Activities board, staff share concerns amidst pandemic


BROOKINGS – Putting on high school athletics and activities during a pandemic is going to take patience, flexibility and constant communication. That was the consensus during a strategic planning session of the South Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors and executive staff.

During Wednesday’s session in Pierre, which was live-streamed on the internet, board members shared their concerns based on the school groups they represent. The board is made up of superintendents, secondary principals, activities directors and school board members.

As a superintendent, Jerry Rasmussen of Dakota Valley said it was key for school districts to communicate with the SDHSAA office as a district and not have a variety of school staff members voicing competing concerns.

“I would just encourage all schools to do that,” Rasmussen said.

Communication has to go back to the schools as well, according to Tom Culver, superintendent at Avon.

“It is important for us as superintendents to be aware of what’s going on,” Culver said.

Rapid City Central High School Principal Michael Talley said he has been impressed by the amount of time activities directors have been spending on the phone trying to schedule events in uncertain times.

With safety an overriding concern, Talley said its inevitable that some events may be canceled leading to a loss of revenue.

“Schools are going to take some hits in that area,” Talley said.

Brookings Activities Director Randy Soma said he’s been hearing concerns from other activities directors about SDHSAA’s new contact for the sale of T-shirts at state events, noting that some districts may lose as much as $12,000.

“That’s a concern for most schools that host,” Soma said. “Some people might start turning down some tournaments because of that.”

Soma was also concerned about his district’s lack of communication with the S.D. Department of Health, noting that he’s found out about staffers who came in contact with an infected person through personal phone calls from local businesses.

“That concerns me that people have to self-report,” Soma said.

Brookings is scheduled to host a 20-team cheer and dance invitational this fall, a challenge that has Soma wondering about safety precautions.

“How do I logistically run that meet?” Soma asked.

Aberdeen School Board Member Mark Murphy predicted difficult times ahead for school boards.

“It’s going to come down to your local board making some tough decisions,” Murphy said.

Faulkton Superintendent Craig Cassens, also the SDHSAA board chairman, advised board members to listen to concerns without being confrontational.

“We’re all in this together,” Cassens said. “There are worse things out there than missing a contest.”

SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director Jo Auch said that the association is taking some heat on social media for going on with fall sports when some major college conferences have decided not to play.

“At the end of the day, this is the body that needs to make those decisions,” Auch said.

One of those decisions may be terminating a sports season after just a few weeks of play due to a spike in coronavirus cases.

“When do you call it enough is enough?” Auch asked.

Auch also noted for the board a decrease in the number of people who are willing to work as officials. Some are put off by the chance of getting the virus, Auch said, while others have given up officiating because of money they lost last year when school athletic events were canceled.

SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos likened the way he’s been feeling during the pandemic with the emotions he felt during a military deployment overseas. “There’s this constant feeling of unease,” Swartos said.

Despite his unease, Swartos was able to find something positive in the current situation.

“It’s going to be a good year in that it’s going to push us and that’s how you grow,” Swartos said.

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