Top stories: Sports came to a stop in 2020 for South Dakota

COVID-19 halting games changed sports year unlike any other

Women's basketball teams from Dakota Wesleyan University and Indiana Wesleyan University play in front of a mostly empty Tyson Events Center on March 12 at the NAIA Division II National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. Attendance from the general public was limited and only two games were played that day before the tournament was canceled. (Matt Gade / Republic)

South Dakota had been crowning high school boys basketball champions uninterrupted since 1912. Since World War I, the state had done the same for track and field for the last 100 years dating back to 1919. Girls championships in those sports date back to 1969.

The NAIA crowned men’s basketball champions every year since 1944 and women’s champions since 1981.

And then it all stopped. Just like the rest of life around it, the onset of COVID-19 stopped the sports in its tracks in mid-March. That left basketball seasons unfinished, never allowed spring sports to get off the ground, and left players, coaches and fans wanting and wondering what could have been. The sudden end to sports, especially during March’s championship season, is the Mitchell Republic’s top sports story of 2020.

For high school athletes, the end of the season was painful. In girls basketball, area powers Corsica-Stickney and Winner were on the doorsteps of state championships. In the Class B tournament, teams played in front of a regular, crowded gym in the first round of the tournament and by Friday, March 13, the tournament was suspended and later abandoned at the request of Gov. Kristi Noem, who had requested schools to close three days later.

“It doesn’t make it easy, but I believe it’s the right decision,” SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos said in April. “We are an extension of the schools and we can’t justify holding (activities) when schools aren’t in place. It was a hard thing to do, but our hearts go out to the kids involved.”


The SDHSAA considered resuming the state basketball tournaments in mid-June and trying to play abbreviated spring seasons but that didn’t formalize. The same story was told at the college level, where the NCAA and NAIA seasons were stopped and were never picked up. DWU’s baseball team was in Arizona at the time of the season being canceled. They played two more games against Jamestown on March 14 as a sendoff, knowing that would be the end of the run for 2020.

“One of the things we always say that the fun part about baseball is you always get to play another game,” DWU baseball coach John Greicar said. “There’s always another game the next day. It was the first time out of all of my life it kind of went away.”

Here’s a look at the rest of the top-10 sports stories for 2020:

An empty Cadwell Park in April signified the state of play for South Dakota sports in the spring: halted by the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. (Matt Gade / Republic)

2. SD plays through the rest of 2020 in face of pandemic

If stopping play and not awarding championships due to COVID-19 was the top story, restarting play in South Dakota is equally as notable.

It started with amateur baseball in May, and was followed by youth sports, including American Legion baseball teams in the state playing on their own even after the national organization had decided not to sponsor competition.

High school sports athletes were able to train in small groups over the summer and then games followed in August. Some teams were forced to shut down for a few weeks due to positive cases or forego postseason competition.


Masks became commonplace for fans and coaches in the crowd, which was smaller in some locations restricting attendance to parents and students.

The games have been played with one major omission. The state’s tribal schools, not able to play due to tribal and federal restrictions and with consideration of at-risk members of their community, have mostly sat out competition. The hope is that the rollout of the vaccine will allow participation later this spring.

Wearing masks at midfield, Winner coach Trent Olson and Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan coach Jeff VanLeur chat prior to the Class 11B state football championship game Nov. 13 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Matt Gade / Republic)

3. Hutmacher completes wrestling dominance

Chamberlain’s Nash Hutmacher closed out one of the most dominant wrestling careers South Dakota fans have ever witnessed. He punished the rest of the 285-pound division in Class A, setting records in the process.

He had a 42-0 undefeated season (all via pins), and finished his career on a 166-match win streak, a state-record 73 consecutive pins and 226 career victories. He is the only heavyweight wrestler in South Dakota history to win four straight state championships.

“He’s going to be known as one of the greatest in South Dakota,” Chamberlain head coach John Donovan said. “There’s no doubt about it with what he’s accomplished.”

4. Mitchell girls tennis claims a second straight state title

Mitchell won four singles titles and a pair of doubles titles in its second straight Class A state championship. The Kernels finished with 499 points, holding off Rapid City Christian (440). They’ve won the state tournament in both years Class A tennis has been in existence.


Olivia Huber won her second straight individual state title. Kiersten Bathke, Julia Platt and Megan Mastel all earned a state title, as well. In doubles play, Huber and Bathke teamed up to win a state championship, while Platt and Delaney Degen did the same in Flight 3 doubles.

5. Alexandria Angels remain atop amateur baseball

The Alexandria Angels continued their Class B amateur baseball dominance.

