Tradition & History

Tradition Of Greatness: Bison Icons

These figures in early athletics helped create a tradition of success at NDSU.

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Learn about some of the most notable figures in early NDSU athletics. September’s issue of Bison Illustrated can also be found here.


Darrell Mudra

Few coaches have had the impact on Bison athletics quite like Darrell Mudra, who helmed the Bison football program during the 1963, 1964 and 1965 seasons. While Mudra’s name has become synonymous with the game of football across the country, one could consider North Dakota State as a portion of his humble beginnings.

Beginning his coaching career at Adams State in Colorado in 1959 following his playing career at Peru State, Mudra found his way to Fargo ahead of the 1963 season. Not only would he be tasked with putting the football team on the right track, but Mudra would also assume the duties of athletic director at North Dakota State. Throughout the rest of his career, NDSU would be the only position where he held an administrative position.

Mudra stands on the sideline of Dacotah Field.

In his first year in Fargo, Mudra helped the Bison to a 3-5 campaign with a fifth-place finish in the North Central Conference. Following that season, Mudra would only lose one football game as the head coach of the Bison. In 1964, NDSU went 10-1, winning the NCC title and defeating Western State in the Mineral Water Bowl.

It was in 1965 that Mudra left his lasting impression on Fargo and Bison football. He led NDSU to an 11-0 season and a Pecan Bowl victory over Grambling State. That victory clinched North Dakota State’s first football national championship. During his time in Fargo, Mudra’s coaching record stood at a glowing 24-6 overall and 14-4 in NCC play. While Mudra moved on following the 1966 academic year, the title he won in 1965 would be his only national title.

However, Mudra did not leave the program without first replacing himself. He hired Ron Erhardt, his assistant coach, to his position. Erhardt would lead the Bison to five consecutive NCC titles and two national titles in 1968 and 1969.

After NDSU, Mudra went on to coach at Arizona, Western Illinois, Florida State, Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa. In total, Mudra won 200 college football games throughout his career. Outside of that, he

is credited with creating the foundation that would become NDSU’s football dynasty.

Mudra was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 1989.

Harold “Red” Blakely

The 1923-24 NDSU men’s basketball team.

There is not too much known about Harold “Red” Blakely other than he was a basketball player that was seemingly ahead of his time

in the early to mid-1920s. We do know that Blakely was a stalwart in the middle for those early Bison squads under coach George Dewey and later I.J. Cortright. In the years that Blakely was on campus, the Bison won 63 games to just 15 losses. Throughout the 1920s, NDSU was one of the most successful basketball schools in the Midwest, winning 148 out of a possible 213 games. Included in this was just two losing seasons in that decade.

Blakely was a two-time All-North Central Conference performer for NDSU in the years he was on campus. He was also named an All-American by the Chicago Tribune. Much of NDSU’s notoriety came from their big wins over Wisconsin, Washington State and Washington in Blakely’s years. Blakely and the Bison were also able to push Big Ten champion Iowa to overtime. In 1925-26, Blakely helped the Bison to a 22-3 season and the school’s first conference championship.

1925-26 men’s basketball team.

Blakely led the team and the conference in scoring during that season.

Blakely was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 1972.

Amy Ruley

There are few coaching resumes that can hold a candle to Amy Ruley’s. The coach of the Bison women’s basketball team for 29 seasons was able to accumulate 671 career wins in her time at NDSU. Perhaps more importantly, Ruley and her teams were able to place a needed spotlight
on women’s athletics in a time where women’s collegiate sports were a relatively new concept. Not only were Ruley’s teams great, but they would often pack the Bison Sports Arena to the brim with fans. Much of this was thanks to Ruley’s coaching ability and her famous recruiting acumen. Despite being a Division II program, Ruley was able to beat out Division I and Power Five schools for local talent.

The product on the floor can be described as second to none. Not only could Ruley get players to NDSU, but she could also bring the best out of them. The results for Ruley were 25 consecutive winning seasons from 1980 until 2005. She was also able to guide the Bison to 20 seasons of 20 wins or more and 18 NCAA playoff appearance. Ruley also brought 12 North Central Conference titles to Fargo.

