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ESD ADs invite Harrisburg to league for all sports

Eastern South Dakota Conference athletic directors unanimously voted to send a full invitation to Harrisburg on Wednesday, the conference confirmed on Thursday.

Harrisburg had previously been invited to join the ESD in football only.

ESD President Dan Whalen did not disclose the meeting's discussion on Wednesday. Whalen wanted to notify Harrisburg's school district of the invitation before explaining the decision to anyone else, he said.

Harrisburg Athletic Director Scott VanDerMillen said the school board discussed the idea of joining the ESD for football previously but will now take the invitation of being a full member into consideration during its Monday meeting.

"It's a tremendous offer, because the ESD is a respected conference with some excellent programs," VanDerMillen said. "I'm sure that Harrisburg, as well as any other community, would enjoy the opportunity. We have a desire to be in a competitive conference that allows us to schedule events for our kids."

The conference delayed a full invitation as it waited to hear the South Dakota High School Activities Association's ruling on which schools would qualify for Class AA.

The ESD consists of all Class AA schools and Harrisburg is currently a Class A school.

Recent increases in Harrisburg's average daily memberships (ADM) -- which is based upon a school's Jan. 15 enrollment of grades 9, 10 and 11 -- led the ESD to believe that Harrisburg will be moving up to Class AA in the 2013-2014 school year, which is when the ESD membership would begin for Harrisburg if it accepts the league's invitation.

The SDHSAA ruled that Class AA will consist of schools with ADMs of 450 or higher. That mark had been set previously in sports other than football but will now apply across the board, excluding wrestling which only has Class A and Class B.

Whalen said the decision was made to avoid having a school compete in Class AA in football while being Class A in other sports.

Gross believes Harrisburg's ADM for the 2013-2014 school year will be around 460.

"We had to figure out what exactly was going to determine who was a double-A team and who was not," Whalen said. "It was very difficult for us to have any solid ground to really make offers until that decision."

Whalen said that the SDHSAA considered Class AA to be bottomed out from anywhere between 400 and 500 ADM for football. Having Class AA and AAA consist of only the top 16 schools in ADM in the state was another option that was considered.

Whalen added that the ESD is not certain if Harrisburg will accept the invitation or not.

"That's something for them to answer," he said. "Harrisburg looks very much like an ESD school, and I think they are a good fit."

The ESD had also previously invited Sturgis to join the conference for football. Sturgis was also invited to the Black Hills Conference at that time and chose to join that league over the ESD.

"They'll be the big fish in the small pond instead of the small fish in the big pond," Mitchell Activities Director Geoff Gross said about Sturgis' decision.

If Harrisburg joins the conference, it will be the ninth ESD team -- joining Mitchell, Brookings, Brandon Valley, Watertown, Yankton, Huron, Pierre and Aberdeen Central.