In August, Alexandria won its fifth Class B state championship since 2013 with an 11-3 win over Canova at Mitchell’s Cadwell Park. The Angels have also played in seven of the past eight state title games.

Jed Schmidt and Cole Wenande shared co-MVP honors of the state tournament. In the title game, Schmidt pitched a complete-game, striking out 10 batters, scattering six hits and allowing one earned run. Wenande finished 3 of 6 in the championship rout.

Alexandria also received hits from six different players, including Peyton Smith’s 4 of 6 performance.

After edging Lesterville in the first round, the Angels rolled to wins over Parkston, Dell Rapids Mudcats and Winner/Colome before the title tilt.

The Alexandria Angels celebrate following the final out of the Class B state amateur baseball tournament victory over Canova Aug. 16 at Cadwell Park in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)


6. Platte-Geddes, Winner, Canistota/Freeman win state football titles

A trio of area teams won state football championships at the DakotaDome.

Platte-Geddes won its first state title as a co-op in a 42-12 win over Hamlin in the Class 9AA state title game. The Black Panthers capped a perfect 12-0 season. Grayson Hanson, who was named the Joe Robbie Most Valuable Player, recorded four total touchdowns (two rushing, one each passing and receiving), while making 11 tackles.

Winner got its revenge on Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, defeating the Seahawks 18-14 for its first Class 11B state title since 2016. It was the Warriors’ fifth state title since 2009. Riley Orel broke up BEE’s final heave to close out the win and punctuate his Joe Robbie MVP performance. Orel rushed for a four-yard touchdown near the end of the first half, helping Winner build an insurmountable advantage.

Canistota/Freeman completed its three-peat in Class 9A. Tyce Ortman, the Joe Robbie MVP, rushed for 253 to guide the Pride to a 12-0 win over Warner. It was the lowest-scoring Class 9A title game of all-time.

7. No rodeo for the Corn Palace Stampede

After serving as a summer staple in Mitchell for 49 consecutive years, the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo fell victim to the coronavirus.

Social distancing issues and concerns regarding retaining sponsors amid the pandemic led to the board of directors to cancel the rodeo for the first time since its inception in 1971.

The committee had big plans for 2020 and what lies ahead may be uncertain. But Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo President Jim Miskimins said in April the official 50th incarnation of the rodeo is planned for July 2021.

8. DWU basketball continues national presence

The Dakota Wesleyan University basketball teams once again were set for postseason play.


The Tiger basketball teams each qualified for their respective NAIA Division II tournaments, but they were both canceled due to the pandemic.

The DWU men were powered by scoring guard Ty Hoglund, who capped off his brilliant career as the conference player of the year and his fourth NAIA All-American selection.

He finished his career as DWU’s third all-time leading scorer with 2,729 points. His dynamic scoring for the Tigers included seven games with 30 points or more in a season that sent DWU to the national tournament for a sixth straight year. The Tigers finished the season 23-9, their fifth straight season with exactly 23 wins.

The DWU women reached 20 wins for the fifth straight season in 2019-20, as it finished 21-11 overall and 13-9 in the GPAC. The Tigers earned another bid to the NAIA Division II national tournament, as it defeated Indiana Wesleyan, 78-67. They were scheduled to play top-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) in the second round before the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.

Alexandria native Kynedi Cheeseman and Sarah Carr both made the all-GPAC first team, while Plankinton native Makaela Karst was named to the second team.

9. No Hoop City Classic for the first time

The event was supposed to be the 11th annual iteration but COVID-19 shut it down. It was supposed to be in Mitchell, Sioux Falls and Yankton over three days in December.

The three-day event, which brings in nationally-ranked basketball players and teams, was set to welcome back Mitchell native and former namesake Mike Miller. The former Kernel and long-time NBA swingman is the Houston (Tenn.) High School head boys basketball coach. The Mustangs were going to play three games at the classic. Miller’s sons, Mason and Mavrick, were also set to play in the event for the Mustangs.

10. High school football classification saga continues

The complicated issue of high school football classification in South Dakota had more twists and turns once again in 2020, but the state will continue on with seven, slightly modified classes for the 2021 season.


A five-class system moved forward to the South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors at the start of 2020, but the board turned it back because there was no consensus on how to draw the classification lines. It had directed the state’s football advisory panel to come up with plans for five and six classes each but when a subcommittee of football coaches and administrators met in October, it mostly re-tweaked the four 11-man classes and left the decision on how many nine-man classes to have to the Board of Directors.

The SDHSAA Board later decided to stay with three nine-man divisions. The issue surfaced again due to competitive issues and blowouts throughout the ranks of high school football.

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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