BUTTE – After Fairview defeated Heart Butte at the Class C boys basketball state tournament, Carson Cayko and the Warriors met their faithful following on the Civic Center floor.
Cayko, who scored a game-high 18 points in the Friday loser-out game, received congratulatory hugs from numerous fans, including his grandfather, brother and mother. One hug was noticeably absent, though.
“It’s tough. You definitely think about it sometimes. It’s kind of crazy to think you’re going through high school and not having your dad watch you play or being there to even give you pointers on how to be a better player,” Cayko said. “It’s tough.”
Jason Cayko, Carson’s dad, was boating with friends in 2007 when he dove into the water, fracturing his C4 and C5 vertebrae. He was immediately paralyzed, with the swelling leading to a C2 spinal cord injury.
After 30 days in intensive care in Billings, nine months in a rehab hospital in St. Paul, Minn., and five months at home with his family, Jason Cayko passed away on Sept. 21, 2008. He was 36.
“Everyone says he’s looking down and watching and proud, but it’s just not the same. I get a little jealous, I’ll be honest, when I see the dads and moms together with their kids,” said Jessica Cayko, Jason’s wife. “It is really hard. It’s hard to keep it together. It’s a lot of emotions. But I’m so proud of (Carson), I’m proud of my other kid that plays the drums.”
Jessica then adds: “I just don’t want Carson to get into foul trouble, that’s my big thing for him.”
Carson Cayko was a team captain for Fairview, one of just two juniors on a roster that didn’t feature a single senior. The Warriors won the District 2C championship, placed second at the Eastern C divisional tournament and lost out in three games at the State C tournament. Cayko was a crucial component of the team, averaging 12.7 points and five rebounds per game at the state tournament on his way to all-tournament honorable mention recognition.
But he also totaled 14 fouls in three games, fouling out twice.
“For this team, I try to just be a leader for everyone because I know it’s a young team,” Carson said. “I’m only a junior, but I’m kind of the old head, I guess you could say. I’ve been in the program for about five years now, so I try to be a leader and I try to be the muscle, I guess you could say, of the team. Our coach says that I’m the guy who has to get rebounds, I’ve got to play defense, can’t try to foul.”
“I just don’t want him to foul, because he is an asset on the team for hustling and motivating his teammates and such, and it’s hard,” Jessica said. “I understand when we’re playing teams and he gets in foul trouble and the opposing team stands up and cheers against him for it, I get it, because I want to do the same thing when the (opponent’s) good player’s out. But you get pissed off, you’re like, ‘That’s my kid.’ But I totally get it. I call him names under my breath, because, ‘Why in the … did you do that, idiot?’ I’m the first the criticize him, for sure, too, but I try to be constructive a little bit.”
Jessica admitted she’s sometimes too hard on her son trying to make sure his ego doesn’t swell, but they had a “good talk” where Carson asked her to tone it down. She still provides plenty of support, and Carson gets support from elsewhere in the Fairview community, namely is brother, Gunnar, and his grandfather Terry who has taken on a father-figure role since Jason’s passing.
Gunnar was diagnosed with Chiari malformation when he was a toddler. It’s “a condition in which brain tissue extends into your spinal canal,” according to www.mayoclinic.org, so Gunnar can’t play sports. Instead, he’s found a passion in drumming and mechanics on the family farm while cheering on his older brother in athletics.
“Oh, they’re brothers. Some love and some hate at times, the annoying little brother,” Jessica said. “Gunnar really looks up to him and really loves him so much, and Carson’s the cool brother.”
Jessica is trying to raise the brothers “to be good men, to be good husbands eventually,” but she gets help from Jason’s parents, Terry and Vicky. They helped Jessica build a house on the farm and have taken on large roles in the boys’ lives – whether it’s ensuring the boys get off to school or providing pointers on battling for rebounding position.
“He’s just always there,” Carson said of his grandfather. “I mean, heck, before our district tournament he went to Monte Carlo on a trip, and he almost didn’t go because he said he was going to miss a couple of my games. It’s just amazing to have that without a dad.”
“Without Terry and Vicky, I couldn’t do it alone, and it’s hard because you kind of feel so lonely,” Jessica said. “It’s hard during tournaments or games or stuff, there’s an emptiness that I can’t describe that I have at times. … I think this builds character out here. You’re not going to the NBA or the NFL, but it helps. We have good people in Fairview and good families.”
“It’s awesome. I mean, it’s a 500-mile drive from Fairview to come to Butte, and the crowd we got is just amazing, really keeps us pumped up during the games, especially at halftime when we were kind of down (against Heart Butte). They’re always ready to get us pumped up, too, so it’s awesome,” Carson said.
Next year’s drive won’t be nearly as long for that faithful following. The 2019 State C tournament is March 7-9 at Billings.