Big Sticks baseball is back with local ownership

Dave Ouellette watched nearly every Badlands Big Sticks home game in the baseball team’s inaugural season.

Ouellette, a Dickinson businessman who owns Yum Froyo & More and other businesses, could often be found on the concourse at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark last summer manning the popular soft-serve ice cream stand.

“I basically hand-served those cones all summer at most every game,” Ouellette said.

The Big Sticks compete in the Expedition League, the United States’ newest collegiate wood-bat summer league comprised of college baseball players from throughout the country.

While there were early uncertainties coming into the season about what the team and the league would be like, most apprehension faded fast as the Big Sticks went from hosting 400 fans in their home opener to regularly selling more than 1,000 tickets a game by the end of the summer.

Big Sticks games became a summer entertainment hub in Dickinson and good baseball followed as well, as they won the Lewis Division and finished in second place in the league, falling to Western Nebraska in the league championship.

The more Ouellette watched, the more he liked what he saw. So much so that he decided to buy the team from Expedition League President Steve Wagner.

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Dickinson State enters the esports game

Tucked away in the back corner of the Dickinson State University Student Center basement, adjacent the cafeteria, is a room like many others on campus.

Seven desks, each with large computers and monitors, complete with webcams, line the room’s interior walls. Next to each desk sits large, comfortable-looking upholstered leather chairs. To the unknowing eye, the room appears to be nothing more than an upscale computer lab.

However, in the fall, the small room painted in DSU blue, white and gray colors will be the core of what the university hopes becomes its next extracurricular activity, and potentially even its next varsity sport.

The lab is home to DSU’s fledgeling esports program.

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Learn more about the work I’m doing by following me on LinkedIn

Since I left journalism in October 2016, I’ve turned my sights on being a professional marketer. My wife always said I’d be a natural fit for sales and marketing and, wouldn’t you know it, she was right. After a brief stint working for the state of North Dakota, I’m now the marketing manager for Baker Boy, Inc., a family owned baked goods manufacturer in Dickinson, N.D. 

It’s an amazing place where I work with outstanding and driven people determined to make the best products possible, including the innovative new Magic Ring Donuts — America’s only filled ring donut. A big part of my job, however, is promoting and building our brands, including The Donut Hole. With that, I’m diving headfirst into the world of writing articles about my work on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has become a great place for my colleagues and I to share the work we’re doing to promote Baker Boy’s brands, products and commitments to our customers.

This week, I spent some time up in the Bakken oilfield working at an amazing convenience store that’ll soon become the largest location yet for Baker Boy’s licensed bakery case concept, The Donut Hole. Please check out my LinkedIn article to learn more about this great idea and how it’s working for C-store operators.

Opportunity of a lifetime: DSU CB Jay Liggins hoping for shot at the NFL

Jay Liggins was 11 years old when he left Memphis, Tenn. He remembers it was a Thursday.

Just four days earlier, his mother had made an abrupt decision to move he and his 10 siblings across the country to escape inner-city violence and find a hometown more suitable for raising a large family.

Of all places, they ended up in Bismarck, N.D., a city one-tenth the size of Memphis in a state none of them had ever been to and knew little about.

“It was such a random decision,” Liggins said.

Yet it was one that became incredibly fateful to Liggins’ future, despite numerous challenges he would end up facing along the way.

Later this month, the former Dickinson State University standout cornerback will likely get an opportunity to be the first Blue Hawk signed by a National Football League team.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Liggins said. “It’s something I wanted to do, and the fact that it’s in front of me, I had to grab it.”

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After playing days end, Dufault discovers new track as Lakers coaching associate

NOTE: This story is scheduled to appear in the March issue of the Heart River Voice, of which I am a contributing sports feature writer.

After Austin Dufault scored an interview to be a coaching associate for the Los Angeles Lakers, it took him about 10 minutes to realize the job opportunity was with one of the most storied franchises in professional sports, not its minor-league affiliate.

The confusion, laughable now, was created by the job history of the people who connected Dufault and Lakers head video coordinator Will Scott. Not to mention the National Basketball Association team shares a nickname with the G-League’s South Bay Lakers.

“For about the first 10 or 15 minutes I was on the phone, I just assumed he (Scott) was with the South Bay Lakers,” Dufault said. “We were talking for a while and he kept saying, ‘Luke likes things this way.’ … I’m like, ‘Wait, are you talking about the Los Angeles Lakers?’”

Dufault, a Killdeer High School graduate, didn’t hesitate when Scott eventually asked him to join Lakers head coach Luke Walton’s staff as a coaching associate. He handles video preparation and some scouting duties alongside two other coaching associates.

“It’s a paid internship,” Dufault said, describing his position. “We work all of our practices and all of our home games. We’re on the court helping guys out with pre-game workouts. They throw me in drills a lot. I’m used as a defender a lot when guys are working out.”

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Culture of Champions: Van Ells has powerful Dickinson gymnastics team seeking fourth straight title

NOTE: This story appears in the February issue of the Heart River Voice, of which I am a contributing sports feature writer.

For 36 years, Kent Van Ells has overseen a gymnastics program that annually boasts around 300 athletes from ages 3 to 18.

It’s a time-consuming role with a loaded year-round schedule of late hours and long weekends. But all that time has been worth it for Van Ells.

Dickinson High School has won five of the past six North Dakota state gymnastics titles and will go for its fourth straight championship later this month during the state meet in Jamestown.

“A culture develops,” said Van Ells, who is both Dickinson High School’s head coach and the Dickinson Gymnastics Club coach. “The girls expect the other girls who are coming into the program to keep up with them. They expect to win and to be the best out there.”

In Van Ells’ 36 years as head coach, the Midgets have won nine state championships. The program has 12 titles overall.

As the Midgets enter their final month of the 2018-19 season, they boast the top-two ranked all-around performers in the state — junior Ayanna Fossum and senior Dacia Rambousek — and have six gymnasts with top-five ratings in either the all-around or individual events.

“I’ve been in gymnastics for 10-plus years, and thinking of it being over in a month or two is really hard to take,” said Rambousek, who is also ranked first in the balance beam.

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Blessed with speed: Blazing-fast Trinity senior Kaden Kuntz stars on the track and football field

NOTE: This story appears in the January issue of the Heart River Voice, of which I am a contributing sports feature writer.

Kaden Kuntz was only 10 years old when when he began to understand he had the gift of speed.

He had qualified for the Hershey National Junior Olympic Championships in two events, the 50 and 100 meters. He chose to run the 50 meters and became national runner-up.

The Dickinson Trinity High School senior said that was “the first time I realized I had some speed behind me.”

Kuntz hasn’t slowed down since.

Today, he can make a legitimate claim to being the fastest high school athlete in North Dakota.

He’s the reigning Class B state champion in the 100 and 200 meters — last spring, he clocked the state’s fastest 100 time in three years — and also won the long jump title. He was the catalyst for the Trinity boys winning their first track and field state championship since 2006, and figures to put them in the title hunt again this spring.

“He’s probably one of the best track athletes we’ve had in a long time,” Trinity track and field head coach Craig Kovash said.

Not only that, Kuntz’s speed and abilities on the football field helped him earn him Class A senior athlete of the year honors as he helped the Titans to the state semifinals. Just before Christmas, he signed to play college football for North Dakota State University.

Along with his athletic success, Kuntz’s coaches said he’s a standout in the classroom and has embraced a sense of leadership during his senior year.

“Not just his athleticism, but his leadership skills for setting an example for all those kids around him,” Trinity head football coach John Odermann said. “I can’t say how proud of I am of the young man he’s become and the example he sets for the underclassmen.”

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