North Dakota has never had a major league professional sports team. Recently, minor league baseball, semi-pro basketball and hockey teams have found fans in the larger cities. However, professional sports do not hold the interest of North Dakotans the way that high school and college sports do. North Dakotans love their local teams and support them all the way to state tournaments.
Athletic competition binds communities and breaks down ethnic barriers. Athletes form life-long friendships with their teammates and competitors. Sports provide relief from daily cares for both athletes and fans.
Basketball, especially Class B, is probably the most popular sport in North Dakota. The slow pace of winter is the perfect time for an indoor sport, and both boys’ and girls’ games draw a lot of fans. Small towns had a tougher time fielding a football team. By combining schools for sports or playing 9-man football, almost every school can have a football team.
Many North Dakota towns once supported amateur and semi-pro baseball teams. When the rest of the United States restricted African Americans’ access to education, professions, housing, and sports, North Dakota welcomed black players. (See Image 1.) North Dakota’s mixed-race baseball teams have a special place in American baseball history.
Though some towns might have taken too much pride in their winning team, sports pride also translated to pride in their town and community. Five, maybe nine, young men with a ball could briefly stir the soul of a small town and bring joy to the people.