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MERCER: A new era takes hold at SDHSAA

PIERRE -- Holy cow, we lather up over high school sports in South Dakota.

And well we should. So let me offer two observations.

First, the South Dakota High School Activities Association took giant steps forward in recent months becoming more open to everyone about its activities.

It took a law from the Legislature that Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, got rolling. The gain is huge for all.

Second, the association doesn't need to be disbanded or reorganized so that Sioux Falls gets an automatic seat on the board of directors.

That's the suggestion coming from Sioux Falls. I understand the frustration from South Dakota's largest city and largest school district.

Sioux Falls is top class when it comes to South Dakota high school athletics and activities. Sioux Falls overall has advantages that generally aren't matched by any other community in South Dakota.

And that's exactly what is feared most by people in the high school sports scenes in some of the other communities of South Dakota.

They are afraid Sioux Falls will become the permanent site for the big-draw state events such as basketball championships.

Give players and parents a choice and ask whether they'd rather travel to Sioux Falls or somewhere else, such as Aberdeen or Watertown or Mitchell or Yankton or Pierre or Spearfish or Rapid City.

We'll soon find out the answer because of a survey, albeit voluntary, that SDHSAA is conducting.

The money and the survey firm are both from Sioux Falls, so there will be the natural inclination by some to claim bias.

But the results will tell us something. We know people want amenities and fresh motel rooms as comfortable as living rooms.

The SDHSAA directors took an important step this spring with the creation of a site-selection committee.

The panel of five school officials and three SDHSAA directors will meet twice annually and make recommendations to the full eight-member board.

The association staff's criteria for recommending sites also are now open.

The control over that information was still so tight just a few months ago, that school and community officials initially weren't allowed to have copies, during a public discussion by board and staff about various communities' shortcomings.

The current board has a variety of good directors, based on what I've seen. The association has a constitutional limit that an elected director can serve a single five-year term.

That forces turnover, for better and worse. The meetings are some of the most grueling I've attended as a news reporter of 35 years. The decisions are often intricate -- and they affect our children, making the choices difficult.

Some people involved in high school athletics across South Dakota believe Sioux Falls already has a board member in Wayne Carney, the association's executive director.

He indeed served on the board while he was in the Sioux Falls school district. He brought financial professionalism to the operation since then as the executive director. He has a trio of assistant EDs who stay atop matters.

My sense is openness, albeit forced by law, will truly help the staff and the directors. And my sense is Sioux Falls will eventually get a director, too, through the election process.