Editorial: The Great Plains Anomaly

Every North Dakotan has a little small town blood in them, whether we know it or not.

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Photo By Richard Svaleson

North Dakota is ranked 47th in the country in population. Currently, there are 755,238 people living in this state (depending on where you look). The only states smaller than North Dakota from a population perspective are Alaska, Wyoming and Vermont. It’s true, we’re minuscule compared to the rest of the country. Even the state ahead of us in the population race, South Dakota, has over 100,000 more people living in it compared to North Dakota.


Those who have lived here their entire lives know that population is by no means a barometer of anything. It doesn’t mean one state is better than the other or anything like that, it’s just a number. Ours just so happens to be a small number. Perhaps even more remarkable is the number of small communities in this state.

We profiled four NDSU student-athletes from small-town North Dakota this month. If you were to combine all of their communities together, it would account for 2,100 North Dakotans. That is only .003 percent of the state’s entire population. However, every small community from Balfour to Barney contributes to our state’s well-being as a whole. It’s a communal effort in North Dakota, with one person working just as hard as another in the town a few miles over. The same can be said for Bison athletics.

Sure, there are big cities in North Dakota, Fargo being one of them. Yet, we North Dakota natives all have a little bit of small-town in us. Not just because we live in a smaller state, but because we can all trace our ancestors back to what were (or still are) small communities in North Dakota.

I take pride in that fact, personally. I’m a “big city” kid, growing up and living most of my life in Bismarck. After Bismarck, I came to Fargo-Moorhead. To say I know what it’s like to live in a small town would be inaccurate, I haven’t. However, my ancestors have, and I believe a little bit of that “small town” mindset runs in the bloodline.

My mother and much of her side of the family grew up in Rolla, North Dakota. For those who are unaware, Rolla is about as far north as you can get in the state, lying only minutes from the Canadian border. Oddly enough, Karson Schoening, a sophomore offensive lineman on the football team, is from Rolla. My mother went to high school with his father. Funny how that works.

Rolla currently has an estimated population of 1,325 people. The rest of my mom’s family lived most of their lives in McClusky, North Dakota, which lies somewhere between Bismarck and Minot in Sheridan County. The current population there is 378 people. Both of those communities did have a higher population when my family inhabited it, but they were still considered to be small towns.

Those small-town values my mom was brought up on are still prevalent in her life to this day. She has also passed them along to me in many respects over my 25 years.

The values that are constants around North Dakota are hard work, commitment and pride in what you do. Those three qualities are something I take to heart, whether that be in putting this magazine together each month or otherwise. Hard work is a trait all North Dakotans possess.

Sure, we’re small. Yes, it’s cold here. Yet, whatever we may lack in appearance or “wow factor” in the eyes of the nation, we make up for in hard work and North Dakota pride. From the magazine editor in Fargo to the farmer in Linton to the oil worker in Williston, all North Dakotans have the drive to succeed.

These four student-athletes embody those North Dakota values. It’s what they were brought up on in their respective towns. It’s clear that those traits have carried over to their time at North Dakota State. Each of them works hard, is committed to their program and takes pride in being a Bison and a resident of their hometown.

This is what makes North Dakota a great anomaly to many. How can a state so small or so “drab” or so “boring” be the hotbed of athletics on the Great Plains? How can North Dakota continue to churn out high-level student-athletes from all across the state? And why do those athletes continually choose to further their success at North Dakota State?

The answer is sewn into the state and the university’s core principles. Whether you’re a North Dakota “city slicker” like me or a small-town kid like those within this magazine, the values remain the same.

Hard work.

That’s North Dakota. That’s North Dakota State Athletics.

Editorial: The Great Plains Anomaly
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Published eight times a year, Bison Illustrated provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Bison community in order to help promote the university’s players, coaches, alumni, supporters, staff and fans.


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