The classic rivalry between North Dakota State and the University of North Dakota has been around for over 100 years.
Friday night added a new level to the rivalry — a unified one with the inaugural Unified Sports Rivalry Basketball game, the first of its kind in the nation.
It wasn’t a game you could find on the official Bison athletics website or schedule, but it had the feel of a primetime Friday night game in the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse with fans in the stands and the ever-familiar voice of the Bison Dan Michaels announcing the action.
There was even a football flair thrown into the event with the certified officials who volunteered to referee the game. Bison equipment manager Taylor Parker, Bison Rewind radio show host Ryan Gellner, and five-time national champion fullback Jedre Cyr were in the stripes to help facilitate play.
Unlike the common conception of most Special Olympics events where only children and adults play against each other, people ages 18-25 with intellectual disabilities played on the same teams as students of NDSU and UND.
“The Unified Sports Rivalry Series brings the power of Special Olympics’ Unified Sports to the college level, promoting the belief that, when people with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same team, stereotypes are broken down and friendships and understanding are built up,” said Kathleen Meagher, President and CEO of Special Olympics North Dakota.
The game was the first in the United States to feature two rival universities coming together to play a basketball game with the unified format.
“I love the unified aspect of Special Olympics because it gives the game a unique competitiveness,” said Michael Storandt, the coach of SO College UND. “In the game tonight, we had both NDSU and UND students setting up the Special Olympics athletes with great passes and plays that they normally don’t see in our practices and games.”
Not only did this lead to a great show for the boisterous crowd on hand, but it also helped light up the scoreboard.
SO College UND’s Deion Hanson lead all scorers with 16 points to garner MVP honors, while Jecky Oulare and Shane DeSautel poured in 11 and 9 points respectively.
The Bison were lead by Lance Rosenkranz with a team-high 14 points and two three-pointers.
Special Olympics athletes accounted for almost all of the 74 points score in the game. UND lead at halftime 24-17 and stretched it’s lead in the second stanza to win 46-28, but everyone on the court and in attendance left the BBF feeling great about the success of the event and the players.
“I didn’t necessarily know what to expect with this being the first event of its kind,” said Storandt. “But we got a lot of UND students to make the trip down, and the Bison fans showed up too, so it really gave not only a great atmosphere for the game, but a night I’m sure these Special Olympics athletes will remember for a long time.”