NDSU, Sanford Health share strong connections in title run

Sanford doctors have worked with Bison during string of national football titles

Sanford Health's Dr. Bruce Piatt has worked with the North Dakota State football program for 23 years and will be on the sidelines with the Bison for their eighth national championship game this week in Frisco, Texas.

For 23 years, Dr. Bruce Piatt has been a doctor for the North Dakota State football program. He’s gathered in many friends over that time, in addition to being part of a team of Sanford Health providers who, since 2010, have served an important role in aiming the Bison toward a string of national championships.

This Saturday for the eighth time in nine years, the Bison will be playing in the FCS national championship game in Frisco, Texas, and Piatt and the Sanford Health squad will be there, as they have for every game and practice throughout this unprecedented era of excellence.

Over the course of those nine seasons — the Bison lost in the semifinals in 2016 — NDSU has gone 126-8. If you consider that most college teams play 11 games a year, it means Dr. Piatt has been part of 35 more games over the last nine seasons than programs not making the playoffs.

Just as the Bison have established an environment that encourages and sustains success, so too has Piatt and the Sanford team.

Learn more: Sports medicine at Sanford Health

“We think in terms of sports all the time,” Piatt said. “It’s essential to what we do. They’ve been successful because of the way they’ve performed as a team and we’re the same way. And it doesn’t start with me, it starts with the prevention of injuries.”

The Sanford “team” in this case extends to the Fargo area community. As the largest employer in the region, all those big games are a gift that has kept giving for people like Leann Pedersen, who is the Patient Access Manager for the Sanford Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Clinic surgery team.

NDSU pride wherever you look

Like many of her colleagues, Pedersen wears Bison team colors every “Football Friday” at the clinic. Her connections to the program via her job at Sanford run deep, as does her own history of paying close attention to this wildly successfully football team’s accomplishments.

“It’s a winter event for us,” said Pedersen, who makes the trip to Frisco with her husband Harold. “We drive through South Dakota, Nebraska, part of Kansas and then Oklahoma. You see Bison fans the whole way. Everybody is wearing green and gold. We look for each other as we drive along.”

The heart of the connection remains with Sanford Health’s care for the athletes. Piatt described that all-encompassing effort as having “people in the right places.”

That involvement begins with athletic trainers, strength and conditioning personnel and nutritionists. Their role in championship seasons begins before doctors and nurses get involved, though when athletes do get hurt, the healing progresses with similar collaboration and efficiency.

“It’s not been something that happened automatically,” Piatt said. “It’s been a process for us to get to where we’re at, too. But I do believe it has had a direct effect on the football team’s ability to be successful.”

Sanford staff moves fast

A big part of the evolution of the Sanford-NDSU relationship has been in the speed that injury information moves along. That began with Craig Bohl, the coach who started this string of FCS success, encouraging the medical team to redefine traditional timelines.

“We used to evaluate kids and take care of them in what was then the appropriate amount of time,” Piatt said. “That might mean days, or even weeks. Now coaches want to know as quickly as possible. They don’t worry so much about what that answer is, they just want to know. If we can give them that information quickly, they can start planning for the next game knowing what personnel they have available.”

What amounts to three full regular seasons worth of additional FCS playoff games over the course of nine years has presented the staff with challenges that are unique in the business. Consider that a traditional college football offseason starts the last week in November. That is when most programs begin the process of postseason surgeries, therapies and general mending.

At NDSU, that process has not begun until mid-January for what is now eight of the last nine years.

“We do everything we can to make sure we’ll be ready to go next week for that,” Piatt said. “There are kids who will need surgery and we’ve got to provide every moment we can for the recovery process.”

NDSU connections common and colorful

A tradition known as  “Football Friday” began years ago with the staff at Sanford Orthopedics where Pedersen works. On those days during the college football season, Pedersen and her colleagues can wear the colors of any team connected with Sanford. Thanks to the Bison annually stretching the football season, this window of opportunity routinely extends to January.

In addition, the last two years, Sanford has allowed all its employees to wear Bison apparel on Fridays during the playoffs.

“The patients love it,” said Pedersen, who has worn the same Bison hoodie to every national championship game. “It’s a conversation starter for so many people when you’re wearing a Bison jersey or some other kind of football gear. The patients come in wearing green and gold, too, so it’s a connection.”

Those connections resonate through the long string of successes throughout the Sanford Health and NDSU communities. Ultimately, the titles come with stories and people. Every time the Bison go to Frisco, they pick up a bunch more.

“I remember when we went to our first national championship game,” Piatt said. “I took my kids aside — they came with my wife and me on the trip — and I told them ‘I want you to remember this moment. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, something most people don’t get to experience.’

“So my oldest son pulled us all together last year and said, ‘Hey Dad, I just wanted to remind you that this is the seventh once-in-a-lifetime event that we’re attending.’”

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