Traxler: In Rapid City, teams are snowed in and ready to wrestle
Despite blizzard conditions ensnarling most of the state, the show — with the pins and upsets that come with it — must go on.
RAPID CITY — How many wrestling teams can visit a Scheels store in a given day?
That was one of the burning questions in Rapid City as thousands of wrestling fans and competitors descended on Rapid City on Tuesday and Wednesday, as many as 48 hours before a single match was set to be contested at the South Dakota high school wrestling tournament.
The one question that was never in doubt this week? Whether the tournament would take place as planned.
Despite blizzard conditions ensnarling most of the state, the show — with the pins and upsets that come with it — must go on. On Monday, South Dakota High School Activities Association Executive Director Dan Swartos emailed teams and schools and let them know: the tournament will go ahead as planned and to make arrangements to get to Rapid City.
“It’s been a lot of preparation and we really thank the schools for having the flexibility and working ahead to send the kids out here to compete. … We do take some pride in making sure we can get it done,” Swartos said. “But that doesn’t happen if our schools aren’t working with us to help us make it all happen.”
Mitchell coach Andy Everson said it’s unlike anything he’s ever experienced as a wrestler or coach. His Kernels responded to the early snow arrival by taking on some bowling on Tuesday night.
“It’s not great to change that pattern with the kids before the state meet but last night, we took the kids bowling,” Everson said. “It was nice to have an evening and go do something fun when most of my face time is as a coach and being pretty intense with what we’re doing.”
Numerous teams, ranging from Aberdeen Central to Mount Vernon/Plankinton/Corsica-Stickney, Custer to Deuel, were among those killing time at Scheels on Wednesday afternoon, with Swartos joking that every team in the state was there. Some were ready to walk and stretch their legs at the Rushmore Mall but it was closed due to the weather. Avon Superintendent and Athletic Director Tom Culver, who is on the SDHSAA Board of Directors, said he heard one coach had to have a discussion with one of their wrestlers about what was off-limits this weekend.
“One kid asked if they could go skiing. The coach had to let him know they didn’t think they were going to be able to do that,” Culver said.
Avoiding the potential broken bones, Culver was among the many at The Monument during practice day on Wednesday that was happy the wrestling was going on as planned.
“I think it’s pretty important that we have it,” Culver said. “These kids have trained since the middle of November, they’ve worked hard, and they’ve earned their spot here.”
No practice time was scheduled at The Monument at the start of the week, but the SDHSAA, event organizers and arena staff worked to make four hours available on Wednesday afternoon to allow wrestlers to practice. Essentially every team took advantage of that, with the eight red and blue mats on the area floor jam-packed with grappling athletes and a continuous circuit of wrestlers running around the outside of the arena bowl.
Given how busy the high school schedule is with championship events this time of year, Swartos said it’s almost impossible to reschedule an event of this magnitude, let alone trying to find arena space again on short notice. He listed off the many entities and groups that all have to be on the same page to pull off the event, ranging from checking with the National Weather Service repeatedly for the last week, working with city and county resources on snowplowing plans, arena staff, and host schools and personnel from Rapid City Central and Rapid City Stevens.
In his hotel, Swartos said he saw kids playing bags in the lobby and noted that students were making good use of their time, including Parker students in his hotel doing their e-learning homework near the breakfast area.
“Sometimes, you’ve just gotta let kids be kids,” said Swartos, adding he expects all participants to be at the tournament as planned. “I’m sure we have kids that are getting a little stir-crazy and ready to go. But I think for the most part, everyone is doing what they can to make it work.”
“The Rapid City people have worked really hard to host this and they put in a lot of work and time,” Culver added. “In South Dakota, you have to expect blizzards this time of year. You just kind of have to grin and bear it and do the best you can.”