Kelli McAlister Beckman seldom sits in the stands when the Episcopal boys basketball team plays at home. When the Knights played Rapides in a Class 2A quarterfinal game last Friday, she was more anxious than usual.
“There’s the hallway that goes toward the locker room,” she said. “I walk to the edge and look out at the court and then I’ll duck back down the hall. I’ll do that the whole game. Especially that night, there was so much at stake.”
The Knights won 55-45 to advance to the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament for the first time since 2011. Beckman’s husband, EHS coach Chris Beckman Sr., notched his 500th career win and her stepson, Chris Beckman Jr., scored his 1,000th career point.
It was a memorable night. But the next morning, the Beckmans were up early to watch Kelli, a two-time cancer survivor, participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
The Beckmans have their own view of the circle of life, something they won’t forget as the third-seeded Knights (31-2) face No. 2 Lakeview (26-5) in the 2A semifinals at 2:45 p.m. Thursday at Burton Coliseum.
“It’s hard to describe all the emotions I felt,” Chris Beckman Sr. said. “It’s one thing to win a game to go to the state tournament. But it’s another to be able to share that moment with your son, to be able to hug him and tell him I love him in that moment.
“I’ve got a wonderful family and a great place to coach. Kelli’s the glue who holds us together. We’re thankful she’s beat cancer twice. Our life is busy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The 45-year-old Beckman has the Knights in the Top 28 for the third time since 2010, an impressive feat given Episcopal has just one starter who stands 6-foot-4. He has a record of 500-182 in 19 seasons at Episcopal, his only head coaching stop.
What might surprise some is his role in their blended family that also includes two college-age sons from Kelli Beckman’s previous marriage and their son together, 8-year-old Noah.
“People who see Chris coach see a guy who gets in the face of his players and is very intense,” Kelli Beckman said. “That’s his job, and that’s why he dresses in a suit on game days. But that’s not him.
“At home I’m the one who’s the disciplinarian. There are times when I’ll look at him and say, ‘Did you really say Noah could do that.’ And he’s also my rock. Both times I had cancer he was there for me and he also made sure the kids and the house were taken care of all while he was teaching and coaching.”
Chris Beckman Sr. adds, “We don’t use the word ‘step’ child. We see this as one family.”
Kelli Beckman survived breast cancer in 2007 and beat a cancer recurrence in 2011 that included tumors in several parts of her body. Chris Beckman Jr. lives with his mother and visits often.
Chris Beckman Jr. is averaging 16.3 points per game in his second season on the team. Also a baseball standout for the Knights, the younger Beckman practiced with the team through the first scrimmage as a freshman and opted to step away from basketball. He came back a year ago and has been part of teams that have advanced to the quarterfinals and semifinals.
“Sometimes it’s tough to play for your dad, especially when you think he’s harder on you than anybody else,” Chris Beckman Jr. said, stating a familiar lament of a coach’s child. “Our assistant coach, Matt McCune, does a good job of mediating.
“My dad is a basketball nerd, and he’s a good coach. He’s always going to games. He can draw out plays in ways that’s easy to understand. He’s very detail oriented.”
The father-son duo has some fun too with Chris Jr. noting that when he hit his father in the face with a piece of cake after the 500th win was his best shot of the night.
Chris Beckman Sr. is eager to see how his son does once baseball starts. He noted that his son will likely play college baseball and said that’s fine with him. But he’d like to see that quest delayed a few days.
“This time is so special,” Kelli Beckman said. “There was a time when I wasn’t sure I’d be around to see something like this. It’s a blessing.”