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'Fighting Sioux' sign finds a 'home' in Pisek, N.D.

Those letters that formerly spelled out "Home of the Fighting Sioux" on Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks may soon light the way along a stretch of North Dakota Hwy. 18 near Pisek.

Mike Dvorak
Pisek, ND, farmer Mike Dvorak displays one of the 22 letters that spell out "Home of the Fighting Sioux" that he now owns after successfully bidding for them in an online auction from the Ralph Engelstad Arena. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Those letters that formerly spelled out "Home of the Fighting Sioux" on Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks may soon light the way along a stretch of North Dakota Hwy. 18 near Pisek.

Mike Dvorak, who farms near Pisek, entered the winning bid of $8,000 in an online auction sponsored by the arena. The two-week auction, with bidding starting at $1,000, ended Friday.

"We're building a new house, and I was thinking we could put the letters on top of the house and have them all lit up," he said. "We live just off Highway 18, which gets a lot of traffic, and that way everybody could see them.

"But if I change my mind about that, we might build an outdoor hockey rink and have the sign on the boards. That way I wouldn't have to get up on a ladder to maintain them."

Dvorak, 47, said he posted a bid of $5,000 almost as soon as bidding started March 18 on the REA's web page. "I thought that would be a safe bid," he said. "We wanted them really bad."

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As he checked out the letter "H" at the arena today, Rachel Horton strolled by with her father, Tim Gulbranson, and her son, Elliott, 1½ -- all big UND hockey fans, she said.

"You won the letters?" she asked Dvorak, who beamed and told her about his tentative plan to place the 22-letter, 70-foot-long sign on top of his new house.

"That'd be real cool!" she said.

Won't cover costs

Chris Semrau, REA director of media relations and special events, said Dvorak's winning bid of $8,000 was "close to what we anticipated getting, though we really did not know what to expect."

Semrau said $8,000 "is not even in the ballpark" of covering the cost of the signs' removal, an unbudgeted expense. That was part of REA's decision to put the slogan up for bid.

"Now we'll look forward to seeing what we can do with the rest of the letters" from other sets.

The full set of "Home of the Fighting Sioux" letters was one of six that trumpeted the former UND nickname on the exterior of the arena and the neighboring Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

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The signs' removal last fall was part of the retirement of the nickname and a condition of the legal settlement between the NCAA and the state of North Dakota, acting on behalf of the university. In a final adjustment to that settlement, NCAA officials said most other Fighting Sioux items could remain, including the large logos on the exteriors of the two buildings.

'Hey, neighbor!'

Dvorak said he didn't have to worry about telling his wife, Sally, that he had just dropped $8,000 on a string of 2-foot-tall letters.

"As soon as the auction started, she was egging me on," he said. "She was very keen on it because she knows how big a Sioux fan I am."

He shares season tickets with a cousin, "so every home weekend series I'm sure to be there at least one night."

He's planning to taunt a neighbor who attended North Dakota State University in Fargo and remains a big Bison fan. "It's a running joke between us," he said. "I'll tell him he's going to have to get a big rock or something and put 'Bison' on it."

Dvorak said he follows all UND sports, "but hockey a little more than the others," and he plans a UND sports "theme" in his new living room, where he will display such keepsakes as a jersey signed by Matt Frattin, Chay Genoway and other members of the UND hockey senior class of 2011.

Wearing a Fighting Sioux cap, jersey and T-shirt today, he said he listened to arguments for retiring the name and logo but still believes it should have been kept. He is in no hurry to see a replacement, even when UND is allowed by state law to adopt a new one in 2015.

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"In my opinion, you can't replace it," he said. "It's a proud tradition that's been here so long. They will always be the Sioux to me."

Call Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1102; or send email tochaga@gfherald.com .

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