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NDSU pep fest in Frisco draws 10,000 green-and-yellow-clad fanatics

Former Bison players take the field during the North Dakota State University's pep fest at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas on Friday, January 3, 2014. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

By Kevin Schnepf / The Forum

FRISCO, Texas - Just when you thought the following for North Dakota State football couldn’t get any crazier, here’s something to twitter to any fans of a major college team: A ticket to attend Friday night’s Bison pep fest was actually harder to find than a ticket for today’s FCS Championship game.

“That just blows me away,” said Sherri Schmidt of the NDSU Alumni Association, which put together a pep rally to knock the socks off of all pep rallies Friday night at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

More than 10,000 green-and-yellow-clad Bison fanatics crammed into this minor league baseball park accustomed to holding 7,000 fans during the summer months. The limit of 10,000 tickets was sold out as of New Year’s Day.

That prompted many Bison fans to scramble to find a ticket for the pep fest, which included live music from the Fargo band 32 Below, a live buffalo stationed outside the front entrance, rah-rah speeches from NDSU President Dean Bresciani and athletic director Gene Taylor and a tribute to former Bison football players.

There were reports of some fans scalping tickets outside Dr Pepper Ballpark and some fans trying to sell them on Stub Hub or Craigslist.

What in the “Wide World of Sports” has the infatuation with Bison football come to? Just how much bigger can this get?

“I think we could easily sell as many tickets as we do for the game … if not at least 75 percent,” Schmidt said.

There are a couple of reasons why ticket demand for the pep fast exceeded the game.

First, NDSU’s football team will be playing for its third straight national championship today. That, and the notion that this could be the last time a Bison team could make it to the championship game in a while, has drawn more Bison fans to Texas than ever.

Second, tickets for the game were still available as the Bison fans partied Friday night.

“Bison fans,” blared the public address announcer during the pep fest. “If you still need tickets for tomorrow’s game, you can go to”

Tickets are available mostly because NDSU is not playing Sam Houston State again – a school only three hours from Frisco. Instead, NDSU’s opponent – Towson University of Maryland – is expected to bring only 1,000 or so fans.

As many as 90 percent of the 21,000 seats at Toyota Stadium could be filled with Bison fans today.

“I am continually amazed at the passion of this fan base,” said Scott Burchett, vice president of the Frisco Roughriders baseball team that calls this funky-looking park home.

Burchett had a pretty good idea that all these Bison fans would be invading his park again this year. After he and some of his staff watched the Bison claim a semifinal win over New Hampshire on ESPN-2, they immediately started selling pep fest tickets online.

It was quite a change from last year, when Burchett and his staff had an eight-day notice to host the pep fest. They were much more prepared for the 10,000 fans compared to the 8,500 fans who showed up last year.

“Bud Lite and Windsor … we ordered much more of that this year,” Burchett said, referring to the two-most popular adult beverages consumed by Bison fans.

“The people here at the park were at a big disadvantage dealing with our fans last year,” said Schmidt, who with her staff started making plans for this event in December – long before the Bison had clinched a return trip to Frisco.

In early December, Schmidt contacted 32 Below about entertaining the crowd. Dusty Schultz, the production manager for the five-member country rock band, said they are excited to play in a different setting – compared to the clubs, street dances and festivals they usually play at.

“We didn’t want to jinx everything, but we kept this date open,” Schultz said. “This is awesome.”

NDSU Alumni Association officials also contacted the Texas Bison Association, which in turn contacted Bree Clay of Weatherford, Texas, to bring one of her three bison to Friday night’s event. “Mo the Buffalo,” the mascot for Plains Capital Bank in Texas, was dubbed as “Papa Corso” for this event. Remember “Baby Corso,” the tiny bison that was greeted by ESPN’s Lee Corso during last fall’s “College GameDay” that was telecast from downtown Fargo?

“He’s used to big crowds,” Clay said of her bison, which was getting its picture taken with several Bison fans.

The NDSU Alumni Association had a $70,000 budget to pay for this pep fest of all pep fests. The money generated from the $15 tickets and numerous sponsorships will help the association break even.

For fans like Austin Becker, an NDSU senior from Minot, N.D., the cost was worth it.

“Once we knew the team was going to Frisco, we went online for the tickets and the pep fest,” Becker said. “This is great.”

The cost was also worth it for former players like Mike Hasbargen. He was among of throng of former players who lined up in front of the crowd of 10,000.

“It is just remarkable how this has all evolved,” said Hasbargen, who played on NDSU’s first national championship team in 1965. “It’s just astounding. When we played in our bowl game, we didn’t have all aesthetics, bells and trimmings to go with it like they do here.”

And they didn’t have a ticket shortage for a pep fest.

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