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Emails show center court design at the Betty is part of Kennedy-Engelstad feud

The Fighting Hawks and Eastern Washington University rally during a September 2017 volleyball match at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. The Fighting Hawks soared over Eastern Washington and earned a 3-0 victory. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service1 / 2
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A logo at center court is part of a feud between UND donor Kris Engelstad McGarry and UND President Mark Kennedy.

In the months leading up to McGarry telling the Herald editorial board about the fractured relationship with Kennedy, the two parties disagreed over a floor marking at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, according to emails obtained by the Herald through an open records request.

The disagreement stems from UND’s plan to place its recently adopted Fighting Hawks logo at center court and the Engelstad family’s desire to put “North Dakota” in that position.

The email arguments surrounding the court’s logo eventually dig deeper into a larger theme of the contractual relationship between the two parties, with Kennedy pointing out the university is the arena’s landlord.

“I think it’s an unusual situation,” Kennedy said to the Herald on Tuesday afternoon, May 15. “I’m not sure of many other places where the wishes of the athletic department are not the governing operative, whether the facility is owned or leased or not.”

When asked for further specifics, Kennedy said he wasn’t interested in negotiating through the media.

“We could have a long, public narrative back and forth in this, or our preference would be, to meet with the Engelstads to reach a conclusion that is mutually beneficial,” Kennedy said.

Email correspondence between the assistants for Kennedy and McGarry runs contradictory to a statement McGarry made to the Herald about meeting availability.

“(Kennedy) refused to have a meeting with me,” she said to the Herald on May 9. “I said let’s meet anytime in April or May, I’m open -- he said, ‘I’m not -- not available.’”

Emails show a Kennedy assistant offering meeting dates April 12-13, 19-24 and May 1.

McGarry’s representative responded that McGarry would be out of town during the dates suggested.

McGarry’s father, Ralph Engelstad, was an outspoken supporter of the now-retired Fighting Sioux nickname, although McGarry said in her recent interview with the Herald that her family doesn’t share the same passionate views of the nickname as her father, who donated the $110 million arena to the university.

The arena, which opened in 2001, is currently owned and operated independently and is leased for use by the university. The Engelstad Family Foundation is scheduled to hand over operations to UND in 2030. The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, which houses basketball and volleyball, opened in 2004.

On March 28, Ralph Engelstad Arena General Manager Jody Hodgson emailed Kennedy to inform the president that McGarry prefers “that we brand the Betty floor with the ‘North Dakota’ wordmark instead of the Fighting Hawk logo.”

On March 30, Kennedy responded to Hodgson pleading the university’s position regarding the benefits of placing the Fighting Hawks logo at center court.

“It is clearly in the interests of the University of North Dakota and our athletics department that our Fighting Hawk logo be prominently displayed at the center court of the Betty when the floor is redone in the months ahead to include the Summit League logo,” Kennedy wrote.

On April 19, UND athletic director Bill Chaves, who started his post March 1, emailed Hodgson to offer support of Kennedy’s March 30 email.

“I concur wholeheartedly with President Kennedy’s sentiments of having our Fighting Hawk logo on center court,” Chaves wrote. “Doing so is no doubt in the best interests of our teams and student-athletes that play in the Betty.”

On April 20, Hodgson responded to Chaves telling him “design work and discussions continue” but cautioning “I don’t believe that mindset will change,” in reference to the feelings of the Engelstad Family Foundation.

On April 25, Kennedy sent another email to the Engelstad Family Foundation asking to revisit the issue.

“Today we stand at a pivot point,” Kennedy wrote. “Will the Engelstad legacy embrace all those passionate about raising high the banner of UND, or only those bearing a Sioux logo? Will it be a legacy of inclusion or exclusion? The inclusive spirit welcomes those who cheer Let’s Go Sioux and those who cheer Let’s Go Hawks -- some in hockey, but most in every other sport.

“Will the Engelstad legacy embrace all UND fans, or will it fuel a generational divide? More and more of today’s UND players and students are proud to be Hawks. Do today’s students not have every right to be as proud of who they are, compared to earlier UND students who also harbor the pride engendered during their time at the university? Should the Engelstad legacy turn aside Hawks fans?”

In the April 25 email, Kennedy includes quotes from men’s basketball coach Brian Jones, women’s basketball coach Travis Brewster, volleyball coach Mark Pryor, UND Licensing Coordinator Breanna Linert and others in support of a Fighting Hawks logo at center court.

“I am in favor of our new logo being on the floor in the Betty simply for the fact that it is our logo,” Jones was quoted as saying. “To keep it really simple, it is who we are now. We need to turn the page and be a united front and all look the same.”

Pryor added: “There is not one player on our roster anymore who has played for UND when we had no nickname, much less when we were the Fighting Sioux. Two NCAA tournaments later, we are absolutely the Fighting Hawks; we are damn proud of that, and it’s time to move on.”

Two days later, on April 27, Engelstad Family Foundation Executive Assistant Denise Rich emailed Kennedy a graphic of the athletic court “to be installed at Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in May of 2018.”

The graphic shows the words “North Dakota” at center court, with the words “Fighting Hawks” on the two baselines and accompanied by the Fighting Hawks logo, as well as a Summit League mark near both free-throw lines.

“The design has been finalized and submitted to the court contractor so that stencils and paint can be ordered to complete the project,” Rich wrote.

Rich said the project would start May 7 and be completed by the end of the month.

As of Tuesday afternoon, however, construction work on the court had yet to begin and the interlocking “ND” remained at center court from the previous season.

On May 1, Kennedy expressed his displeasure with the April 27 email from Rich outlining the decision to move forward with “North Dakota” at center court.

“As the landlord and sole beneficiary of the financial results of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the University expects that none of the REA’s resources (staff or outside services) should have been expended for the drafting of the attached unauthorized proposal, much less in proceeding with its being painted on the floor of the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center,” Kennedy wrote on May 1.

Kennedy later wrote in the May 1 email: “It is essential to the UND interests that the REA proceeds along the timetable you suggest, but with the Fighting Hawks logo center court design that our athletic director sent to Jody on April 19.”

On May 9, McGarry requested a meeting with the Herald editorial board to outline her relationship with Kennedy.

During that interview, McGarry discussed her stance on the Fighting Sioux nickname controversy.

"The issue for a very long time in this community, and we seemed to get stuck in the middle of it, was the issue about the logo," McGarry said. "That's a non-issue for me and for us. It's decided. We complied to the NCAA. We did what they asked us to do. I don't have an issue, period, with the logo situation, because it was settled."

Outside of Ralph, the Engelstad family, McGarry said, doesn't have the same connection to the Fighting Sioux name.

"My dad felt very strongly about (the Fighting Sioux nickname)," she said. "He identified with that university as a Sioux. That's what he played under; that's where he went to school."

McGarry couldn’t be immediately reached for comment when contacted Tuesday through her spokesperson.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

(701) 780-1121
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