Free, reduced-price lunches may help decide South Dakota school sports classifications

The amendment includes a formula for using a school district’s free and reduced lunch participation to lower its enrollment count. That count is used to determine each school’s classification in SDHSAA activities.


PIERRE — An amendment to the constitution of the South Dakota High School Activities Association could change the way students are counted at some schools for the purposes of determining sports classifications.

The SDHSAA board approved the first reading of the amendment at its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 12.

The amendment includes a formula for using a school district’s free and reduced lunch participation to lower its enrollment count. That count is used to determine each school’s classification in SDHSAA activities.

In the formula, a school’s enrollment count could be reduced by 30%. SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos gave an example to the board about a high school with an enrollment of 400 at which 85% of the students were eligible for a free or reduced lunch. Swartos’ formula multiplies 30 by .85 for 25.5. That result is subtracted from 100 giving a percentage of 74.5% or .745. That number is multiplied by the 400 enrollment number to give a result of 298. That 298 number would then be used to determine the school’s classification in sports.

Due to the federal government’s Covid regulations, all students are currently eligible for free lunches. “That’s completely different,” Swartos said, noting that parents of students eligible for the free and reduced lunches still need to fill out paperwork so that the school district can get its federal funding.


SDHSAA rationale for offering the amendment says that schools with a high percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunches have “severe discrepancies in access to equipment and school/personal access to outside training opportunities as compared to similar sized schools with low populations of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. This multiplier is used in several other states and free and reduced lunch percentages have been widely accepted as a major factor in athletic/activity success. This multiplier would allow schools to remain in a classification level that most appropriately reflects their opportunities.”

Swartos said there are a “handful” of schools in the state where 100% of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. Others are in the 50% to 60% range. He said one school has just 3% of its students that qualify.

Board member Eric Denning of Mount Vernon asked if the federal policy of making lunches available to all students has put a crimp in the number of parents filling out the proper paperwork.

“We still pushed them to do it,” said board chairman Tom Culver of Avon. “Our federal funding is based on those numbers.”

Swartos characterized as “sad” the notion that some parents may be more willing to fill out the proper forms if they know that it could change the school’s basketball classification.

If a second reading is approved at the board’s March meeting, the amendment will be on a ballot sent to member schools after its April meeting.

Kimball White/Lake's Christine Gaulke races during the Region 3B cross country meet Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, at the Valley View Golf Course.
Branden Hull / Mitchell Republic

Three schools successfully appeal sports classifications

On Wednesday, Jan. 12, the South Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors heard appeals from five schools concerning adjustments to their student numbers. A school’s average daily membership determines its classification for sports. Three of the appeals were successful.


Two of the appeals dealt with religious exemptions. Lake Preston and Hamlin both have students that belong to the Apostolic Lutheran religion that does not allow participation in extracurricular activities.

Lake Preston Superintendent Dana Felderman explained to the board that removing the four Apostolic Lutheran students from the school ADM would allow the school to continue to compete in Class B of nine-man football.

Lake Preston’s appeal was approved. A similar appeal from Hamlin was the subject of quite a bit more discussion.

A letter to the board from Hamlin School District Superintendent Patrick Kraning said that 54.3% of the district’s students would not be participating in extracurricular activities because of their religious beliefs.

He asked that Hamlin be allowed to continue to participate in 9AA football rather than move up to 11B. He also asked that the school be allowed to remain in Class B for golf and wrestling rather than moving up to Class A.

Board member Marty Weismantel of Groton said Hamlin is getting state aid for all of the students in its district. Allowing the school to participate in nine-man football means it will be competing against schools that have a third of its overall enrollment.

“It’s not like they’re struggling for numbers,” Weismantel said.

The board approved the appeal on a vote of 8-1 with Weismantel dissenting.


A letter from Sisseton High School principal Jim Frederick explained that six of the students counted in its average daily membership have lost their eligibility to participate in sports. Removing those students from the ADM allows Sisseton to keep its current classification. The board approved the appeal unanimously.

On the borderline for jumping from Class B in cross-country to Class A, Kimball Activities Director Matt Dykstra said, “We just don’t have the numbers now in certain sports.”

Board member Kelly Messmer of Harding County said he was sympathetic but the numbers spoke for themselves.

“There are a lot of schools that have to deal with it,” Messmer said.

The Kimball appeal died for a lack of a motion.

SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos asked the board to table an appeal from Kadoka which asked that four students taking classes entirely online not be included in the school’s ADM. Swartos said he would talk with the school, as removing the four students would not change Kadoka’s classifications.

Also at the meeting, the board approved the average daily membership counts of member schools. Those numbers, from the S.D. Department of Education, will be used to classify schools for the next two school years.

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