Posted 9/15/15 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
How important is high school sports to small, rural North Dakota communities?
The answer to that question was obvious last week as Alexander’s gymnasium was packed to welcome the return of the Comets to the volleyball court for the first time in 11 years. And on the following Saturday, when the Comets’ football team ran out onto the field for the first time in 27 years, the players were greeted to a hometown crowd that made a person watching think that this was a championship game.
Whether is was a Comet volleyball player scoring on a spike or a serve, or an Alexander football player scoring a touchdown or making a tackle, the noise from the Alexander fans was deafening.
After years of playing sports with their once rivals - the Watford City Wolves under a co-op agreement, high school sports are back in Alexander. And the residents of Alexander, the student body and the school’s administration, couldn’t be happier or prouder to once again be able to cheer on the Comets.
The loss of high school sports was once just another sign that small communities in North Dakota were struggling. As the towns slowly lost population, the impact of that loss was apparent in the school systems as well. Class numbers dwindled and soon grades were combined to keep the schools open.
And with declining enrollment, most small town schools in North Dakota had a tough choice to make when it came to offering their students the opportunity to compete in high school sports. Without having enough high school students to field a volleyball or basketball team, let alone a football team, the only answer for most school boards was to reach out to nearby school districts to form co-op programs.
Such was the case with Alexander. And for the last few years, Alexander students were part of a co-op program with Watford City High School.
Who would have ever thought that the Alexander school district would ever see the return of their own sporting programs. After all, the school system’s enrollment was continuing to decline. And there was even talk about whether or not the district could continue to maintain a high school program because of small student numbers.
But then thanks to the resurgence of oil activity in western McKenzie County, Alexander started to see people moving into the area. And, like magic, the number of students attending Alexander’s school district started growing again. Growing so much that the school district and the community decided it was necessary to expand its school to accommodate all of the new students.
With more students, the school board made the call to bring back varsity sports to Alexander High School.
Some may question whether or not the board’s decision was the right one. But those who question it were probably not at either of the Comets’ opening games to start the volleyball or football season.
Win, lose or draw, the return of high school sports is going to revitalize the town of Alexander.