Of the millions of bus trips taken every year by schools around the country for extracurricular activities, few were as scary as the one the Hettinger-Scranton boys basketball team took on Jan. 13. That afternoon, on their way to play a basketball game against Dickinson Trinity, the team’s chartered bus went off the road when it hit an ice patch attempting to negotiate a curve widely regarded as dangerous along the border of Slope and Hettinger counties three west of New England. Icy road conditions, which were ruled the reason for the accident, caused the bus to go off the road.
After it went off the road and into the ditch the bus came upon an adjacent north-south gravel road, which had a steep incline. The bus hit it hard and launched into the air, rolling onto the driver’s side, which slowed it down to an eventual stop.
“We were going so fast down this field,” said Ben Laufer, then a senior and the team’s leading scorer who was sitting in the back of the bus. “It seemed like we were going really fast, but slow at the same time — just like a dream. Then the road came so fast. We hit it at an angle, cleared it and landed on our side.”
By the time it was over, there wasn’t a person of the 28 players, coaches and managers on the bus without a scratch. Their story of carrying on after avoiding tragedy is The Dickinson Press’ No. 5 sports story of 2012.
The accident resulted in six people being taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center in Dickinson. The rest were taken to the West River Regional Medical Center in Hettinger.
Assistant coach Jeremy Deitchman was eventually transported to Medcenter One hospital in Bismarck after sustaining a concussion, a crushed vertebrae and nerve damage. Also taken to Bismarck was Hayden Sadowsky, then an eighth-grader on the Night Hawks’ junior varsity. He broke bones in his face.
On Jan. 17, school officials met with parents and players to assess the team’s situation and whether or not their season could continue.
“The kids were overwhelmingly ready to go,” Hettinger-Scranton head coach Adam Hill said on Jan. 18. “The ones who didn’t feel like it — they were hobbled or couldn’t walk — they were ready to go.”
Many of the Night Hawks were eventually able to return to the court. But not junior center Stephen Kristy or senior guard Dalton Mellmer, both starters. Kristy injured his knee but went on to win the Class B state high jump title in May. Mellmer injured his arm, which was dragged along the ground on the side the bus slid after it tipped.
Nonetheless on Jan. 20, a week after the accident, the Night Hawks were back on the court.
With Laufer and senior forward Justis Caldwell leading the way, Hettinger-Scranton earned a 65-51 home victory over Glen Ullin-Hebron, a team that would finish the season without a win. Caldwell had season highs of 27 points and 15 rebounds and Laufer had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists to beat the Bearcats.
“We were a little shorthanded, but a lot of guys on the bench stepped up,” Laufer said after that game.
Unfortunately, that was as good as it would get for the Night Hawks. They lost seven of their next eight games and didn’t beat another North Dakota team — Laufer scored 28 in a win over McIntosh, S.D. — and bowed out of the District 13 Tournament with a 78-57 loss to New England in a region-qualifier game. Hettinger-Scranton finished the season, which began with high hopes, with a 9-11 record. Regardless, even when there were moments when it appeared that the Night Hawks’ season wouldn’t be able to carry on, they did. Their story, regardless of wins, is one that cannot be forgotten.