Small-town crowds to make big impact at state
GRAND FORKS — The most coveted state high school tournament in North Dakota — at least from an economic perspective — is in Grand Forks this week. The community should savor it because it will be awhile before it returns.
It’s the State Class B Boys Basketball Tournament, which draws the biggest crowds of all North Dakota High School Activities Association events. Play at the Alerus Center begins at 1 p.m. today, with Fargo Oak Grove meeting Flasher.
“It’s a huge event for our community,” said Julie Rygg, executive director of the Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“There will be a considerable amount of people in town,” she said. “Youth sports in general have higher attendance because they’re bringing in families and another factor is that all of the participants are from other cities.”
The vast majority of fans should be staying in Grand Forks because the closest participants among the eight teams are Cavalier and Oak Grove, which are each about 75 miles away.
Rygg said that a conservative estimate has a typical visitor spending $125 a day on lodging, meals and shopping.
It’s the second time in three years that Grand Forks has hosted the event, but the city isn’t in the picture for a return engagement for at least the next seven years.
The tournament has been awarded to Bismarck in 2015 and 2020, to Minot in 2016 and 2018, and to Fargo in 2017, 2019 and 2021. Sites haven’t been chosen for tournaments beyond 2021.
The Class B boys tournament is especially coveted because it draws the biggest crowds from out of town. The 2012 Class B tournament in Grand Forks attracted an estimated 26,800 fans for the three days. That’s compared to an estimated 8,000 in attendance over the three days at this year’s combined boys and girls state hockey tournaments at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“The Class B boys is by far the most attended state tournament every year, and I don’t think there’s a second place,” said Mark Rerick, Grand Forks athletic director and state hockey tournament manager.
According to crowd estimates by facility managers — the NDHSAA does not compile exact attendance numbers — more than 10,000 fans have attended a single session twice, in Fargo in 1997 when Mayville-Portland-CG defeated Glenburn in the championship game and in Minot in 1992 when Munich defeated Watford City in a first-round game that matched unbeatens.
With the declining population of rural North Dakota, a repeat of those numbers is not anticipated.
“Twenty-five years ago, there were a number of people in every small town who went to every single Class B boys state tournament,” said Todd Olson, the Fargo public schools’ athletic director who grew up in Cavalier. “I’m not sure we have that big of a segment of the population that does that anymore.
“In general, tournament attendance has gone down because towns are smaller and there are a lot more entertainment options available. Even if everyone in a town comes to the state tournament, that’s still not a lot of people from many of those towns.”