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Elizabeth, Hunter and Anika Pinke at UND football's fan fest in Grand Forks on August 22, 2019. (Katie Pinke/ Agweek)

Return of UND-NDSU rivalry will bring North Dakota together

You might have a favorite team on September 7 when the University of North Dakota football team travels to play in the FargoDome against North Dakota State. It goes back decades on who and why we cheer for the team we do and sometimes it changes.

Generations of our family are rooted in North Dakota sports. My dad played basketball at UND in the 1970s. My parents both graduated from UND. Most of my mom's family graduated from NDSU. My aunt played basketball for NDSU in the 1980s. I transferred to UND and was on the track team, throwing the discus and am a UND alumnus.

Our son is now a junior on the UND football team. No matter what the analysts, writers, commenters or internet trolls say about the game, I am Mom, cheering for my son and his teammate at each and every UND football game.

But where I live, we're what is referred to as a "split family" when it comes to our loyalties to a university within our home state. As a kid, I remember wearing a NDSU t-shirt with my aunt's number on it, cheering loud and proud when she came off the bench to play. On rivalry games nights of UND vs. NDSU, I changed in between games from my NDSU shirt supporting my aunt to put on a UND shirt to then cheer for my dad's former team.

I remember attending football games with my uncle and late grandpa wearing NDSU hats and my dad and I wearing UND attire, most of it was covered by our layers of winter clothes at frigid fall games.

The UND-NDSU rivalry of my childhood taught me to cheer for your family first. UND fans didn't understand my NDSU basketball t-shirt but I wanted to see my aunt succeed and was her loyal fan. Then, I learned to cheer for your team, no matter the outcome, the ups and downs of seasons and programs. I stay loyal. And I learned to cheer for a North Dakota school when they aren't playing your team. I have cheered for all North Dakota colleges and universities and a majority of high schools at hundreds of different sporting events throughout my lifetime. Name a North Dakota high school or college, regardless of the size or location — I can most likely name the mascot and maybe a favorite game I've watched of theirs.

North Dakota sports fandom is the fabric of who I am and who we are as a family. Now we're gearing up for Class B elementary basketball for our daughters and college football for our son. Come September 7, I proudly will wear my UND football jersey and have even learned to transition and change my cheers for the Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks.

To me, the UND-NDSU rivalry means more than you might know or feel. I believe North Dakota communities and many young people have missed out of this rivalry disappearing over the past 15 years.

It's not important to you? It is to me and not just as a football mom but as a rural North Dakotan. In-state rivalries are positive for our communities, as it brings people together, even if for different teams. In-state rivalry games are positive for our next generation of kids, setting goals in their classrooms, weight rooms, with their teams to play in the Fargodome or Alerus Center one day whether it be for a high school or college game. Of course, it's good for university marketing and student recruitment, too.

A few bandwagon NDSU fans have told me they care more about going to a national championship game in Texas in January. They like the party and naturally, the championships. They started cheering for the Bison less than a decade ago and don't recall any UND rivalry. If I go to cheer on my favorite team in a championship game, I agree with the good times and championships are fun. But as a kid who wore a 1980s snowsuit in the stands at both Memorial Stadium in Grand Forks and Dacotah Field in Fargo and watched games I really didn't understand, I am all in and excited for the return of annual UND and NDSU games.

The return of the UND-NDSU rivalry drives some kids to work harder to possibly earn college scholarships to play at a higher level because of this rivalry. It ties kids to our local universities and towns, maybe keeping them in-state for higher education than considering leaving.

I know this because I am a mother of a son who called out in his own announcer voice as a young kid what the game calls would sound like in a UND-NDSU game. I listened to him when he would share what it would feel like to play in one of those big, in-state rivalry games.

A greater plan unfolded. A childhood dream became a teenager's goal. And on Saturday, September 7 the goal becomes a reality. Our Class B kid, from a 9-man football program that never won any championships will be a junior tight end on the UND football team playing in front of the largest football crowd you can play in front of in North Dakota.

As his mom, I'll tell you I am most excited about his mechanical engineering degree he's working to earn. But I am going to my best to soak in the sounds, atmosphere, and return of the rivalry game I've loved my entire life.