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City board recommends Avera over Sanford for athletic program

Members of the Mitchell Board of Parks and Recreation voted to recommend working with Avera Queen of Peace for a ground-based athletic training program.

The 4-2 vote at the Mitchell Recreation Center during the board's Tuesday evening meeting will send the recommendation to the City Council for final approval, possibly as soon as Monday.

The vote also switches the initial recommendation made by the board during its Jan. 8 meeting, when it voted to partner with Sanford Health on a one-year trial basis. That recommendation, however, was kicked back to the Parks and Recreation Board based on concerns that Avera, which has a larger presence in Mitchell, hadn't received enough consideration. Both Avera and Sanford made presentations to the Parks and Recreation Board at its March meeting.

The decision Tuesday to recommend partnering with Avera came after lengthy discussion, including input from Mayor Ken Tracy.

"The decision and the recommendation you made was very valid," Tracy said. "However, there are other issues at work, and I'm sure you're well aware of that."

Tracy said the potential of future partnerships between the city and Avera should be considered as part of the decision. For several years, there has been talk of a potential city-Avera partnership on a new wellness center.

"I think that if, in fact, the city is going to work with other entities ... it makes good sense to partner with the hospital that is in town," he said. "It would be foolish to have competing programs with the city and the hospital."

Much of the discussion centered around Sanford's program being ready to use right away, while Avera's would have to be developed.

Tracy said, though, that Avera had expressed willingness to "provide whatever resources they have" to expedite the implementation and development of the program.

Thomas Gulledge, Rec Center fitness coordinator, said he would be able to develop the program utilizing Avera's resources, but he did not know how quickly that might happen.

Board President Bob Everson and member Gaylord Grieve were the dissenting votes, with Everson citing reservations about Avera's program not being as well-developed as Sanford's.

"Avera is saying they will help us develop a program," said Everson, "whereas Sanford already has the program."

Board Vice President John Cersosimo said time does matter. With summer fast approaching, he said high school athletes will soon start looking outside of Mitchell for athletic enhancement programs if none is offered in Mitchell.

"We need to get a program going," Cersosimo said.

Board Secretary/Treasurer Denise Werner agreed, saying she is tired of waiting, and that she wants assurances Avera will follow through on its promises.

"I don't want it to be just talk with Avera," she said. "I don't want to turn my back on anything Avera has to offer, too, but we have to be sure there's something solid to grasp on to."

Rec Center Director Rob Marchand expressed concerns about losing clientele if the board were to choose Sanford.

"If we go with Sanford, who are we going to get to come?" he said.

Several board members expressed displeasure at what they said started out as a discussion on athletic programming that turned into a political football.

"Politics has taken over on this, and it's frustrating," Werner said.

Board member Ryan Tupper said while he agrees the situation has taken on a political tone, he's OK with that, because it started a discussion. And while Avera's program and proposal isn't "tied up in as pretty of a bow" as Sanford's, Tupper said, the medical provider still has the know-how to provide a needed service.

"We're looking at this like Avera has never trained a kid before," he said. "I'm pretty sure they have."

And, if the partnership could lead to future projects with the city, all the better.

"It's the means to get us to a greater goal," he said.

Tupper, Cersosimo, Werner and Amy Weier voted in favor of the Avera recommendation.

The motion was to work with Avera to develop a ground-based training program, per Avera's proposal, and to get the program put into place as quickly as possible. The board also discussed making certain Avera takes the Rec Center's requirements seriously during the negotiation process.

"If they don't show a contract the board likes, you're not going to move forward," said Marty Barington, the City Council's liaison to the board.