. Can’t stop. Not now. 

Amid the chaos and distraction, his players still hear his voice. 

“Grow up!”

“You’re OK!”

“Make the hard play!”

And then there’s the message that his all-state point guard, Landon Pokorski, can’t get out of his head recently. Over and over, when the ball is loose, Landon hears Feek’s plea. The same plea Landon would like to growl right back.

“Win it. WIN IT!”

Superstition says the game will find Coach Feeken before it’s too late. But look around. See his town. Watch his team. The game will find him? 

It already has.  

By Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain, a lifelong Nebraskan, spent 18 years at the Omaha World-Herald and authored “24th & Glory,” a portrait of North Omaha history and its epic generation of athletes. He's the five-time Nebraska sportswriter of the year.


A great individual – I had the honor and privilege to be his High School Soccer Coach (he was very good at the game)

Outstanding story, Dirk. Thank you for bringing Coach Feek to the rest of us. I’m pulling for him!

Love this. I know Feeken, as I called him back in the late 90s through my roommates from Hastings. He was sometimes the loud obnoxious guy, but damn was he funny and fun to have around.

Incredible story. Incredible, captivating writing. Thank you! I add my prayers for Coach Feeken.

Great article. Prayers to all his family and friends from Bellevue, Iowa. Our grandson is a Dragon basketball player. My husband coached the sport for 44 years. I have seen young men and women become successful adults in the “game of life” because of my husbands influence on them on the court and in the classroom. Coach Feeken has given so much to develop the kids and community. Love to all of the Gretna family. Coach Feeken, prayers to a great man!

Everyone and everything about this article is amazing – Feek, Dirk, the players, school and community – I am inspired beyond measure! To God be the glory.

Dirk – a WONDERFUL story. I had the pleasure of covering his first few teams when I was at the Gretna Guide and loved his style and how hard he worked himself and his team. He’s a fighter from the word go and this story is a must for anybody who wants to understand what it takes not only to build a winning program, but to build young people into winners as well. Praying for him to come through this surgery and be back doing what he loves.

What a great piece and I so appreciate the way you told Feek’s story. Gives all of us a life perspective that I think we could all use at times., very well done. Thank you-

A highly respected Coach in the Basketball Officiating Community and an even better Human. Thoughts and prayers from all of us. Keep the fight!

Great article Dirk. I have admired the toughness of Brad’s teams from a distance for quite some time. Now I understand why his teams play like they do. From an old coach Brad job well done and keep fighting.

Tears, always a sign of striking writing and a story that grabs my heart- and our 3 Grandsons played under Coach Feeken, we loved Friday nights and hugs after the game, and watching coach’s craftsmanship of caring for the kids-
Your talent is remarkable and supports a remarkable loving teacher/coach.

Great article Dirk! Another masterpiece! Coach Feeken is a great model for all coaches – young and experienced. He not only teaches the game of basketball, but most importantly the game of life.
FIGHT, FINISH, FAITH- 2 Timothy 4:7

Dirk, what a superb written column about Brad and his coaching excellence! His battle is our battle as Gretna Dragon fans. I’m sure all will support the Feeken family one way or another. My daughter who was a speech teacher at Thomas Elementary battled Gioblastoma brain cancer for 24 months before she succumbed to the terrible disease. Gretna responded to support for one of there own then and we will support Brad’s family now and into his recovery. God bless the Feeken family and GO DRAGONS!

Coach Feek is an inspiration to all. He’s a helluva coach and a better person.
I pray for him and his family daily. God Bless.

This brings back so many great memories!! Feek led me to one of my favorite authors, Joan Lowery Nixon, when I was searching the shelves for something new to read in 7th grade. You could always find me with a book in my hands even to this day. You could tell when a game was the night before because Feek would come to home room with an extra raspy voice that day and could barely talk. One day he was so nervous and pacing around the room he spit his gum in my hair! There were a few staples to Feek’s classroom: gum and his Georgia Tech cup that always needed refilled. 7th grade was the best year because Feek made homeroom and reading so much fun. People asked me all the time why I went on to manage the boys basketball team when all of my friends were on the girls team. The answer is always because of Feeken. Plus who else was going to catch his water bottle? He may not have eaten anything on game day but he did always stay hydrated! I still have all of my $2 bills and whenever I see one I always think of Feek. I’ve had many amazing teachers at Gretna, but Feek was the one who made a lasting impression on my life. There is no one stronger than Feeken, and you and your family will always be in my prayers.

