BISMARCK - To those on the outside, Brent Hintz's team-building strategies may look like a hard sell.
When taking road trips with the West Fargo Sheyenne girls basketball team, Hintz, the Mustang head coach, does everything in his power to ensure that his players are bonding. To do that, he has implemented a strategy that would almost certainly be unpopular in most teenage circles.
"When we're on road trips, we collect the cell phones," said Hintz, who keeps all phones in his backpack until the team reaches its destination. "We just felt like it was important from a team chemistry standpoint and a cultural standpoint to make sure that the kids were getting to know each other. Learning about each beyond being teammates."
If things go well on the court, such bonding efforts are usually put to good use by season's end.
Sixteen Class A basketball teams converged in Bismarck last weekend for the boys and girls state tournament, with several squads arriving Wednesday and staying in hotels all the way through Sunday, thanks to a snowstorm that closed major highways Saturday evening.
The Sheyenne girls and West Fargo boys were among the teams that spent the better part of five days away from home, forced to find creative ways to pass the time when they weren't on the court.
The Mustangs took advantage of their surroundings, traveling to college campuses Valley City State and the University of Mary to hold shootarounds.
They also carried on what has become a long-standing tradition on their phone-free trips, playing "The Name Game," described the following way by senior Yasmina Dokara.
"You say a name, like 'Shelby Weber,'" Dokara said. "Then the next person has to name someone with either that first or last name. If you can't get one, you're out."
"The Name Game" has been known to occupy long stretches of Sheyenne's travel time.
"We've gotten all the way to Valley City and we're still going," Rachel Blasczyk said. "We have a blast. That's what builds team chemistry."
Games of a more competitive nature are a staple for the Packer boys, who often spend long road trips piled into hotel rooms battling it out in NBA 2K.
"It gets pretty competitive," senior center Jaeden Moton said. "People do not like to lose."
According to Moton, he's earned bragging rights over his teammates, declaring "I'm the best player. I'll beat anyone who wants to play."
This is not a consensus belief. When asked if Moton was as good as he claimed, teammate Nuradin Aden emphatically responds "Absolutely not."
Such activities, and the playful sparring that sometimes accompanies them, often prove to be a release on long trips, especially in a setting as competitive as a state tournament, where the on-court grind has been known to wear teams out.
"The hardest part is playing three days in a row," West Fargo boys coach Adam Palczewski said. "You have to be mentally ready every game, every day and bring energy."
Palczewski's Packers weren't able to do that on the tournament's opening day, where a 78-61 loss to Bismarck Century sent them into the consolation bracket. West Fargo finished in fifth place.
Not being around a home base also proves to be a challenge, as established routines are often thrown out the window in unfamiliar surroundings.
"It's a test of how flexible you can be," said Sheyenne guard Maggie Manson, whose Mustangs placed fourth in the girls tournament. "You have things you do at a certain time every day in the regular season and this throws that all off."
Even if there are difficulties in such extended travels, most agree they're easy to overcome. And considering how unpleasant an alternative not reaching state is, little time is spent complaining about any hardships that may come up.
"Basketball is basketball," Moton said. "We all know our game and we come in knowing what we need to do. It's easy to adjust."