The return of the Comets: Sports again being played at school that has grown with oil boom

ALEXANDER, N.D. - When this growing Oil Patch town has its first high school football game in 27 years today, the focus won't be on the scoreboard.

Alexander High School teacher and football team defensive coordinator Mike Rizzo, center, leads the high school and junior high teams through warm up stretches at a practice August 21, 2015. Andrew Cullen / Forum News Service

ALEXANDER, N.D. – When this growing Oil Patch town has its first high school football game in 27 years today, the focus won't be on the scoreboard.

"It's just a coming together of a community," said Superintendent Leslie Bieber. "It's exciting to see it."

Comet Athletics are back in Alexander, where the school building is doubling in size to keep up with a growing student enrollment fueled by oil activity.

Bleachers are expected to be packed for the football team's first game, just as they were earlier this week when the school hosted its first varsity volleyball match in 11 years.

"People are just excited to be able to have that feeling of identity again," Bieber said.


Alexander Public School, which had about 55 students before oil development took off in the area, recently had a co-op arrangement with neighboring Watford City for athletics.

With 210 students enrolled this fall, and enrollment projected to be 360 by 2018-19, Alexander officials decided it was time to break away from Watford City and bring back its own teams.

High school senior Jacquan "Jayy" Morgan, whose family moved from California to Alexander about five months ago, said he "went crazy" when he heard the town was starting its own team.

"My head exploded," Morgan said. "I knew I would be on this team and part of it. It's history."

Alexander native Jack Heen, 14, has played sports in Watford City, but is excited to play for his hometown team this year.

"It's way better because then you know everybody on your team," Heen said. "You go there (Watford City) and you're the new kid, kind of."

With a roster of 13, Alexander doesn't have enough football players to compete against other North Dakota teams yet. The Comets will play six-man football and compete against eastern Montana teams. Today's game is against Grass Range/Winnett.

Many of the players have never played organized football before. And none of them, including Coach Kevin Clausen, have played six-man football, which has some rules that are different than traditional football.


"We're all kind of learning together," said Clausen, who taught and coached in Fairview, Mont., before leaving teaching in 2013 to work in the oil industry.

Community members have rallied behind the school to bring back athletic programs, raising $50,000 in one night during a fundraiser last spring, Bieber said.

Everything for the team is new, from the sod to the scoreboard to the uniforms. New goal posts were installed last week and Clausen planned to paint the field after practice Thursday.

Lifelong Alexander resident Wade Aasen is among the Comet alumni who plan to attend today's game, which is part of the community's annual Old Settlers Day celebration. Aasen, who played football until he graduated in 1973, said the athletic programs bring the community together and are good for the students.

"It gives you town pride and pride in yourself," Aasen said.

Alexander native Kathy "Jess" James was among the fans in the packed stands for the first volleyball match last week.

"I'm so proud of all of those girls," said James, who plans to attend every home game. "Some of them have never played."

Clausen, who played for the Mayville State University Comets, said he could feel a buzz around the Alexander school this week in anticipation for the first game.


"It seems like a lot of the spirit of the community revolves around the sports program of the school," she said. "You can just see how excited everybody is. I just feel thankful to be a part of that."

Interest in six-man

Justin Fletschock, assistant director for the North Dakota High School Activities Association, said that while North Dakota does not have six-man football, like the Alexander Comets are playing, schools have recently inquired about it.

Grenora has a co-op arrangement with Westby, Mont., to play six-man football, and Mandaree has inquired about starting a team, Fletschock said. The association could considering sponsoring six-man football in two years if enough teams are interested, he said.

"We're very open to it," Fletschock said.

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