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Mark Lindquist: Standing ‘O’ for athlete sparks love of Grand Forks

Montana's Torry Hill (2) is carried off the floor by teammates Kayleigh Valley (10) and Maggie Rickman (32) after she injured her knee late in Montana's loss to UND Saturday in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference tournament at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD.1 / 2
Mark Lindquist2 / 2

FARGO — I recently moved from Honolulu to the Red River Valley.

I moved here because of family. I’m staying here because of the people — Midwestern people.

And on Saturday, I was especially charmed by the people of Grand Forks and UND.

I was honored to be able to lead the national anthem at The Betty as the UND women’s basketball team took on the University of Montana in the Big Sky Conference championship game.

This column is dedicated to the 1,937 fans in the stands on that day.

For those Herald readers who weren’t at the game, it was a hard-fought contest. Although the UND players had leads of 10 points and 12 points quite often, the lead never seemed as secure as we UND fans would have liked it.

This was largely due to the play of Torry Hill, the University of Montana’s senior guard. At one point in the game, Hill’s dominating offensive performance was evident as we looked up at the scoreboard and saw she had scored exactly half of Montana’s points.

In the conference championship game in her senior season, Torry Hill stepped up.

But then, she went down.

With about seven minutes to play in the game, Hill was lying under the basket after an apparent collision. She was holding her left knee.

The room was silent. It was as if our own star player had gone down. Almost 2,000 people in the stands leaned forward, worried about what would happen to the tremendous competitor who wore the number 2.

A trainer rushed from the opposing bench to check on Hill. Then two Montana players picked up Hill and began to carry her off the court.

And what happened next was a moment I will never forget. For in this singular moment, it was as if the entire arena-full of fans came to the exact same conclusion: “Oh my goodness, this must be a terrible injury” and, “I must show my respect and admiration for her tenacity, skill and heart right away, because she may not be back in the game.”

And just like that, the crowd was on its feet. The entire crowd. All at once.

We stood for 30 seconds and cheered for a player whose first name few of us knew.

Now, as sports fans know, it’s customary for a crowd to clap for any player who rises from an injury. Even though they may be rabid in support of their home team, fans find it in their heart to support any player when they find out he or she may be injured.

But what struck me about this occurrence was both the speed of the response and the exceptional outpouring by the Grand Forks fans. You see, this wasn’t a tentative standing ovation. This was the real deal. This was full-on admiration.

As the crowd roared while Hill was being carried off the court, we were expressing our thanks for a game well-played, and we were tipping our hat to a team whose championship hopes probably were being carried off the floor in the form of a 5’7” guard from Anaconda, Mont.

In this moment of the truest sportsmanship I have ever seen, I saw nearly 2,000 Grand Forks fans not celebrating their impending victory, but honoring their worthy opponent.

The moment wasn’t about winning and losing. It was about a community that supports its team but is classy enough to wholeheartedly support an opponent as well.

To me, it was those fans on that day who made me fall in love with a college and a town.

I don’t have a family of my own, but if I had to pick an area to raise a family, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Grand Forks.

And I’d be proud to send my children to UND. I would tell them that it is a place where the people are magnificent: big-hearted, kind, loving and true.

Forget Honolulu. I love Grand Forks.

Lindquist is co-founder and CEO at Breath Is Limited, a motivational speaking firm in Fargo. An actor and entertainer, he has appeared such productions as the movie “Battleship” and the TV series “Lost,” and served as vocalist and emcee with Tops In Blue, the U.S. Air Force’s touring performance ensemble.