Despite the opposition of Mitchell’s activities director, the South Dakota High School Activities Association state gymnastics meet will be contested in a different format in 2021 due to COVID-19.

The SDHSAA Board of Directors voted unanimously on Wednesday to hold the tournament under a format that would allow just one routine from each gymnast at the state meet, rather than up to two for gymnasts who qualify for the individual and team competitions. The state meet is scheduled for Feb. 12-13 in Watertown.

SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director Jo Auch said the change is meant to limit potential exposure to COVID-19 for gymnasts and attendees. She said recently received approval from the state’s gymnastics advisory committee and coaches.

The competition would take place in pods of four, with schools competing in their pod and then leaving the arena, and another pod of four would come in later. The pods would include three schools in the team competition and any individual qualifiers for specific events. (Nine schools qualify in each class for the team competition.)

Auch said Class A would compete on Friday, Feb. 12 and Class AA would compete on Saturday, Feb. 13. There will not be a large-scale award ceremony. It will replicate how the SDHSAA held its cheer and dance championships last fall.

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“Would we like to have it the way we always have it? Yes,” Auch said. “This would be a one-year deal. It’s not something we want to get accustomed to, and we’re trying to find ways to keep everyone safe.”

Mitchell Activities Director Cory Aadland argued that the change was too much of a departure from the typical format. Mitchell has been among the state’s gymnastics powers for the last 10-plus years, including seven straight years finishing first or second in the Class AA team competition and six state titles since 2007.

“This is a pretty fundamental change to how we’re hosting that championship for this sport, in particular,” Aadland told the board. “We’ve done some different things in how we’ve held our other state championships (this year). None of those have resulted in a change to this degree. It’s fundamentally different to what we’ve done previously.

The meet is usually held in the capital cup format, which has gymnasts warm up for an event and then compete in it immediately after warming up. At the state meet, a Class A team and a Class AA team are paired together to rotate through the events together, meaning both overall team competitions take place at the same time.

Aadland said one of the reasons he would like to see the regular format remain is because the state’s COVID-19 cases have leveled off, with less than 4,700 active cases as of Wednesday. He said when an initial discussion was held in November about state gymnastics, he was supportive of a four session format, in which the Class A and Class AA team competition would be held in separate sessions on Friday, and then the individual competitions held in separate sessions on Saturday.

“I don’t know that the exposure risk is great enough to a point where we can’t do it closer to the way we’ve done it during the year and how we’ve done it past years,” Aadland said. “Overnight stays, I don’t believe they’re a huge risk. We’re going to be holding multiple-day events for the next two months. … We want to do what’s best for our students and I don’t believe this is the best for gymnastics.

As of now, the state gymnastics meet would return to the traditional format in 2022, Auch said, when the event is hosted in Mitchell.

SDHSAA Board Member and Avon Superintendent Tom Culver said he agreed with a lot of Aadland’s points, but didn’t want the format to have to change closer to the meet because of a spike in cases.

“We don’t want to get a week away from gymnastics and Jo is scrambling because of the cases,” he said. “I think this is our best way to go.”

Brookings Activities Director Randy Soma, who is on the gymnastics advisory committee is on the SDHSAA board, said the group felt it was the best way to move forward.

The board also approved decreasing the number of judges for the state meet due to the format change, going to nine from 17 judges and upping their pay from $300 to $500.