Education | Sports

Native Sun News: Decision could hurt reservation teams

The following story was written and reported by Joseph Budd, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

South Dakota High School Activities Association Executive Director Wayne Carney

Depending on which side of the state you live in, a recently proposed move by the South Dakota High School Activities Association to shift tournament play to one location only might be a good idea or a logistical nightmare.

At a meeting held on March 26, the SDHSAA board of directors was addressed by its executive director, Wayne Carney, who presented some information regarding the idea of having Sioux Falls host state tournaments in the future – not just basketball tournaments, but volleyball and wrestling as well.

Apparently, over the last ten years, Carney looked at the financial aspects that occur with the tournaments in various locations and discovered that Sioux Falls tournaments had better revenue compared to locations around the state, such as Rapid City or Aberdeen.

Of course, Sioux Falls does have some specific benefits that Western South Dakota simply cannot compare with – namely, having 26 nearby schools to draw from in Class A basketball, while Rapid City can count only around 19.

However, there are a few advantages that continue with the tradition of having the tournaments switch each year, including having the tournament closer to home for Native American teams, which does help the attendance factor.

Take the cases of Pine Ridge and Red Cloud, who are presently in Districts 14 and 15, respectively. Both schools bring a boys and girls team in basketball, another girls team in volleyball and another boys team in wrestling.

While it may not be a problem for these schools to travel to Mission for a regional contest, for example, the difference between playing a state tournament in Rapid City and playing one in Sioux Falls is traveling 246 miles, one way. Additionally, fans who are loyal to their schools might face some financial burden in traveling the extra distance.

With higher gas prices, food costs and hotel rates, how many fans will be able to travel and support the Pine Ridge Thorpes, for instance? How about the difference, for the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte Braves to reach Sioux Falls instead of Rapid City, which is over 130 miles more?

At the most recent meeting, a number of cities sent people to air their opinions about Carney’s plan for making Sioux Falls the sports capital of South Dakota. Representatives from various cities – even some SDHSAA board members – spoke out against the plan, including Aberdeen’s athletic director, Gene Brownell, who said, “It’s not broke. I’m not sure we need to fix it.”

Julie Johnson from Absolutely! Aberdeen, a four-year, $1.6 million economic growth initiative to accelerate the growth of Aberdeen and the region, added, “If you believe only Sioux Falls gets to grow, then you should adopt Mr. Carney’s recommendation.”

While the initial presentation had many people against the idea, there are a number of meetings coming up regarding the move to Sioux Falls. The SDHSAA board will meet on April 17-18 and again on June 5-6, with a final decision slated for August 30.

In the long run, it becomes a question of just how much the SDHSAA needs to keep running. As stated on their website,, the association has been serving students since 1905, but will they continue serving all students by moving state tournaments to Sioux Falls?

A second item recently came up for discussion regarding the idea of open enrollment, a system of allowing students to transfer from one school to another in the attendance area without having to move. Due to a large number of students taking advantage of this system, 190 in all, a number of districts petitioned the SDHSAA to change the rules for competing, in essence bringing an end to students swapping out their teams for various reasons.

With this idea, there are good sides and bad sides to the argument. For example, the possible surprise of a new coach who just learned the basketball team’s starting forward is heading out to play for another school.

Likewise, if a player spent the last two seasons working his or her way up in the team, putting in hours of work into their game, only to have a new player join the team and take their place in the starting roster might put a damper on things.

Possibly the strongest argument for closing this loophole has nothing to do with sports, but more with having the athletes concentrate on their education. A student switching schools halfway through November would have to register for classes, get organized, find out where his or her teachers are located and then adapt to a new team – all before basketball season kicks off.

On the other side of the argument, some of the same points work both ways. If you just lost your spot on one team, maybe another team can use a point guard with a good outside shot. Or if the coach for the given team elects to put in another athlete, instead of a senior who has played basketball most of his or her life, then maybe a change of venue is in order. If a local situation proves too stressful for a student-athlete, a different school might help the student succeed.

The biggest factor that could motivate schools to end open enrollment might be to stop schools from “hen-pecking” talented players for their teams.

(Contact Joseph Budd at

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