Tribal schools seek COVID-19 eligibility relief for SD prep sports

Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, with plans to also discuss winter competition dates

Players on the Pine Ridge boys basketball team gather during a timeout in the 2019 Class A state tournament at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls. (South Dakota Public Broadcasting photo)

PIERRE — The South Dakota High School Activities Association's Board of Directors will hear a request on Tuesday, Nov. 24 to consider granting additional eligibility to senior athletes at tribal schools affected by COVID-19 restrictions.

The meeting will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday and will be live-streamed at

The request comes from Crazy Horse, Little Wound and Pine Ridge high schools, three of a handful of South Dakota tribal schools that have been unable to participate in most sports this year due to COVID-19.

Two changes are proposed:

  • to allow tribal schools and all on-reservation state-governed schools that cannot participate in the 2020-21 athletic season due to COVID-19 to develop their own winter and spring leagues once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available and be set up without SDHSAA penalty to the schools and participating athletes.
  • to change the SDHSAA sports eligibility rules to allow a current student who cannot play in 2020-21 or who has decided to sit out due to concerns about the virus to be eligible in the 2021-22 school year. That would include, they propose, individuals who will turn 20 years old.

"We are not trying to make any type of permanent change to the SDHSAA’s age restrictions or player eligibility rules, we just want to protect these young athletes who are facing a problem that none of us anticipated. Fundamental fairness requires this," wrote representatives of the three schools.
SDHSAA bylaws require students to be under the age of 20 at the start of a season to participate in high school sports, based on birth date. Students are also eligible for eight semesters of competition in grades 9-through-12.


Federal restrictions and tribal ordinances have required distance learning and closing down most in-school building student activities at Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools. School administrators noted how important athletics are to tribal students to help springboard them to scholarships. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Indigenous people are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 3 1/2 times more likely to die from the disease.

"This has led our tribal governments to prioritizing health over all else," the letter said.

Earlier this year, the SDHSAA Board of Directors loosened the association's transfer rules to allow students to transfer to another school for an individual season to play a single sport if it was not being offered at their home school due to COVID-19 restrictions. That student would then be able to return to the home school without penalty.

The SDHSAA will also hold a discussion on competition start dates for winter activities. The Board of Directors voted on Nov. 4 unanimously to approve starting winter sports and activities on time.

Some sports have already started practice, including gymnastics on Nov. 2 and wrestling on Nov. 16. Those two sports are scheduled to begin competition as early as Nov. 30, with Dec. 3 as the first allowable date for games in girls basketball.

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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