By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 2/10/15 (Tue)
As the high school basketball season in North Dakota progresses closer to the playoffs, we often think about the little schools and how most of them are now gone or amalgamated with larger schools.
There was a time not so long ago when individual counties had their own leagues, but now it appears that trend has completely shifted on its head.
If you look at District 6 for instance, you’ll find Linton-HMB, Strasburg-Zeeland, Medina-Pingree-Buchanan, South Border, Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter and Kidder County.
Whether or not you are good with geography, those teams represent six counties, Emmons, McIntosh, Stutsman, Logan, Kidder and Burleigh.
In the late 1960s, Emmons County alone had seven teams playing in North Dakota Class B basketball. They included Braddock, Hazelton, Linton, Strasburg, Hague, Emmons Central (Strasburg) and St. Anthony’s (Linton).
There are countless other schools across the state that have either closed or merged. Donnybrook, Carpio, which won the 1948 state title in Class C, Sherwood, Newburg, Osnabrock, Jud, Columbus, Fullerton and the list goes on.
Ironically, school districts in the cities are expanding at a rate never before seen.
In this part of North Dakota we all know about South Prairie and Nedrose, (Minot area) both of which will soon have high schools and sports programs.
Fargo Davies is only five years old and already has had several teams in state tournaments.
Bismarck Legacy and West Fargo Sheyenne both began this past fall and both schools fielded football teams.
In the 1960 Census, West Fargo had 3,000 people and now has two high schools and is the fifth largest city in North Dakota with 30,000 people.
That’s the same population Bismarck had in 1960 and our capital city is now nearly 70,000 and is the second largest city in the state with four high schools.
In rural North Dakota the opposite continues to be true. There are two geographical areas that no longer have districts for basketball and have gone to Region 2 in the northeast including teams stretching from Cavalier to Hillsboro and Super Region 7 in the southwest, teams that stretch from Bowman all the way up to Hazen.
That means District 3 and 4 in the northeast and District 13 and 14 in the southwest no longer exist. It’s hard to tell if that’s a choice or if it’s forced by the change in demographics.
In another interesting twist to high school sports in North Dakota, the larger communities have traditionally been the ones with hockey programs. And for years in the East Region, small-town Park River stuck out like a sore thumb, competing against the likes of Fargo South and Grand Forks Red River. Now Park River is merged with Grafton.
In the west is Hazen. You have to wonder how a small town like Hazen has supported a bona fide high school hockey program for 35 years already?
The North Stars are officially hyphenated with Beulah, and even though they don’t have the strongest hockey program in the west, those two communities deserve a lot of credit for keeping a program going among the much bigger schools like Minot and Bismarck High.
Likewise with Bottineau, but Bottineau is much like Park River. It’s always had a hockey program and is well established.
Now we have girls hockey and although it’s only been around a few years, there are some really solid teams.
North Dakota has 11 teams now with, you guessed it, Grand Forks, Bismarck and West Fargo at the top of the heap. Devils Lake is the smallest in girls hockey.
And speaking of smaller schools, of the 106 teams playing in Class B this year, only two remain unbeaten with the largest one of them, Ellendale, having about 1,300 people and barely 100 kids in the school. The Cardinals are 13-0, and Solen, population 86, is the other unbeaten at 13-0.
It all reminds us of the days gone by when smaller schools were just as good and sometimes much better than their larger competitors.
That includes Hazelton, which beat a much bigger Kenmare in the 1961 state Class B tournament and went on to claim second place. Hazelton’s only other appearance was in the 1960 tournament.
Kenmare, on the other hand, has been in 13 state tournaments, five consecutive in the 1940s, including back-to-back titles in 1965 and 1966 and a title in 1963.