Traxler: Lack of South Dakota students in sports showed Presentation's problems

The school’s lack of connection with South Dakota students is a reason on why the school is closing, with a direct view of that problem coming from the makeup of the Saints' teams.

In a file photo, Presentation College's Zach Zierden (82) and Dakota Wesleyan's Mitch Johnson both go up for the ball in a college football game on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell.
Mitchell Republic file photo

ABERDEEN — The news of Presentation College's closure was a gut punch for anyone who cares about college sports in South Dakota.

The impact is far and wide, to the school’s students, the people who are losing their jobs and the community that counts on the college to help drive its economic engine. As university leaders pointed out, the small college was already dealing with financial issues and leadership changes when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, proving to be a crippling blow to the private institution.

But the school’s lack of connection with South Dakota students is a stark reason on why the school is closing. Presentation relied on too many nonresidents to become students, and their athletic department gives a glimpse into that exact problem.

According to data on the school’s website, Presentation had fewer than 400 full-time students annually over the last four years and was under 150 students from South Dakota in that time too, with 107 students from South Dakota enrolled in fall 2022.

Having only 25% of your student body coming from your home state isn't a good sign for the health of your institution.


This was apparent in recent years from watching the Saints’ sports teams, too, with few regional students on the team’s rosters. Of the eight varsity sports that Presentation offers, there are 232 athletes on the roster, according to a survey of their team websites last week. Only 19 of those athletes are from South Dakota, a rate of 8.2% among all student-athletes.

From a sports standpoint, it’s tough for the athletes of their sports teams, who will now be scattered across the country if they choose to transfer. Some of them will likely give up playing the sport they love, rather than trying to fit in at a new place.

Compare that, for example, to Dakota Wesleyan University. In those same eight sports, DWU has 282 varsity athletes, and 148 are natives of South Dakota, a rate of 52%.

That recruiting strategy isn’t a secret, as Tiger coaches have pointed out repeatedly over the years that students from South Dakota and surrounding states are important for athletic and overall success as a university.

Dakota Wesleyan's Morgan Edelman drives with the ball against Presentation College during an NAIA women's basketball game on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic

The other private, NAIA-level university in the state, Mount Marty University, is in the middle ground between Presentation and DWU. A total of 84 of its 314 athletes in those eight sports are from South Dakota, a rate of nearly 27%.

Dakota Wesleyan and Mount Marty, according to the Great Plains Athletic Conference website, are the two smallest full-time members of the conference. (Presentation plays in the North Star Athletic Association.) Having in-state athletes and students doesn’t provide a direct line to educational stability or championship success, but there’s little doubt that it helps everything on campus work smoother.

In many cases, both DWU and MMU get a quality return on the four-year investment made from their students. A solid number of the students continue to live or work in the college towns after school and many of them can provide first-person testimonials to students from their hometowns about why attending DWU or MMU worked for them.

Flemmer, a 2016 graduate of the Aberdeen school, has been an assistant coach at Dakota State for four years

That web of connections is harder to maintain at Presentation, especially when the percentage of in-state athletes is 8%. The Saints’ coaches and leaders certainly wish that percentage was higher but in the end, it didn’t work out.


The pitfalls of a national recruiting philosophy are multi-pronged. It’s difficult to sell your school to potential student-athletes who are unfamiliar with where the school is located and don’t know about your town or about South Dakota. Alumni and local community members and businesses have a harder time making a connection to athletes they don’t know.

When athletes make up a large percentage of the school’s overall student body, as they do at Presentation, the connections to the community mean everything. When the student-athletes aren’t local, those hurdles become tougher to clear.

A lack of athletic success can lead to an environment where coaches and athletes are filtering in and out, making winning more difficult to attain. In the case of Presentation, the Saints have been the last-place finisher in the North Star Athletic Association’s all-sports standings for the last four academic years.

College sports are supposed to be the front-door to the university, a way to bring in the community. That door being closed isn’t good for anyone related to Presentation College and Aberdeen.

It’s a stark reminder of the importance of staying local with smaller, private universities everywhere.

Opinion by Marcus Traxler
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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