Last one out, turn off the lights — unless you can't leave the cows

Small-town sporting triumphs pull a lot of people to big games. But the cows still need to get fed.

A crowd at a basketball game
Many people from the community where Jenny Schlecht lives traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota, for the State Class B Boys Basketball Tournament. But bad weather and the need to take care of cattle kept some away. Photo taken March 16, 2023.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

I remember watching the news once when I was a kid, and there was a story about a small town football team making a state championship. My dad said something to the effect that the town would be empty that day and that the last one to leave would turn off the lights.

At that stage of my life, I was far more of an athlete than a fan, and I couldn't really understand why everyone in a town would go to a sporting event. I went to a somewhat small high school but was in more of a rural suburb than a small, tight-knit community. My games tended to have attendees who were parents, grandparents, friends and maybe a handful of students not closely connected to the people on the floor or in the field. Other than big home games — homecoming, a big rivalry game — the stands rarely were packed for any sport.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and I'm living in exactly the kind of community I used to not understand. We rarely miss a home game. Five years ago, my daughters and I joined a throng of people who traveled to the girls state championship basketball tournament to watch our school's team . And this year, we did it again with our boys team .

This year, the state championship tournament for boys was held only an hour from where we live — close enough that many people didn't plan to stay over (even if lack of hotel availability hadn't played into the decision). Additionally, many people — like my husband, who hadn't been able to go five years ago because someone has to stay home to take care of the cows — thought they'd be able to drive up for all of the games.

Of course, anyone who has been in central North Dakota this year knows that nothing has gone quite as planned throughout the winter. And the calendar may say it's spring now, but the 5 feet of snow in my backyard begs to differ.


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Instead of making it to all three days of the tournament, my husband and father-in-law made it to just one. The other days were spent watching the visibility drop to nothing or the roads blow in with snow. They may have been able to make it to the games; the problem was, who would feed the cows if they couldn't get back? It was a blow for the two of them — and others like them — who had played for the same school, never got a chance to compete at state and wanted very much to cheer on this year's players.

Some parents on the team faced brutal conditions driving back and forth to take care of livestock and other priorities at home. They all made it, but it was tough.

Deep piles and drifts of snow along a gravel road in Stutsman County, North Dakota.
The winter of 2022-23, through mid-March, was on pace to be the snowiest ever in parts of central North Dakota. Here, piles and drifts of snow along a Stutsman County, North Dakota, road following numerous strong blizzards have grown taller than many of the vehicles that travel the roads. Photo taken March 14, 2023, north of Medina, North Dakota.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

This isn't a novel situation, by any means. Four years ago, I did a story on a blizzard that hit during March calving and talked to a rancher whose boys were playing in the state tournament while he was home pushing snow and feeding cows . I remember staying on the phone with him for quite awhile; I think it was therapeutic to have someone to talk to when everyone else was where he wanted to be.

It's the reality of having livestock that sometimes the cows take precedence over what we want to do. Sometimes, someone has to keep that light on, even if everyone would rather clear out to cheer on the home team.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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