SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Spring isn’t the only season starting today. Girls softball starts its first season as a state-sanctioned school sport.

“It has been a long time coming and we are finally here,” said Jo Auch, an assistant executive director for the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA). Auch was not in the office on Monday but did respond to KELOLAND questions via email.

South Dakota joins 45 other states with girls high school fast pitch softball teams that play in the spring, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and Max Preps. Iowa plays during the summer and several states play in the fall.

The last time the state added a sanctioned sport was about three years ago when wrestling was added.

Who’s playing softball in South Dakota?

Fast pitch softball was the fifth most popular sport for girls in the nation with 340,923 participants in 2021-2022, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Outdoor track and field, volleyball, soccer and basketball were the top four.

Auch said 53 schools will be participating in the first year of high school girls softball.

“We’re expecting to have the 20 to 25 range, Cory Aadland, Mitchell High School activities director, said of the number of players in Mitchell.

“We are going to 7-12th grades for JV and varsity teams,” Lennox High School activities director Darin Eich said of Lennox. “We do have 25 kids interested.”

As of Monday, there were 15 players interested in softball at Rapid City Central, activities director Jordan Bauer said.

“Right now, for those 15 kids, softball is the only (spring sport),” Bauer said.

That’s also true in Lennox as the interested players are not in another sport, Eich said.

“This is another opportunity to serve a group of kids we aren’t serving in other sports,” Aadland said of why it was important for Mitchell to add the sport.

The other activities directors agreed.

“It’s another avenue for kids to be active,” Eich said.

Auch said 53 participating schools show interest and excitement for girls softball.

“The girls of South Dakota have been waiting for this for a long time and I think we will see this sport grow quickly in the upcoming years,” Auch said.

Although 15 girls are interested as of Monday, Bauer too, expects the numbers to grow in future years.

“Softball is a pretty good sport in Rapid City…,” Bauer said. There are girls who play on club teams who may turn to the high school sport, he said.

Bauer compared it to soccer where athletes were competing on club teams before it became a high school sport. The number of players in high school soccer has increased over the past several years, Bauer said.

The state had 14,407 girls participating in high school sports in 2021-2022 and 16,801 boys participating in high school sports during the same year, according to the NFHS.

The state had 33 schools with 734 players in girls high school soccer in 2021-2022, according to the NFHS. Soccer became a sanctioned sport for boys and girls starting in the 2010-2011 school year.

Where did practice start?

The piled-up snow around high schools and playing fields may not indicate readiness for a spring sport but participating high schools are finding spots to practice.

The Rapid City Central Cobblers team plans to be outside today for some pop flies and throwing drills, Bauer said. 

“Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s supposed to snow again,” Bauer said. So the team will likely be inside for practice.

The teams in Mitchell and Lennox were inside for practice today.

The Lennox School District has three gyms that are shared by softball, girls golf, tennis, baseball and track, Eich said.

The Mitchell High School players will be indoors at the school. Aadland said the school district is able to use the indoor batting cage at Dakota Wesleyan University.

“You do what you can indoors in a gym,” Aadland said.

What will the softball schedule look like?

Because it is a state-sanctioned sport, teams can’t play on Wednesday or Sunday.

There are three classes: AA, A and B with three state championships.

Rapid City Central and Mitchell are class AA schools. Bauer said the Central softball schedule is similar to the basketball schedule as teams will play opponents from Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Watertown and similar.

Lennox is part of the SoDak 16. Eich said all schools in the conference have softball so road trips will not be that far.

“Our first game is scheduled for March 28,” Aadland said. The season was set up similar to soccer, he said.

It may be tough to get in a March 28 game this year, but last year, it would have been easier, Aadland said.

“We knew that for some early season games, there’d be a decent chance of it getting rescheduled,” Aadland said.

The season will be “fluid,” Aadland said.

All the participating AA schools have the same weekend open to allow for rescheduled games or a tournament, Aadland and Bauer said.

Eich said it’s possible Lennox could be playing three games in one week. The priority is to get 10 games completed in order to qualify for the post season, he said.

“There’s going to be a learning curve,” Bauer said of scheduling and how to respond to weather conditions.

“If there is light rain and no lighting, we will try to play through it, as long as the temperatures allow it,” Bauer said. But, “if it gets to the point where it puts the integrity of the field in jeopardy, we are not going to ruin a field to get a game in.”

Decisions will be made, much like they are made for spring golf and maybe even track, Bauer said.

Forty-five other states have spring softball including North Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming and Montana, Auch said. “(They) all make it work in the spring and I am confident that will be able to do the same,” she said.

North Dakota had 97 schools with 953 players participating in softball in 2021-2022, the NFHS said.

In Wyoming, 13 schools and a total of 342 girls participated in high school softball in 2021-2022.

Auch said she knows schools will be creative in adjusting to the weather. That could include double headers or tournaments, she said.

The state championships are set for June 1-3 for all three classes. It’s similar to girls golf which is June 5-6.