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North Central Conference prepares to shut down

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- It's last call in the North Central Conference. The league served its final championship trophies this weekend and all that remain are memories.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- It's last call in the North Central Conference. The league served its final championship trophies this weekend and all that remain are memories.

The lights at the league office in the Ramkota Hotel on the north side of Sioux Falls will shut off for the final time on June 30. It will be renovated into a family suite.

"I've gone from anger to sadness," said former commissioner Noel Olson. "The sadness is hitting a peak right now."

Olson has come to terms with the NCC demise. From 1984-1997, he was in charge of the league at perhaps its peak. North Dakota State won four NCAA Division II national football titles and five D-II women's basketball championships.

The arenas and fields were buzzing. The rivalries were hot.

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NDSU vs. UND in football and women's basketball. St. Cloud State vs. Mankato State in baseball. NDSU vs. Nebraska-Omaha in wrestling. The triad of Augustana, South Dakota State and South Dakota in basketball. NDSU and USD in track and field.

"It's like a family breaking up," said Dick Clay, UND head women's track coach.

There were no Neil Sedaka songs - "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" - swirling through Howard Wood Stadium on Saturday, the site of the NCC Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

The USD women and Minnesota State Mankato men accepted their first-place trophies in the rain and cold.

"It was a pretty emotional day," said USD head coach Lucky Huber. "I really hadn't done much reflecting on this, but today it was unavoidable. I think we're all excited about the future here, but we can't see that yet. We can see the history, though. We can't look back at that history without being proud of it."

All of the conference historical records will go to the USD library. The league is working with a USD archivist on what to save and what to throw away.

"They don't want you to hang on to canceled checks," said NCC commissioner Roger Thomas. "They'll want minutes of meetings, things like that which will be important for somebody doing a history of the league."

Although there are not very many of them, plaques and trophies will end up at a yet-to-be-named NCC member.

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Take a stroll through Olson's plaque-savvy basement at his condo in Sioux Falls and you can see what the league meant for many people.

Olson spent most of his adult life in the NCC as either a coach or administrator.

His family - Olson farms - is from Milnor, N.D. He grew up in Fergus Falls, Minn. He loves baseball with Roger Maris among his memorabilia. His roots are as Midwest as they get.

He was against the Division I moves of Northern Colorado, NDSU and SDSU - the reason the league lost its luster.

"Like a lot of us, this was his baby," Thomas said.

At one time, he was a proponent of four NCAA divisions with the NCC joining the likes of Montana, Montana State and Northern Iowa in a separate division.

"Would that have kept people in Division II?" he said. "I'm not so sure anymore. There's a different feeling out there."

There's definitely a different feeling in the league office and it doesn't have much to do with the NCC nameplate on the door being stolen a while ago.

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"I don't think it has anything to do with our death," said NCC assistant commissioner Jon Martin.

Thomas said he's not certain what he's going to do next. Martin is staying in Sioux Falls for family reasons. He doesn't have another job yet.

Martin, 36, started his sports administrative career as a student assistant in the NDSU sports information office.

"It's a matter of old files and cleaning everything out," he said, looking at a stack of papers.

There are items like old 16 mm film of 1948 football games like "Augie vs. SDSC," in reference to Augustana against South Dakota State College. There's a 1967 television handbook from the Pecan Bowl football game between NDSU and Texas-Arlington in Abilene, Texas.

It outlined how to build a platform on the back of an El Camino car. It gave different scenarios for black and white and color productions.

In a few weeks, the NCC will go from color and fade to black and white. Even its most ardent supporter is accepting of it.

"It's OK," Olson said.

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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