KULM, N.D. — Kevin Strobel fishes around the back of a beige minivan. He’s stopped on a gravel road while driving between his family’s two farmsteads. He has been given a task to do before he finishes feeding his 400 cows.
He lugs a pallet out of the van and wires it around the pole of a stop sign. He walks away with a smile, leaving behind the pallet that has been turned into a sign. Yellow letters stand out from the painted black background, announcing to all that Coach Kevin of the Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier Rebels lives nearby.
Strobel is a Kulm-area rancher, but it’s his other gig that has him in the spotlight. He has been a head high school basketball coach for 18 years, the past 14 for the E-K-M cooperative. And this week, he’ll finally get to take his team to the top of the North Dakota basketball mountain — the State Class B Boys Basketball Championship tournament in Minot.
But first, the cows need to be fed.
Strobel and his family raise Angus-Saler cross cattle. They calve out about 400 cows, sell the steer calves off the cows and background the heifers, which are then sold in the spring. They also have some goats and llamas, the enterprise of one of Strobel’s sons. Summertime consists of putting up feed for the livestock, along with working with the team’s summer basketball program.
“It gets quite busy between doing chores in the morning and going to practice in the afternoon,” he said.
Strobel is quick to acknowledge that keeping up his dual careers would be next to impossible without his dad, Dale. While his father sold his cows to Kevin a few years back, Dale still puts in time as his son’s hired man, helping with feeding and with summer haying. Some cows are at Dale’s place and some at Kevin’s, and the two work together every morning to feed and care for them. When Kevin heads for the state tournament in Minot, it’s Dale who will stay behind to make sure things run smoothly on the ranch. Dale may sneak north to catch some games, but he’ll get back to be the steady hand at home.
On Monday, March 15, the Strobels had tractor problems and Kevin was in between farms when he stopped to put up the sign along the road south of Kulm, not unlike dozens of others that had been put up along roads in that part of south central North Dakota.
Making a state Class B basketball tournament in North Dakota, for either girls or boys, is an accomplishment in and of itself, and communities are quick to celebrate with signs and banners and pep rallies. Businesses in Edgeley had yellow painted messages in the windows, celebrating their team, along with the hand-created pallet signs.
For the three communities represented by E-K-M, it’s been a while since a boys’ team made state. Edgeley last made it in 1990, while Montpelier made it in 2000 as part of the Litchville-Marion-Montpelier cooperative. And for Kulm, where Kevin Strobel played as a teen, it’s been since 1958.
That long wait to play in a state tournament game was made harder by the events of 2020. E-K-M won the 2020 Region 3 Tournament and was preparing for the state tournament, which was to be held in Bismarck, when word came on March 13, 2020, that the tournament was canceled due to concerns about COVID-19, which had just been declared a pandemic two days earlier. That, Strobel said, “really hurt.”
“We had two seniors that unfortunately can’t get it back, but the rest of my guys were back and they really were on a mission to get back to the state tournament,” Strobel said.
When the time came for the team to set some goals, Strobel said the “big goal” was obvious: to repeat as regional champions and get back to state.
‘Win some ball games’
Region 3 is not an easy region to win in North Dakota basketball. The region includes Linton, whose coach Dan Carr is the winningest in North Dakota basketball history. After beating Kidder County 67-55 and taking out Oakes 69-68 in overtime, E-K-M came up against Carr’s Lions. With the state tournament berth on the line, Strobel’s team dominated, allowing only three Linton players to score in the 46-28 victory. Strobel puts a lot of credit on the leadership of his seniors.
The Rebels’ communities are firmly behind them, as are many people in the area who were glad to see the team get a second chance to head to state after the 2020 cancellation.
“It’s all anyone talks about now,” Strobel said.
"They’re finding a way, whether it’s someone else doing chores or they’re just going, and some are driving back and making the trip from Minot back to Kulm or Edgeley."
- Kevin Strobel
With a 22-2 record heading into state, the E-K-M Rebels were given the third seed in the eight-team tournament. Though the team includes plenty of farm kids, Strobel said families aren’t too stressed about being away.
“They’re finding a way, whether it’s someone else doing chores or they’re just going, and some are driving back and making the trip from Minot back to Kulm or Edgeley,” he said.
And while making state was the big goal for the year, Strobel said the Rebels aren’t done yet.
“They’re happy to be there, but I think they really want to go up there with some intentions to win some ball games,” he said.