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Eric Peterson, Published March 19 2012

Sanford Health gives Dragons 'turning-point' gift

MOORHEAD – Minnesota State University Moorhead’s unsuccessful pursuit of Division I ice hockey didn’t go unrewarded.

Sanford Health President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft said Monday that Sanford was the “major” gift in MSUM’s hockey drive, pledging $10 million for scholarships.

“When it came out that it wasn’t going to happen, we were already prepared to have the meeting and say ‘OK, let’s shift gears,’ ” he said.

The end result came Monday as MSUM announced new corporate donations it hailed as a major step in its efforts to catch up with conference opponents that outspend the school on scholarships.

The biggest among those donations was the $2 million Sanford Health pledged for scholarships for the school’s existing athletic programs, a promise to give MSUM $200,000 a year for the next 10 years.

“The hockey adventure, the hockey journey, paid off and it paid off well,” Krabbenhoft said during a news conference that took place in front of MSUM’s newly renovated athletic offices.

MSUM President Edna Szymanski said the gift from Sanford means “a decade of stability” for the athletic department.

“This is a turning-point gift,” she said. “This gift is transformative. This gift inspires others and inspires additional giving. … This is the time that we will all remember as the turning point for Dragon athletics.”

Szymanski said Monday two other local businesses are also giving scholarship money totaling $300,000.

ByteSpeed has pledged $20,000 per year for the next 10 years. Border States Electric pledged $20,000 a year for the next five years.

“I can tell you with confidence that you’re going to hear, probably in the next month or two, some additional very large commitments,” Szymanski said.

MSUM offered $580,900 for scholarships this school year, according to figures The Forum obtained through a recent open records request. That number will get a $240,000 boost in 2012-13 after Monday’s news.

MSUM offered 42 total scholarships this school year. That will increase to the mid-50s next year, said MSUM Athletic Director Doug Peters.

“The movement that we’ve made, I think people are starting to see that we are serious about having athletics be successful,” Peters said.

The Dragons were last in the 14-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in athletically related student aid in 2010-11, according to the Equity in Athletics Disclosure website.

The MSUM football team offered about 9½ scholarships this year. That number will grow to be 12 and 13 for next fall, Peters said. The NSIC scholarship limit in football will be 27 next fall and increase to 28 in 2013.

“It’s certainly a game-changing event for us,” said MSUM head football coach Steve Laqua. “In today’s world … it’s the No. 1 priority on most student-athletes’ radar so it’s huge.”