Oh wow-I may not have seen Feek in 20+ years, but I remember that whistle!! Thank you for this well-written piece! Praying for you, your family, and your medical staff Brad.

His dad was my HS teacher and coach. I’m not surprised by how he has touched kids lives-just like his dad.

This story was an exciting one and a tear jerker at the same time! It was so well written and I should’ve already known that it was written by Dirk C who does just the best job ever, what a beautiful story. Went to attend the benefit tonight but so many people could hardly get in the door. What an honor to a man so loved! Prayers for him and all his family

Thank you for introducing Feek to me with this incredibly written story. Wow, I’m speechless…what a guy. Sending best wishes for a successful surgery and recovery to Coach!

Dirk, I’ve always enjoyed your work but this one was personal. Dale Feeken was my social studies and Psychology teacher at Adams Central HS (class of 1983). His dad would be so proud…two incredible human beings who always cared (and care) about their students. Keep fighting Brad!!

Dirk, you are to be commended for your incredibly immersive piece. I knew Brad growing up and cherished seeing Brad and his dad in the photos accompanying the writing. I remember the Scout… playing Pitfall on his Atari…searching for lizards under abandoned plywood in a vacant lot…. Brad, keep up the fight; Prayers for you, your family and your care team.

You’ve written some great one’s Dirk – this might be among your best yet. What a story. Incredibly powerful and moving. Best wishes to Brad, his family, and those who care about him in Brad’s journey there.

Dirk, you’ve written some amazing pieces before. This is among your best ever. What a story there about Coach. Coach – best wishes in your fight. Prayers and best wishes to you, your family, and all those that care about you.

I was in the class of 1976 at Adams High School. Mr. Feeken was the best. Had him for government class and he made a class that I didn’t think I would like fun. They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Good luck Brad. You got this.

Prayers for Coach Feeken and his family and his extended family. He has made a huge impact those he has coached and taught. An eloquent story of his journey by Dirk. Thankyou for sharing.

Dirk Chatelain rediscovered! Great article and testament to Brad. How can I follow your writing. You never fail to deliver the goods! You represented what I always wanted to be but life and circumstances got in the way. You are still going strong!

I too was a student of Dale I graduated in 1980 and was a volleyball, basketball and track athlete! Dale always had such great support for the! I didn’t realize he was only 14 years older than me then! He was quite a guy! The fact he’d have an amazing son is no surprise here! I think I cried for a week when he passed… I pray for healing and comfort for Brad… sounds like you’re the son your dad was proud of! May God hold you in the palm of His hand!

Prayers for you and your family Brad. You have made a wonderful impact on so many. I am hoping to hear about many more to come. I remember you as a little boy when I taught preschool at the YMCA with your mom. I have great memories of you, your mom and dad and sister Karen. Praying for you all. Cindy Uhrmacher

Dirk, Wow, a Hall of Fame article on Feek! Outstanding and a must read for all. Everyone at the coffee shops are talking about your article! Well Done Dirk!

Brad, What an amazing and heartwarming article about you. Your impact on your students and the community are a testament to your character and integrity. Your mom and dad loved teaching and it is evident that you’re following in their footsteps. I worked with your mom at the YMCA preschool in Hastings and have such fond memories of her and your family. It was always exciting to watch you play high school basketball! You played with so much intensity and passion. You could tell you loved the game! Praying for you and your family. May God continue to give you the strength to fight this battle, lift your spirit with hope and purpose, and give your medical team the wisdom and skills to effectively administer the needed treatment. Dr Um did my brother in law’s heart transplant so you’re in excellent hands! Praying for all of you in Georgia.



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