All week long, KX News is uncovering stories about North Dakota that you may have never heard about in our special Hidden History series. Tonight, we’ll share with you the story of how it took six decades for a basketball team to be named champions.
“They would make comments like, ‘You know, that’s unfair. That’s not right. You guys should be the champions,'” said MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox.
Mark is talking about the 1942 Elbowoods Boys Basketball team. His dad, Isaac Fox, was on that team.
During the 1942 season, the team closely defeated every team in its division to get to the championship game and take on Lakota.
“The whole tournament, there was no blow-outs. Of course those days, they had 25, 30, 35 point type games,” Mark said.
On the day of the big game, one of the Elbowoods Warriors’ star players, John Rabbithead, turned 20.
Coach Leon Wall knew that meant Rabbithead was ineligible to play and put him on the bench.
Elbowoods lost by just one point.
But it turns out, Lakota didn’t win fair and square.
“Somebody was older than usual, 20 years old, and they disqualified the team, Lakota. Then they had no state champion,” said Fred Fox, grandson.
The Lakota basketball team had to forfeit not only the state championship but the entire season.
By default, the Warriors would have been the new champions.
But other teams didn’t see it that way.
“We lost some close ones to the same team that beat us and we would’ve been in the championship and we might’ve won.’ And that was their whole argument and the really didn’t want to see Elbowoods be the champion,” Mark said.
The North Dakota High School Activities Association decided there wouldn’t be a winner for that year’s game.
“They always had an asterisk which denoted no state champion,” Fred said.
And future generations wouldn’t think anything of it because of the year.
“We have a bad misperception that is out there. That the only reason why there is no state championship in 1942 when you look at the booklet is because WWII,” Mark said.
After the tournament, they went off to serve their country. And while they were gone, the town that they called home for all of their lives was being torn down to build the Garrison Dam.
If you haven’t heard of Elbowoods before, that’s because it doesn’t exist anymore. Today, it’s at the bottom of Lake Sakakawea.
“It was something major to them where they accomplished something so great, and they came back and everything was gone,” Fred said.
Despite his home town no longer existing, Sidney Fox never gave up hope.
He spent decades trying to get the decision overturned but was unsuccessful.
That’s why his nephew, Mark got involved and presented to the NDHSAA why the 1942 Elbowoods team should be given the title.
“What would you do today? If one of the teams had an ineligible player, and you had a championship that was done and over with, you don’t replay it. You would go back, you would disqualify one and then the other one would be declared champion because they earned it,” Mark said.
After 60 years, the NDHSAA awarded the Elbowoods Warriors the championship.
Today, banners hang in the old White Shield school paying tribute to the team that worked so hard.
Fred wants the Elbowoods Legacy to live on, which is why he takes the time to make sure young kids know the story.