PIERRE — The first sanctioned South Dakota high school softball season will start in spring 2023, with schools expected to decide later this winter on their intentions to play during the inaugural season.
The South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors voted Wednesday to start the season in the 2022-23 school year, with the first games allowed at the end of March and the state tournament to be played on the first weekend in June.
The decision settles a recent debate about when to play the season. The SDHSAA board voted in November to sanction the sport for 2022-23 but had not decided on when to play.
A key part of the discussion was regarding the Class AA schools, who were previously split between playing in the fall — which is when South Dakota’s club season has been played until now — and the spring season.
SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director Jo Auch said that an initial vote among Class AA schools was 10-9 in favor of playing in the spring. But the Sioux Falls public high schools, which were previously favoring playing in the fall, later decided to support the spring plan, making the school vote 14-5 in favor of the spring and building a clear consensus.
Auch said that a few of the remaining dissenting schools wanted the SDHSAA to make a clear decision on the season timing to move the issue along and allow the schools to start planning to make the move to sanction the sport.
“They’re to the point where they just want to make a decision, tell us when we’re going to play and we’ll play,” Auch said of the remaining schools.
Saying she was taking a guess, Auch said that she believes the state could have up to 35 or 40 schools playing softball. School districts will likely need to decide during their February board meetings on whether they intend to play in 2023 and then in March, the SDHSAA will draw up classifications based on the number of teams, with a number of classes in the state still to be determined.
Similar to how the SDHSAA brought high school soccer on board as a sanctioned sport in the mid-2000s, schools will be allowed to have a five-year period to fully implement and fund softball as a district sport and use existing uniforms and equipment. That could involve a cost-sharing arrangement between the existing club program and the school district until the district can fully bring on the costs by Year 5. Transition teams will be allowed to compete in the SDHSAA postseason but cannot be eligible for the club softball playoffs.
“You don’t have to take on this burden all at once,” Auch said. “Don’t let those finances be an excuse to not start the sport and give these girls an opportunity to participate in that.”
South Dakota is the only state in the country that doesn’t offer high school softball through a state-sanctioning organization and is surrounded by schools that all take a different approach as to when to play softball.
It will join North Dakota, Minnesota and Wyoming as regional states that play softball in the spring. Wyoming, which sanctioned softball for the first time in 2021, had one class of competition, North Dakota has two classes and Minnesota recently added a fourth classification of softball.
In 2023, the season would start with practice on March 20, with the first games allowed on March 31. Region tournaments would need to be completed by May 25 and the state tournament would be contested June 1-3 at sites to be determined.