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An outsider's view on the advantages of small town sports

South Border Mustangs fans cheer on their boys basketball team in 2014. Katie Pinke / Forum News Service1 / 2
Katie Pinke2 / 2

In celebration of high school basketball tournament time, I am sharing my most read blog post about small town sports, originally published on March 1, 2014. It's shortened in length for this column. You can find the rest of the story with photos at:

After 25 games, our son and his Mustangs team ended their basketball season this past week.

I was still thinking about basketball on a flight early the next morning and decided to download pictures of the tournament from my camera onto my computer.

The man sitting next to me could see my photos. He asked about the photos and shared parts of his own story.

He has an 18-year-old son who is a senior in high school and wanted nothing more than to be a basketball player. But they live in a major city. He said "We need a B and C high school, just for the kids not big enough, not fast enough, not prestigious enough to play at the A-level high school."

Today our kids' school combines with another small school 26 miles away to create our teams.

The passenger asked questions as he saw the pictures downloading. He wanted his son to have the class of 19 kids like our son, the classes that get out of school early to drive 90 miles one-way to be at the afternoon opening round of the regional tournament.

These are kids that cheer with undying spirit, the kids who ask a kindergartener to hold up signs of support for our team.

I showed the passenger what the kids were cheering about this past Monday afternoon. In the first round of the regional tournament, we played the No. 1 seed, the defending region champion. The Loboes are the team that we lost to in the regional championship last year. The team that our son's past teammates had lost to in every regional tournament of their high school careers.

The team that our sports cooperative had never beat.

But after trailing the Loboes by 19 points in the third quarter, a senior made consecutive three pointers to cut the lead.

And a group of small town boys never quit working, knowing a loss would end their season and, for the seniors, their days of high school basketball.

The passenger said, "Well, what happened?"

I knew our coaches had a plan to pull off an upset win. Our boys believed in executing the plan. It was apparent in the fourth quarter.

We played tough defense, cutting the lead to just one point, 52-53 with three minutes left in the game.

The crowd never stopped cheering.

When our son made a basket to bring our lead to 61-54, I started to cry tears of joy. Or maybe they were nervous tears. But I looked over at my head coach brother, standing by the bench, and I knew we were going to pull off the upset. And we did. The Mustangs won 63-58 over the Loboes. The passenger's face lit up with elation. I told him it was a moment, a game and now a memory that our son said, "I will tell my kids about this, probably my grandkids."

The passenger said, "Are you going to state now?"

No, we aren't. We didn't win the next game. Suddenly, I felt disappointed, telling the passenger that our season ended just the night before I boarded the flight.

The passenger looked up and l said, "But it doesn't really matter, does it?"

He paused and added, "It's so good for me to hear, you know, that kids still get that experience. That small town sports experience. That any kids can still play if they want to put in the time and work and be a part of a team."

The passenger continued. "My wife's parents were from North Dakota ... Devils Lake? Do you know where that is? I've never been there."

I smiled and nodded. I'm a North Dakota girl. Of course I know Devils Lake.

The passenger opened his magazine, looked down at it again, "Maybe we should have raised our kids in Devils Lake."

I looked back at my photo album from our high school basketball season. Maybe.