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Two things people in North Dakota can count on this time of the year: blizzards and high school basketball tournaments. Almost anyone who's traveled to a March tournament has a storm story to go along with it. The 2009 Girls Class B tournament is in the books. The Class A boys and girls are playing this weekend in Fargo, (travelers to that tournament just missed having their own storm story to tell).

The boys Class B is next weekend in Minot. And the Class C tournament? Well there is no North Dakota Class C basketball tournament today. But there has been in the past and there might be one again in the near future.

It's not certain exactly when high school boys began bouncing a basketball around the gym, but we know schools played for several years without playing for a state championship. That changed in 1914 with a plan to pick a champion from a field of four district winners representing the northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast areas of the state. Minot, Grand Forks, Dickinson and Fargo qualified for the initial classic, with Fargo beating Grand Forks and Minot beating Dickinson in the first round. That set up the next game, which the Minot Optic newspaper described as, "The first bonafide contest ever played in the history of the state for the championship." Fargo led Minot 7-6 at halftime, and dominated the second half, winning 21-13.

In 1922, a number of very small schools, unable to compete with the Fargos and Minots of the state, formed the North Dakota Consolidated League and competed for their own championship. Towns like Amenia, Deering, Lankin and Adams played in the Consolidated League tournament through 1950 when Hope beat Mapleton in that league's final championship game.

Between the start and finish of the Consolidated League, two other classes were formed by the North Dakota State High School League. In 1933, the Class B division was formed. It survives today as the crown jewel of North Dakota high school athletics and has provided some of the most exciting moments in our state's sports history, like the time when tiny Epping High School, (total school enrollment of 28, with every boy in the school on the team), gave Hillsboro everything they could handle in a 52-56 loss to the mighty Burros in the 1977 Championship game.

The High School League added a Class C section in 1948 and that quickly led to the demise of the Consolidated League, which folded two years later. The first Class C champ was Carpio, with the Cardinals defeating Alexander 43-34 in that first title tussle. There were many memorable moments in the Class C competition, which ended in 1963 with a 57-45 victory by Mapleton over Sharon for the title.

Today, there is a movement among the members of the North Dakota High School Activities Association to return to the three-class system, adding Class C again, giving more kids a chance to compete for a championship. And that's understandable. But there is something special about those occasional David versus Goliath matchups like the 1977 Epping-Hillsboro clash that make the current system so appealing.

By Merrill Piepkorn


A History of ND High School Basketball, Vol. 1 by Merrill Schalow

From Mott to Mayport, published by David Meiers

March 5, 2009 edition of the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead