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Big cities lead SD youth baseball in a new direction

Youth baseball has entered a new era in South Dakota's largest cities. This weekend marks the end of the inaugural season for the younger teams involved with the South Dakota Class A Baseball Program, as the under-9, under-10, under-11 and under-...

Youth baseball has entered a new era in South Dakota's largest cities.

This weekend marks the end of the inaugural season for the younger teams involved with the South Dakota Class A Baseball Program, as the under-9, under-10, under-11 and under-12 divisions are competing in their respective state tournaments at Cadwell Sports Complex in Mitchell.

In the past, many youth baseball tournaments below the Legion level have been put together and operated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Todd Anderson, state director for Class A baseball said the split from the VFW has worked out well for the towns in the league.

"It's worked out really good," Anderson said. "It's trying to keep more kids involved. A lot towns have multi-teams in certain age groups and we're trying to keep them all involved."

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Forty-nine teams from 10 towns-Aberdeen, Brandon, Brookings, Harrisburg, Huron, Mitchell, Pierre, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Yankton-are competing in the Class A baseball state tournament this weekend, with the championship games set for Sunday.

"The majority of the towns involved felt they could run the program better than the state VFW," Anderson said. "All the communities involved usually run their own tournaments and that's basically what we are doing with the state tournament, just with the guidelines we agreed on."

Rob Lind, state chairman for VFW baseball in South Dakota, said Mitchell was scheduled to host the VFW AA state tournament for the same age group before the Class A baseball formed. He said the new baseball organization hosted its state tournament in the same place and on the same weekend that the VFW had scheduled-in Mitchell.

"I'm sure that was intentional," Lind said. "We'd like to maintain our relationship with the AA towns across the state. Unfortunately, we got about a half-dozen teams to register with us from 15-16 (years old) down to 10 (in Class AA). That number is down from almost 100 teams last year."

The VFW still hosts state tournaments for Class A and Class B teams in age groups ranging from 10- to 16-years old. Lind said the VFW has organized youth baseball state tournaments since 1959 and said the AA class was created around the 1970s.

"We provide a fair and equal opportunity environment for anyone and everyone that wants to play, both boys and girls," Lind said. "We host a good tournament, we try to work closely with individual towns, but we always have the greater good in mind at all times."

The state tournaments in Mitchell are the first for the Class A baseball league. The league will host a 13-14 combined age group state tournament next weekend in Pierre and two weeks later under-14, under-15 and under-16 age groups will play in state tournaments. Anderson said roughly 90 teams will play in a state tournament in the various age groups this year in the new league.

"I think it's the communication between all the members," Anderson said about the league's successful first season. "Everybody feels they have say with what's going on. Everyone is pretty happy that, together, we're making decisions."

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Lind said the VFW will continue to host the state tournaments for Class B and Class A teams in the state and the organization continues to "fight and find new ways to reinvent ourselves." Lind added the VFW would welcome the new baseball organization back under the VFW in the future.

"My personal hope is for the success of baseball in South Dakota at the youth level," Lind said. "The VFW would love to have them back. We just didn't get the teams to register and it was sorta last-minute that this association formed. I'm not sure how the parents and kids feel about it, but it is what it is."

Mitchell Baseball Association board member and coach of under-12 Mitchell Mustangs Jeff Schmidt said the first season of the new baseball league has gone well.

"It's a group as a whole running everything instead of just the VFW," Schmidt said. "It's pretty balanced. A group of three or four towns got together and proposed it and they just went to the other towns."

According to Anderson, the Class A baseball league wanted to work more closely with Legion baseball. The league adopted rules used with Legion baseball and made only minor changes to fit each age group.

Lind, who took over for the state chairman for state VFW baseball from his father, Vern, this year, said he has faith in the VFW's future in helping organize youth baseball in South Dakota, despite losing the Class AA class this past year.

"Every organization has issues, including the VFW, but we definitely have a change of pace here," Lind said. "We're making a step in the right direction. The local communities are the ones that direct the tournament. We essentially provide all the information they need, the trophies, the medals and the logo.

"They are wearing the logo of the VFW, which men and women have fought and died for. That's why I believe we still have more than 150 teams at the Class A and B level because people respect the logo and understand what the VFW is about."

Related Topics: VFWBASEBALL
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