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Softball showing growth in second sanctioned year

Megan Rosendahl
South Dakota Public Broadcasting

In its second year of a sanctioned sport in South Dakota, high school softball is showing more schools and more kids participating. Last season there were ultimately 47 teams who competed in the inaugural season, and this year is showing more teams competing in all three classes.

Class AA now has 17 teams, Class A is at 22, and Class B has seen an increase of seven teams to get them to 20. This means for the playoffs this year, no teams will get an automatic bye into the state tournament.

“We opted to go with our SoDak 16, without playing regions, which I think was a good idea,” said SDHSAA assistant executive director Jo Auch. “We ended up in Class B giving a couple of bye’s, because we only had thirteen teams in Class B. This year, moving forward, we ended up I think with twelve or thirteen (total) new schools this year. To see the growth in Class B, I was excited to see that.”

The growth of softball extends beyond the number of member schools participating. Especially at the AA level, you’re starting to see more JV and freshman games being played, which also shows that participation numbers are going up for softball amongst member schools. Official participation numbers of kids won’t be known until the end of the school year when schools send in their numbers.

Overall, there’s excitement surrounding the sport. Having three classes in its first year was a big step. Castlewood (B), West Central (A), and Sioux Falls Lincoln (AA) won state softball championships in 2023.

Jo Auch was a main component in getting softball sanctioned in South Dakota. She was also part of a first pitch ceremony at the state tournaments last year to ‘cut the ribbon’ on it, so to speak.

“If I could have had a nickel for everybody who came up and thanked me at the state tournament last year for getting the sport started, I could have retired a lot sooner,” Auch chuckled. “People are grateful that we’re giving these kids the opportunity to compete for a state title. The weather is always an issue, those are the things that always become the negatives, but the more I hear about how enthused they are to be able to do what they’re doing, it’s exciting.”

The state tournaments for state softball this year will once again all take place in Aberdeen. Northern State is hosting Class AA at their Koehler Hall of Fame Field, while Class A and Class B will once again play their games at the Players Complex in Aberdeen.

“As anyone who was up a the tournament, they liked that the A’s and B’s were together, because a lot of the schools play each other in the regular season, and the kids are friends,” Auch explained. “It was nice that if you weren’t playing, you could go cheer on another team. Aberdeen does a fantastic job of rolling out the red carpet and making people feel special. It just made the kids feel important, and I like that.”

The 2024 state softball championships in Aberdeen will take place on May 30-June 1. South Dakota Public Broadcasting and Game Changer will provide a streaming option for all the games at all three tournaments at The Class AA championship and Class AA 3rd/4th place game will also air live on SDPB2-TV.

A recent development has also popped up recently with some of the meetings surrounding the South Dakota High School Activities Association – the potential for baseball to get sanctioned in South Dakota.

“The buzz is there because we’ve got softball. If we can do softball, can we do baseball? Like a matter of softball, I think it’s where (time of year) it’s going to go,” said Auch. The Legion is concerned, and rightfully so, about us coming in and taking over baseball. It’s going to bleed into the Legion season and the legion season is going to end up going away. Our intent is NOT to take away the legion season. There’s already a spring [high school club] season going on for baseball.”

Two letters were submitted by member schools asking the activities association to begin the process of potentially adding the baseball. The board of directors of the SDHSAA officially acknowledged those letters this week during their meeting.

So what's next? For starters, a committee will be put together and then discussions will begin to take place that will include conversations with the American Legion and the South Dakota High School Baseball Association. There are currently only two states in the nation who do not sanction baseball – South Dakota and Wyoming.

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.