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Jacobs: Basketball! And hockey, too!

The Class B girls' basketball tournament turned out to be wonderfully competitive, with several upsets and a final game pitting the Cowboys and the Coyotes.

The Coyotes represent Grant County High School, a consolidated district including two of the county's towns, Elgin and New Leipzig. The school building itself is in Elgin. The Cowboys are from Killdeer.

Which team to root for? It was a hard choice.

Both are West River teams. Fresh out of journalism classes at UND and at the start of a career that has now extended to half a century, I took a job at the Dickinson Press and headed into that great open country that lies across the wide Missouri. I was excited by the stories that I found.

Killdeer and Grant County were both on my "beat." Grant County was south of Dickinson, and I stopped there on my Tuesday rounds. On Wednesdays I headed north, and Killdeer was among my stops.

I was looking for news stories, of course, and so I checked in with county sheriffs and city mayors. More importantly, though, I was looking for human interest stories. We call them "features" in the newspaper business. West River counties were full of features. There was plenty of news, too, including tornados, plane crashes and other disasters, and one memorable shootout.

To be truthful, the shootout happened across the border in Montana, not part of my regular beat but still close enough to attract attention when something extraordinary happened. The shootout outside that small town tavern led to a series of stories about other gun fights, some of which had taken place a century earlier.

One of these involved the Marquis de Mores, founder of Medora. Another brought Gen. Alfred Sully to Killdeer Mountain.

The tournament left me pretty much a free agent as far as which team to support. The Great Northwest, my home area, wasn't represented. The Thompson Tommies, as close as Grand Forks had to a "home team" in the tournament, won their first game and placed fourth in the tournament.

Grant County and Killdeer each had a professional claim to my loyalty, and both towns exerted a nostalgic pull, as well. I once spent a pleasant afternoon in the Cowboy Bar in Killdeer, when we members of a canoeing group toasted one another and our memorable experience on the Little Missouri River. The same group gathered at a rural cemetery near New Leipzig, when the first of our number was buried.

So I cheered for the Coyotes.

Partly I cheered for them because I relished the matchup. The Cowboys versus The Coyotes. In the real world, you'd imagine a cowboy would have an advantage, but coyotes are wily critters deserving of respect. So the Grant County Coyotes proved.

I never did cover a girls' basketball game while I worked in Dickinson. The Press had a sports reporter, but he didn't cover girls basketball games either. There were none. Girls' basketball wasn't a sanctioned sport in those days. It had been briefly. State tournaments were held during the 1950s. It was a half-court game then.

The modern era of girls' basketball dates to 1974. Since then, thousands of North Dakota girls have played basketball competitively. All of them gained something from the effort, and some won championships.

The bigger story is that girls began to participate routinely in organized sports, they were recognized for their efforts and their game attracted fans, television time and advertising revenue. This year's tournament was a wonderful example of the excitement and drama and reward of organized sports.

Too bad for girls who want to play hockey.

Hockey is an expensive sport, and its high cost was one of the factors that led UND to drop its women's hockey program. The other was low attendance at women's hockey games. Both of these are a consequence of the newness of women's hockey programs. Any new program needs time to build. UND was impatient.

This week, the Lamoureux twins will bring Olympic gold medals to Grand Forks, medals they won as members of the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team; medals they won using skills they honed as members of UND's women's hockey team. Only two native-born North Dakotans have won Olympic gold medals, both of them women's hockey players.

Their achievement brought UND a lot of attention — worth more than all the advertising time that the Up River Rivals at NDSU paid for during the Olympic television broadcasts. It's too bad that those promising hockey players who heard about UND's program won't have a chance to play here.

Think about that during this week's celebration of the Lamoureux' gold medals.

Let's go for gold again. Let's bring back women's hockey.

Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Herald.