Evergreen HS basketball player finding happiness in hoops after sister’s murder
VANCOUVER, Wash. (KPTV) – A gang-related murder seven years ago still leaves an irreplaceable void with a family who continues grieving with the loss of a sister, daughter and mother, but basketball has assisted in the healing process for a younger brother.
Cut the nets – it’s what you do after an undefeated league season en route to the first 3A Greater St. Helens League title in seven years for Evergreen High School. The Plainsmen’s super season has leveled up behind “Super Mario.”
“I didn’t really know what the situation was. I heard there was a 6′5″, 6′6″ kid named Mario and I was more afraid it was a 5′9″ kid named Luigi,” said Evergreen head coach Brett Henry.
17-year-old Evergreen High senior Mario Herring hit the warp zone.
“It’s an accomplishment,” Herring said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it this far in school, but I am proud of myself and the support I got to get this far.”
He’s furthering his path back to happiness.
“Every time I see a smile on his face, it makes me want to cry,” said Herring’ mother, Aleasha Branch.
Herring is the firstborn son of his mother’s five kids. His oldest sister, Ervaeua Herring, was the victim of a gang shooting in 2014. She was 21 and pregnant when she and the unborn child were killed in her Portland apartment.
“Three boys have got plea deals of six years, so that is a hurtful thing,” Branch said. “The justice system is so unfair because how do you murder a pregnant person, aggravated murder, shot at my daughters’ house 32 times, six people, and they all got caught, then you get six years? I’m never over that.”
Herring said, “She is one of the main reasons I get on the court and do what I do. it’s hard at times but I try to play through it. That was my best friend. She would come over every day. I was with her most of the time, then that happened, everything just broke up.”
The family is still picking up the pieces.
“I look at my grandson and that’s what hurts the most,” Branch said.
Little Dre was 1 at the time of the shooting. He now lives at grandma’s house with Herring.
When asked what it’s like seeing his uncle dunk on the court, 5-year-old Dre said, “I like him, and I like how he wins on the basketball game and stuff.”
Senior night for the Plainsmen was a win-win for Herring’s extended family.
“It makes me very proud of my whole family for us to be able to come together for my son, because we haven’t always been able to go do that,” Branch said.
Herring’s father couldn’t make the family reunion, but he was able to talk with his son from prison at halftime.
“He put a smile on my face,” Herring said.
When asked what his father told him, he said, “Go out there and kill, get the job done.”
Herring’s job is school and hoops.
“Basketball, I think, is what keeps him going. I know it keeps him going,” said Branch.
He’s growing stronger mentally by the day after withdrawing from the court, class and life in general.
“I’m happy that I played,” Herring said. “It made me feel better. It got me out of the house. I felt trapped. Lots of anxiety. I didn’t want to be around people, but basketball helped me out and my coaches.”
Herring is developing a level of two-way communication in his second season back on the floor under Evergreen head coach Henry.
“Early on, when certain dates would hit, whether it was sister’s birthday or anniversary dates, things of that nature, first it was, ‘Where’s Mario?’ Then quickly it became, ‘All right, we have got to work through this,’” Henry said.
No matter the joy Herring and Evergreen bring to the family, the heartache is forever.
“We all talk about it. Grieve. Make sure our mom is doing OK and doing better. She is just now getting on her feet again. She was really depressed a couple of years ago, then Mario started playing basketball again and made her happy,” said Mykell King, Herring’s younger brother.
The first playoff game for the Plainsmen will be on Saturday. 2006 was EHS’s last trip to state.
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