FARGO — Even for some of the most devoted prep basketball players, putting in practice time in the gym, learning new plays and bonding with new teammates isn't how they would choose to spend five glorious summer days in July.
But for the players selected to compete in the 45th annual Lions All-Star Games, they'd do it every day and twice on Sunday.
"It's a dream come true," said West Fargo Sheyenne's Jacksen Moni, a Class A All-Star. "Freshman year, I was watching (former Sheyenne player and 2018 All-Star) Zach Westphal playing and I was like, 'Man, I really want to play in this.' So I went through all the hard work and to be invited is a blessing."
The All-Star games at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Monday at Bismarck Legacy and Tuesday at West Fargo High School pit Class A boys and girls team against their Class B counterparts. The girls All-Stars play at 6 p.m. both nights and the boys games follow at approximately 8 p.m. All four games will be streamed live on YouTube.
Started in 1977, the Lions All-Star Games were a boys-only series until girls games were played beginning in 1981. Two Gateway Lions members relayed stories about receiving letters from past All-Stars thanking them for the experience and calling it the highlight of their prep basketball careers.
The current collection of boys and girls talent doesn't view it any differently and it's more than just practice and playing. The girls teams practicing in Bismarck and the boys teams in West Fargo both enjoyed meals at a kickoff event on Friday. Over the weekend there were workouts but also time together at events and meals.
But come Monday and Tuesday, both teams know they are up against North Dakota's other elite players and the competitive juices start flowing. In 77 boys games, Class A leads the series 51-26. In 73 girls games, Class A leads 44-29. Class A will be looking to build on that advantage while the Class B teams will be pumped to knock off the leaders.
And they want to prove to their peers that they belong on the same court.
"It's a pride thing," said Shanley's Braden DeKeyser, a Class A All-Star. "I'm really looking forward to it, to see where I stand with the rest of the state and see if I'm actually able to be here."
Moni, who will play basketball at Northern State in the fall, wouldn't seem to have much to prove at the high school level but he's excited about the challenge.
"It's some of the top players in the state, so just knowing you can play with them, against them, it's great," he said.
Again, it's the dream come true and a fitting end for those not pursuing competitive athletic careers in college.
"I've been looking forward to this," said DeKeyser, who will attend North Dakota State but won't compete in sports. "I've been watching it for years. To actually get invited is extremely humbling."