Yet the most important number for Amy Ruley is her five national championships in the early 1990s. North Dakota State won their first national title in 1991 with a win over Southeast Missouri State. The Bison made it back to the national title game in 1992, but fell to Delta State. Following that defeat, Ruley’s teams won national titles in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996.

Ruley with her team following her 600th career win.

Ruley was also able to help bring Bison women’s basketball through the Division I transition. The legendary head coach retired in 2008 after more success in the early Division I era. Ruley then worked inside the NDSU athletic department and was instrumental in helping the building and funding of the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.

Ruley was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.

Bernie Graner

The 1969 Bison baseball team that won the program’s first NCC title.

The earliest recorded statistics and records for the Bison baseball team dates back to 1909. It was not until 1969 that the Bison were able to win their first conference championship in the North Central Conference. That monumental victory for the program is thanks in large part to the stingy pitching of Bernie Graner that spring.

Graner, a Mandan, North Dakota, native was dom- inant on the mound for an NDSU squad that was coming off a solid 12-8 season in 1968. Under head coach Ron Bodine, the Bison went 14-11 in 1969 including an 11-5 NCC mark. Of those 14 decisions, seven of them went to Graner, which was a school record at the time. Graner also set an NCC record in strikeouts in 1969 as well.

The deciding game in that year’s NCC tournament came against South Dakota, who the Bison had lost to the day before. With their season and a conference championship on the line, Graner pitched a shutout as the Bison beat the Coyotes 2-0. It was the first conference championship in program history.

By the end of Graner’s career, he had set school records in career strikeouts, career wins, career innings pitched, career shutouts and season strike- outs. His name was also littered throughout the North Central Conference record books in many of the same categories. To date, Graner is still in the top five in school history in career strikeouts, career shutouts, career wins, career complete games and career ERA.

Graner was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.

Carolyn Schmidt

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a revolution in women’s athletics. Not only were women becoming better than some men in various sports, but they were also vying for inclusion at the intercollegiate level. The late 1960s saw NDSU make volleyball and women’s basketball intercollegiate sports on campus, among others.

Carolyn Schmidt

Carolyn Schmidt was the first great woman student- athlete as those sports were beginning to gain steam. Under coach Collette Folstad, Schmidt helped the Bison to a 5-5 record in 1967 followed up by a 2-6 campaign in 1968. In both years, Schmidt was named the Most Valuable Player of the team. Schmidt also served as co-captain in those two years.

As for her basketball career, Schmidt played under coach Folstad (who coached both volleyball and basketball) in her senior year in 1968-69. NDSU went 5-4 that season with wins over Valley City State, Mayville State, MSU-Moorhead and North Dakota. Schmidt was again named the Most Valuable Player to the team, bring her total to three MVPs across volleyball and basketball.

While both of those sports were in their infancy, Carolyn Schmidt was one of the early pioneers in both. Without her performance, who knows where NDSU women’s athletics would be today.

Schmidt was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.

Norm Vennerstrom

The true reach of Norm Vennerstrom within the game of golf may never be accurately quantified. Vennerstrom certainly still has an impact on the men’s golf program today with the scholarship named in his honor. His performance on the golf course is just as legendary.

Norm Vennerstrom

Vennerstrom won an individual North Central Conference title in 1960 as a member of the Bison golf team. To follow that up, he helped the Bison to NCC team titles in 1961 and 1962. Those titles were the third and fourth in the program’s history. At the time, he was one of the most notable names in golf throughout the Midwest.

After graduating from NDSU in 1962, Vennerstom continued to cement his place in the golfing world. He was the North Dakota Men’s Amateur champion three times after leaving NDSU. In 1970, the same year he won his second North Dakota Amateur, Vennerstrom qualified for the United States Men’s Amateur Golfing Championship.

Vennerstrom was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.

Tradition Of Greatness: Bison Icons
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