Schnepf: Fargodome a popular venue for state wrestling
FARGO -- Travis Lang returns to the Fargodome this week fully expecting to relive some fond memories he experienced in the facility nine years ago.
"I think it's going to bring back a lot of good feelings," Lang said in reference to the North Dakota state wrestling tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday.
It was at this time of year back in 2004 when Lang and many others from the western part of the state weren't anticipating good vibes when the Fargodome hosted its first state wrestling tournament.
There was plenty of skepticism over the tournament coming to Fargo for the first time since 1988, and probably more so of moving the popular event to the cavernous Fargodome.
"Actually, it turned out to be a great atmosphere," said Lang, who back in 2004 finished his Bismarck High wrestling career at the Fargodome with a fourth state title and a 223-7 record.
This week, Lang will experence state wrestling in the Fargodome as a coach. After an All-American career at Augsburg College, Lang is now a mortgage loan officer for a Bismarck bank, spending his spare time as a Bismarck High assistant.
"When I think back on it, it all seemed like a dream. It didn't seem real, it was like an out-of-body experience," Lang said of his 2004 expereince. "It was kind of magical."
And for the Fargodome, it has been a magic carpet ride ever since it hosted the 2004 tournament. This will be the seventh state wrestling tournament at the Fargodome -- and it appears the skeptics have long forgotten their concerns over the driving distance to Fargo or the dome being fan and wrestler friendly.
With the south grandstand moved to the north end to create a more intimate setting, fans have had good views of the eight wrestling mats. The two video boards is another plus.
Behind the black curtain hanging behind the mobile grandstand, mats will once again be scattered across the cement floor for wrestlers to warm up.
"I remember being in that back area warming up and you could hear the crowd bringing the noise for a match on the other side of the curtain," Lang said. "It brought goose bumps and chills up and down your body. It really helped get you going."
That space is one plus the Fargodome has over the popular Bismarck Civic Center.
"There were a lot of eyes watching to see how successful that first tournament would be run," said Scott Knowlen, Bismarck's wrestling coach since 1989 who, like many others, became comfortable with the tournament being held in Bismarck or Minot.
"That whole central location topic, that was an issue the first year. But the fact that the tournament organizers surpassed everyone's expectations made it more or less a moot point. While the jury was still out, they got high marks."
High enough that the first tournament drew 18,605 fans during the three days and 7,305 fans for the championship finals. High enough that it prompted one tournament organizer to say, "We hit a home run."
North Dakota State High School Activities Association's head honcho Sherm Sylling agrees, saying that "it is now a foregone conclusion that the Fargodome is a great place for a wrestling tournament."
The Fargodome hasn't been so lucky receiving such rave reviews when it comes to hosting basketball tournaments. That cavernous feel will really be noticeable when it hosts the Class B girls basketball tournament next month.
But when it comes to wrestling, it seems everybody loves the Fargodome.
"I remember there were a lot of people out West not too keen about coming here," said West Fargo athletic director Curt Jones, this year's tournament chairman. "But after it was held, we had a number of comments that this should be the only place it should be held."
Jones described the first state tournament venture as a huge undertaking. So they seeked advice from as many experts as they could -- including officials at the Bismarck Civic Center, which will continue to host the event with the Fargodome on a rotating basis.
"A lot of times, tournament managers when they get that tournament for the first time, they drop the ball for a variety of reasons and the tournament doesn't run as smoothly," Knowlen said. "So there was some skepticism to dump this tournament in the Fargodome without any prior experience. People were mildly surprised. It has been a very successful endeavor."
Schnepf is the sports editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at email@example.com.