Woster: The evolving landscape of South Dakota's prep sports

Over the decades, school reorganization, consolidation and cooperatives changed the number of schools and teams that once represented towns across the state.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

Last week I watched a high-school wrestling match between Chamberlain and Kimball/White Lake/Platte-Geddes.

Chamberlain didn’t have a wrestling program when I graduated in 1962. It started three or four years later, I think. I learned a bit about wrestling watching matches in college at South Dakota State and a bit more hauling a son to youth wrestling tournaments later.

It occurred to me as I watched the Cubs’ match that, while I never saw my school wrestle this opponent, at one point or another in my high-school years I competed against teams from each of the named towns — Kimball, White Lake, Platte and Geddes — in other sports, mostly basketball or track.

Come to think of it, during my four years of high school, we competed against teams all along old Highway 16. In one sport or another, we played teams representing every town from Mitchell west to Murdo, with a couple of side trips here and there. Even today, when I drive Interstate 90 through the middle of the state, I pass one or another of those towns and remember a moment from a game or a meet.

One of my favorite memories — embarrassing as it was at the time — will always be warming up for a game at Kimball. I tried to dunk the ball, came up short, caught a finger in the net and tore it from the rim. That was the first time I ever considered just how long it might take to find a new net and get it hooked back to the rim so the actual game could begin. Coach was unhappy. The Kiotes’ coach was unhappy. Many fans were, too. My teammates thought it was a hoot, which more than offset the angry adults.


For a few years, Chamberlain had a Medicine Creek Conference team. I played on it my sophomore year. We were neither varsity nor “B’’ team. We played the varsity teams from schools in towns from Pukwana to Vivian. Man, there were some unique gyms in those towns in those days. We often that season.

My brother-in-law, who graduated from CHS three years before I did, remembers playing Gann Valley and Ray Deloria in basketball a couple of years. He remembers Deloria being unstoppable. In a recent group email about the old days, he wrote that his basketball coach one season “announced at one of our first practices that he had a plan to take the ball away from Ray Deloria. It didn't work.’’

I never played basketball against Gann Valley. I ran against them in track a time or two, but never basketball.

Over the decades, school reorganization, consolidation and cooperatives changed the number of schools and teams that once represented towns across the state. When I was in school, the state still had hundreds and hundreds of school districts. Some were complete first grade-to-high school programs. Others were elementary grades or first-through-eight districts, sometimes called common school districts. History books tell us that one of the first things settlers on the prairie did was build a school house and hire a teacher. Education mattered that much.

Now and then, consolidation took place before the late 1960s. Country schools ran out of kids. Some of the smallest town schools simply ceased to exist, things like that. A real push for school reorganization came when the 1967 Legislature passed a law requiring all land in the state to be part of a 12-grade school district. I think the deadline was July of 1970.

A South Dakota State Historical Society article by John E. Miller said that by the end of the 1970-1971 school year 472 districts had disappeared, leaving only 287 districts.

Many of the towns that once had their own schools found ways to survive by working with neighbors. And for the schools that no longer exist, there are still people with good memories. Somewhere, there will always be a Longhorn, a Pirate, a Buffalo and a Wildcat.

My brother-in-law will always remember prepping for a game with Gann Valley. I will always remember moments from the gyms in the towns scattered along the highway. Memories help keep us connected to this place.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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