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High school activities association plans outreach effort to legislators

PIERRE — The directors and executive staff for the South Dakota High School Activities Association agreed Wednesday on the need for a public outreach campaign with an immediate focus on improving the organization's standing with the Legislature.

James Weaver, an assistant executive director, said letters would be sent in September to every legislative candidate explaining the association's mission and inviting the candidates to SDHSAA's fall events.

He said there would be another round of mailings after the Nov. 4 elections congratulating the winners and inviting them to the winter events.

A packet would be provided in January to the 35 senators and 70 representatives, again with an invitation to the spring events.

The effort comes after the Legislature last winter made the association comply with South Dakota's state laws on public meetings and public records.

Legislators took their action in response to complaints from school officials and community members in many South Dakota school districts.

"We're going to cross our fingers that it works," Weaver said.

Several of the SDHSAA directors said they liked the strategy.

One of them, Dan Whalen, of Pierre Riggs High School, said he was frustrated by the debate in the past year about openness.

"There was almost a push to have us spoon-feed everybody. That information is out there," Whalen said.

But he next acknowledged the association wasn't "doing what we should" on distributing meeting information.

"Now it's a matter of making that streamlined," Whalen said.

The SDHSAA's board president, Rick Weber, of Flandreau, said the association's staff is doing a better job in emailing information to athletic directors, coaches and others.

Wayne Carney, the association's executive director since 2001, said packets were hand-delivered to all legislators a decade ago.

But the practice was stopped after a senator told him that most legislators threw the packet in the trash because it was optional additional reading.

Carney said he told the association staff this summer that they should stop and visit with legislators as they travel throughout South Dakota.

Carney said he met with Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, as the first stop in July. Brown was prime sponsor of SB 90, the open-meeting and open-record legislation.

Carney said Brown asked if there was anything they as legislators could do for the association. "That was different," Carney said.

In his 14 years as executive director Carney said he's had a standing offer to have legislators visit the SDHSAA office in Pierre.

"Very seldom does anybody stop," Carney said.

Director Jason Uttermark, the principal at Aberdeen Central High School, spoke strongly in favor of reaching out to legislators.

"They want to meet us as bad as we want to talk to them a lot of times," he said.

The directors, in an attempt to head off the Legislature, voted last winter to voluntarily follow the open-meeting laws. That didn't deter the legislators, who passed the final version of the Brown bill by tallies of 62-6 in the House and 34-1 in the Senate.

One of the past complaints was the association wouldn't share information given to the directors. State law requires that it be made available at least 24 hours prior to the meeting or when the directors receive it, whichever comes later.

Another of the new directors, Steve Morford, of Spearfish High School, said he'd like to get the meeting packet of agenda information more than 24 hours before the meeting. The packet for today's business meeting is about 140 pages.

Several other directors, including Weber and Uttermark, agreed. Uttermark suggested the most important items should be on the agenda early in the meeting.

Whalen said three days prior to the meeting would be a good time to get the agenda and information items distributed to the board and available to the schools and the public.

Weber also said he'd like to go to a system of first and second readings.

The discussion Wednesday came in a strategy session by the board with executive staff. It marked the first time the meeting was live-streamed on the Internet (

The business meeting is at 8:30 a.m. today.

It will be live-streamed. At this point there aren't plans to put any of the audio in an archive for listening at later times.