SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Despite battling an ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the South Dakota High School Activities Association was able to navigate through the entire sports season, without having to cancel or postpone a sports season.
The 2020-2021 high school sports season came to a close a week ago, following the conclusion of the girls golf state tournaments.
“I think as a whole, the year went as well as we could’ve expected. We weren’t sure what to think during the year,” SDHSAA executive director Dan Swartos said.
The year wasn’t always easy. The state saw 47 football games cancelled throughout the fall football season as cases climbed in South Dakota right as the activities association prepared to move to winter, indoor sports.
“I think back to when we were in our football championships and that was about the low point for as a state or a high point, depending on how you look at it in terms of infections and hospitalizations and everything else,” Swartos said. “We were just looking to get into winter sports and indoor stuff. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t concerned how the indoor season was going to go.”
As the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021, the state saw a positive trend in COVID-19 that gave some much needed help to the activities association.
“Once vaccines became more readily available and those active case and active hospitalizations and everything else kept going down, we saw much less transmissions within the schools,” Swartos said. “That led to a lot fewer issues within our schools, so it led to the remainder of the year being much easier than what we had this fall and going into the winter.”
As the winter sports season ended and the sports once again moved outdoors, the possibility of full crowds started to become reality.
“We had certainly hoped for that. I mean, we want as many people to come and see the kids and watch them perform as possible,” Swartos said. “We did not expect to have any full crowds at all this year. We thought we would have restrictions throughout and some cases we did and some cases we didn’t.”
With the steady decline of COVID-19 cases in SD, the activities association realized that full-capacity crowds were going to happen at state track and state golf.
“By the time we got to track season, we were in a really good spot as a state and thankfully, we were able to allow anyone that wanted to come in, to come in,” Swartos said. “It was great, you know it felt like sort of a weight off of our shoulders and I couldn’t imagine how that felt for the kids. Particularly this spring for those kids who missed out on their state championships and their seasons last year. It was a great feeling seeing those kids being able to do what they love.”
Now that this season is over, Swartos and the activities association can prepare for hopefully a more normal season next year.
“I think more relief than anything else that we made it through the year healthy, for the most part and financially healthy, which is big compared to some other states and their associations and what they’re going through,” Swartos said. “We feel very fortunate to get through this year and we certainly look forward to next year.”
The 2021-22 fall sports season will begin in August.