Playing through pain: Helena Capital’s Riley Boese dedicates season to late brother

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GREAT FALLS and HELENA – Riley Boese wasn’t sure what to expect during his senior football season.

After transferring from Class B Deer Lodge to Class AA Helena Capital last November, Boese knew there would be challenges, including an increased level of competition.

“It’s crazy. There aren’t even 200 kids in Deer Lodge, here there are 1,300 kids. A lot of new faces, I didn’t really know anybody. But everything is going great. Everybody is treating me really (well),” he said.

Boese quickly caught the attention of Helena Capital’s football coaches, particularly linebacker coach Lee Carter, by competing on the school’s power lifting team, winning the 198-pound title at the 21st annual State High School Power Lifting Championships last spring. Competing up a class from his normal 185 pounds, Boese even pushed former Helena Capital and current Montana Grizzly lineman Conor Quick for the meet’s overall title.

On the football fields this summer, adjusting to the Bruins’ schemes, terminology and overall routine was an admitted learning curve for Boese, but he soon caught coaches’ attention for his hustle and determination.

In short, life was good for Riley Boese. Then came the news Aug. 17, one week before his first varsity game in a Helena Capital uniform.

“It’s been a rough week. My brother (attempted) suicide,” Boese said, growing emotional discussing his older brother Wyatt. “It’s been a rough week, but doing football and stuff kind of takes my mind off things. I’m really just going to play for him this season.”

Wyatt Havens and his twin brother, Caleb, were each born with Huntington’s Disease, an inherited disease that causes a degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. It affects one’s movement, thinking and also brings psychiatric disorders. The disease had already claimed the life of their grandfather and uncle, while their biological father, Lyle, also has Huntington’s.

The disease developed at an early age in Wyatt and Caleb, according to their stepfather, Todd Boese, producing what’s known as juvenile Huntington’s Disease in the twins. Following the incident on Aug. 17, the Boese family removed Wyatt from life support on Sunday, Aug. 19. He was 23.

“Some people can live with Huntington’s for 15 or 20 years after symptoms begin,” Todd Boese explained. “Riley, I don’t think, was as worried about it as his mom and I were. We started seeing those symptoms early and (were) wondering what kind of future that would bring. Again, we were optimistic, hoping for the long end of things. When the symptoms started getting more severe, it did a toll on (Riley) because he’s kind of our go-to in Helena here since we moved. He’s the one that runs the extra errands, goes to pick up his sister, keeps the house in order and keeps an eye on his brothers while we’re gone or doing something. He kind of holds the fort down.”

“We were hoping to have many years of enjoyment still as the disease progressed, but unfortunately this last weekend was unexpected,” continued Todd. “It was terribly unexpected for Riley, as well. Wyatt was actually in the hospital over the weekend, in ICU and intubated, and we received the information that he didn’t have enough brain activity to sustain any kind of quality of life, so we had to pull life support. It was a roller coaster all weekend. Riley was there, obviously, to say goodbye to his brother and he was visually shaken by it, as we all were.”

“The night that it happened I got a message from Riley’s mom. She mentioned to me the severity of things and what the doctors had talked about,” said Capital coach Kyle Mihelish. “I just said, ‘Anything you need from us, whether it be you, your husband, Riley or the family, we’re here for you.’”

Riley returned to practice on Monday, Aug. 20, joining his friends, teammates and coaches on Jim Tuss Field, seeking normalcy and an escape from a nightmarish weekend.

“Once I start practicing it takes my mind off everything. It helps a lot,” said Riley Boese. “Everything else goes away when you’re on the field. You just play the game and it’s really fun.”

“It’s a good distraction. Monday night, after he passed, that next day, you sit around and don’t really know what to do with yourself,” said Todd Boese. “(Riley’s) distraction was to be able to go to practice and to the field. I’ve always enjoyed being a parent that enjoys watching, even practices, so that’s how I distracted myself on Monday. I think (the season opener at Great Falls High) will be a great distraction for both Kristy and I from the inevitable. Lots of days of sadness and things like that, so (watching Riley play football) will be fun.”

Friends and family gathered in Deer Lodge on Wednesday, Aug. 22 for Wyatt Havens’ service, then again the following day in Helena. It was after that memorial the Boese family heard its first good news in some time.

“We had just finished with that when I called Riley to see if he had made it back from practice and how it went. We were still standing in the funeral home parking lot, and he told us he was starting. My wife cried, obviously,” said Todd. “Just talking about finally having some good news for the week. That was good. I congratulated him for all the hard work he’s put in. Hopefully he’ll have a stellar season.”

“(I found out I was starting Thursday). It took a lot of hard work moving over from Deer Lodge to here, so it was really exciting. I didn’t think I was going to start, to be honest with you. There are a lot of good athletes here and it takes a lot of work, but it will be fun,” Riley said.

On the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 24, as Riley and his teammates arrived at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls, set to face the Mighty Bison of Great Falls High in the 2018 season opener, he was overcome with the emotions from the past week – shock, sadness and disbelief, though excitement triumphed as he prepared to take the field with Wyatt on his mind.

“You know, I’m kind of nervous, but excited at the same time. I’m just going to go out and have fun,” he said, hours before kickoff.

“Monday we had a talk at practice. I said, ‘If you didn’t have anything to play for (before Wyatt’s passing), you do now,’” said Mihelish. “He looked at me and he gave us everything he had on Monday and Tuesday. He had the service on Wednesday. But he played a pretty darn-good football game on Friday night, despite the outcome.”

Helena Capital lost 32-0 that evening, but for the Boese family it was about more than the scoreboard. Seeing Riley overcome all the challenges – the mid-year move to a larger school, working hard to become a starter on a perennial power and playing through the emotional pain – brought much-needed joy and happiness during a time of grieving.

“The whole time I was just thinking about my brother and that he would be proud if I went out and did what I love for him. … I kind of just want to play, the whole season is dedicated to him. But I also have personal goals I want to achieve, playing football in college and stuff like that. Helping out the team,” said Riley, who already owns a full-tuition offer from Montana Western.

“He’s always been self-motivated and always had that will to please his parents. Because of that, I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself,” said Todd. “He’ll be great. Regardless of what happens he’ll always be No. 1.”

The Boese Family opened and operates Montana Telepsych Solutions, an outpatient clinic providing specialty psychiatric medication management to adult and teenage residents throughout the state of Montana. Their website can be seen by clicking here. The Boese Family also asked that we provide a link to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America website, where more information and resources are available. Please click here.