Lawsuit was the Hail Mary that brought playoff football to South Dakota

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota High School Football Championships kick off Thursday in Vermillion. The event has been a staple in South Dakota for 40 years, but the playoffs didn’t exist until a lawsuit made its way through the courts.

The South Dakota Athletic Association passed a rule in 1926 stating there shall be no attempt to determine the high school football championship.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the push for playoffs started to gain momentum.

“There was a contingent of coaches, Bob Burns and Max Hawk and others, that were pushing the Activities Association to have playoffs,” O’Gorman Activities Director Steve Kueter said.

“It had been brought up several times between 1970 and 1981 to implement the football playoffs and at the time there was a threshold of a two-thirds majority of the membership voting to approve it and they could never get to that threshold,” SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos said.

A lawsuit was filed in February 1981 by Sioux Falls attorney and O’Gorman football parent, Tony Weisensee.

“He was frustrated, like we all were, with all the other efforts we tried to get this through and being an attorney he said there is one more thing we can try and that’s simply file a lawsuit,” Kueter said.

Judge Robert Hegge ruled in favor of Weisensee. Activities Association votes no longer required a two-thirds majority, simply 50% plus one vote.

“He’s saying that the constitution of the Association itself is probably sufficient to throw out the ban on football,” Tony Weisensee said in March 1981.

The Activities Association dropped all appeals in spring, 1981.

“Playoffs may come as early as this fall,” KELOLAND’s Bill Overman said in March, 1981.

“It’s going to take a lot of time by a lot of people to establish the format for the playoff,” Board Chairman Bill Ausmann said in March 1981.

The Activities Association put in the time and the playoffs arrived in fall, 1981.

“I don’t believe the staff at the Activities Association or the board for that matter were against that, they were just up against that clause in the constitution,” Kueter said.

The lawsuit was considered a hail Mary, but the state’s celebrating 40 years thanks in part to Judge Hegge.

“I think they actually awarded him a lifetime pass to the playoffs, if I remember right, but it was a big deal,” Kueter said.

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