BUTTE — The package arrived in Frazer in early December 2016, barely a week after our 406mtsports.com story about Mya Fourstar and her hoop dreams.
The mailing label and an accompanying letter revealed that the parcel was from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It was addressed to Mya in care of her aunt and basketball coach at the time, Sasha Fourstar. Sensing the moment, Sasha brought the package to the Frazer gym for Mya to open in front of her Bearcub teammates at practice.
In the story, Mya talked candidly about steering clear of the bleak futures facing too many young tribal members in her stark little community on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Basketball, she said, wasn't just a passion — it was her ticket out.
So every hour shooting on the lonely outdoor hoop near her grandmother’s house in Frazer, every drop of sweat staining the CrossFit equipment, every moment absorbing a textbook under muted light late at night, and every decision about what to eat, drink and who to socialize with was devoted to a singular goal.
If her dreams and fate converged, her game and 4.0 grade-point average would take her to a place and uniform she’s fantasized about since second grade.
Playing basketball at Gonzaga University.
“I’m doing this,” she said then, “to go somewhere.”
Mya’s captivating story spread beyond Montana's borders to Washington, D.C., where editors of the Post dispatched reporter Jesse Dougherty to northeast Montana to paint a portrait of a uniquely gifted player who once scored 50 points as an eighth grader.
It also found a circuitous route to Coeur d’Alene, in the Idaho panhandle.
Upon Sasha’s arrival at school, Mya sat on the freshly waxed gym floor in her practice togs. Before opening the package, she read the typed note from the sender and began to cry.
When she saw the contents inside the box, she gasped.
* * *
Mya celebrates her 16th birthday Saturday. Cheryl Breeden should be celebrating her 58th.
Like Mya, Cheryl was a small-town girl reared on the endless plains with hoop dreams of her own, in her case New Leipzig, North Dakota, and a graduating class of 12. She played two years of basketball at Moorhead State University in Minnesota before transferring to the University of Idaho, where her fortitude earned her a roster spot as a walkon.
Her playing time limited, Cheryl reluctantly gave up one dream to pursue another: elementary education. She would teach in Coeur d’Alene schools for 30 years.
Along the way, she met and wed a Livingston native named Dan Breeden, who attended journalism school at North Idaho College and Montana before working for three small newspapers in the Inland Empire. Eventually he started a handyman business called Handy Dandy.
Dan and Cheryl’s shared passion for basketball often took them to nearby Spokane, where they became rabid Gonzaga basketball supporters. They attended men’s and women’s games whenever they could, always adorned in the school’s red and blue garb.
On Oct. 2, 2016, Cheryl Lee Breeden died after a prolonged battle with cancer.
For nearly two months, a grieving Dan left Cheryl’s belongings untouched. They remained as painful yet comforting reminders of their time together.
Then, while visiting his parents in Laurel over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Dan read Mya's story in The Billings Gazette.
“I just started seeing the parallels between Mya and my wife,” he recalled via phone Thursday. “I was inspired. And when I got to the end, and it said her birthday was January 6, I just lost it.”
A year later, Dan’s voice cracks as he recounts the moment and talks about his wife, his memories of attending Gonzaga games, and Mya’s passion for a program that meant so much to them. Mostly, he said through his own tears, “I wanted to encourage Mya to follow that dream.”
Dan doesn’t "have any clout” with Gonzaga, but there was one thing he could do for Mya.
* * *
“You don’t know me, but my name is Dan Breeden,” the letter to Mya began, followed by how “impressed” he was with her. “You’ve got spunk and you’ve got drive. And those qualities reminded me of my wife Cheryl.”
Mya was incredulous as she peered into the package. It had T-shirts, sweatshirts and other Gonzaga swag, some faded from years of wear by Cheryl but also a never-worn sweatshirt Dan bought for her shortly before she died.
“I haven’t even begun to think about what to do with all her clothes and such,” Dan’s letter continued, “but after I read your story in the paper I thought perhaps you could make use of some Zag swag yourself to inspire you and maybe in some way help you keep your eye on your goal of one day playing for the Lady Bulldogs.
“If you wish, wear it in good faith and keep your eye on the prize.”
Mya, Sasha said, “was deeply honored by the gesture. She wears his wife’s Zag gear ever since.”
Dan closed the letter by offering to take her and “your auntie Sasha” to a Zags game. In the year since, he regrets not responding to Mya’s thank-you letter and said the offer still stands; now semi-retired, he’s also considering visiting a relative in Havre with the intention of watching Mya play nearby.
Dan’s voice cracked again when informed that Mya is indeed wearing Cheryl’s Zags gear and keeping her eye on the prize. Though he has been out of touch, he reacts as emotionally about Mya's dream and seeing his wife’s spirit in her as he did a year ago.
He routinely asks family and friends about her progress on his visits to Laurel.
“I wish you all the best in the world Mya Fourstar,” the letter concluded, “and don’t let anyone or anything hold you back.”
A year later, on the eve of birthdays shared by two distant people who shared similar dreams, the message to Mya resonates stronger than ever.