Do you like basketball? If you’re from a small town in North Dakota, you probably do.
North Dakota used to be made up of a lot of small towns, enough so that there was a Class C, Class B and Class A level of competition. And small towns thrived because a farm and ranch family could support itself on less land, so there were more families. And families were made up of at least twice as many kids, so there were more kids in school.
Back then, into the early ’60s, Class C and Class B towns thrived. Now, towns like that are either gone, ghost towns, struggling or, in the west, they’ve gotten a boost from the oil boom.
It was the Golden Age. And it was so very American.
Now there are more people in the state, but they live in Bismarck, Grand Forks, Dickinson, Jamestown or Fargo. The kids go to bigger schools, and fewer kids have an opportunity to do more things, and that’s too bad.
The big towns need more, smaller schools. Fortunately, things seem to be trending that way and that’s good, because otherwise so much talent gets wasted.
I’m so glad I grew up at a time when I could taste that Golden Age. Back when most of our community leaders were take-charge, commonsense people who’d fought in World War II and wanted to create a better world for their kids.
Back then, basketball in North Dakota was such an important part of it all. Sometimes, it was too important. Yet it taught kids all about hard work, teamwork and, most importantly, sportsmanship, which is really just another term for respect. Respect your opponent. Don’t taunt them. Show them you have some class.
I was a little kid when our high school basketball team played their games in a basement gym, where out-of-bounds was the wall.
And where I sat, at the bottom of a stairway, nearly under the basket, I almost felt like I was part of the game. Our cheerleaders were stationed to my left, never off the court, and the pep band played at the top of the stairs, by an exit.
Snacks were sold up a flight of stairs in my first-grade classroom. And like in church, everyone had a special spot, sitting on folding chairs on concrete slabs.
Many decades worth of basketball history was created in that Wildrose High School gym. A Class C state title team came out of there in 1951, led by a 6-foot-5-inch town-boy named Alan Cain. And they say another should have come out of there in ‘56, led by a big farm boy named David Burtman.
Cam Gillund was the coach of that ’56 team and later became the president of Dickinson State College — where Bob Bauste, who scored 21 points in the first quarter in a high school game against Alamo, eventually played some. And then there was Alan’s boy, Dale Cain, perhaps the state’s best point guard in ’72, who had his run cut short by a Rich Wardner-coached Mohall team.
Except for church, basketball ruled back then. And then came, in order of importance, harvest, roundup, graduation and summer weddings. No noses were buried in cellphones. And only Tioga knew what an oil boom was.
Fact is if today is the considered the good ole days, then that was the great ole days.