This season's state tennis tournament is likely the last of its kind.
At the upcoming South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors meeting, a proposal to shift from one class to two classes of tennis will likely be approved. The first reading was passed by a unanimous 8-0 decision and SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director Jo Auch anticipates it will be approved at the next reading on June 6.
"If it gets a pass there, then we are a definite go for the two-class system," Auch said.
Auch said the topic has gained traction in recent years and the competitive in-balance among the larger and smaller schools is a big reason behind it.
"I think this has been a long time coming," Auch said. "We have been adding a couple of teams each year. Our smaller schools don't get the opportunity to compete very well against some of our larger schools. So this has been a conversation that started about three or four years ago. It's finally coming to the forefront with needing to change the format of the tournament because we are having so many teams, which is a great problem to have."
If approved, the state tournament format will change. Currently, the one-class state tournament for both boys and girls is played over three days. In the two-class system, Class A will be on a Monday and Tuesday, while Class AA will be that Thursday and Friday of the same week. They would be at the same location, with Wednesday and Saturday serving as rain days.
If approved, the two-class system would go into effect in 2019-20. The SDHSAA opted for a 750 average daily membership (ADM) number as the cutoff number for Class AA teams, but left open the door for schools to petition up. Sioux Falls O'Gorman and St. Thomas More petitioned up, allowing for 12 teams in Class AA and 12 teams in Class A.
Class AA will consist of O'Gorman, St. Thomas More, Sioux Falls Roosevelt, Rapid City Central, Sioux Falls Lincoln, Sioux Falls Washington, Rapid City Stevens, Aberdeen Central, Watertown, Brandon Valley, Harrisburg and Brookings.
Class A will consist of Yankton, Pierre, Mitchell, Huron, Spearfish, Madison, Vermillion, Milbank, Sioux Falls Christian (boys only), Lennox, Aberdeen Roncalli and Rapid City Christian.
Mitchell considered petitioning up to Class AA, but after conversations with Activities Director Cory Aadland, Kernel coach Pat Moller said the school will be in Class A for the next two-year cycle. They will re-evaluate after that two-year cycle.
Moller is in favor of the two-class system and pointed to the fact Sioux Falls schools can play year round due to the indoor opportunities. The Sioux Falls players benefit from the Huether Family Match Pointe, which is equipped with six indoor courts and gives athletes a considerable advantage during the tennis season.
"It was getting more and more difficult to compete with the best of the best," Moller said. "Splitting into two classes-the teams that are in each class-they kind of have some of the same resources and same opportunities to play, especially offseason and especially in the winter. I think that will make it easier to compete against the same teams that have the same resources that we have."
Moller doesn't envision changing his schedule and he'll still be aggressive in playing the top teams during the regular season. He added every match will still matter for seed points and there will be no penalty for AA players going against A players during the season.
"I like that because that means you can play everybody still," Moller said. "You can still compete against everybody and it's still going to count the same."
Moller is optimistic the move will increase participation numbers in the sport, which has been a trend in recent years.
"Tennis is growing in the state," Moller said. "There are 24 teams this year. We have never had 24 teams in the boys state tournament before. I think when I started, it was like 19 or 20. So we've added a few teams here and there over the last few years, which is exciting and great for the sport of tennis."
Sioux Falls Christian and Lennox recently added tennis. Thomas Jefferson High School in Sioux Falls (opening in 2021-22) will likely add tennis, said Auch.
"I think it might give a feel for these schools that maybe didn't feel like they had an opportunity at a level, now it would give them an opportunity to compete," Auch said. "So we are hoping that it will grow a little bit. ... I think there's been a lot of schools looking forward to this for a long time and I am glad we are finally getting the opportunity to make that a reality for kids."