It has been one year since schools in South Dakota had to make changes due to COVID. Some changes were small, and others were huge. Some schools and students were affected in large ways, and others maybe not so much. Here is a look at the effects of COVID on local student athletes and the havoc it dealt to their activities and their lives.
March 10, 2020 South Dakota announces its first COVID death, and four residents have been diagnosed with the disease. News media outlets have been covering the COVID stories for weeks and concern about the outbreak is in the forefront of everyone’s thoughts and conversations. COVID is now officially in South Dakota.
March 12, 2020 De Smet girls’ basketball team is in Spearfish for the 2020 South Dakota High School Athletic Association (SDHSAA) Girls Basketball State Championship. The first day of the tournament saw all eight girls’ teams compete, leaving four teams left with a chance at the title. The Lady Bulldogs had played Faulkton that evening and come away with a 50-45 win. One game down, two to go.
March 13, 2020 Governor Kristi Noem declares a State of Emergency because of the COVID pandemic. SDHSAA officials shut down the girls’ state tournament. Officials for the tournament gave no indication what would become of the tournament, and no hope of a postponement was given.
Coach Osthus and the girls’ basketball team were fully settled into the tournament. Students, staff, family, friends and fans were already there, or headed that way. On the first day of tournament play, March 12, Coach Osthus was watching the afternoon games when tournament officials informed him their team would be limited to just 120 people. That number included players, coaches and spectators.
“At that point, we were still allowed to play,” said Osthus. “We were relieved we got to play, but now we had to make cuts on who could watch the game.” Osthus and the girls made the list of spectators allowed to watch the night game, but now Osthus had a challenge no coach could prepare for. Osthus had to deal with the players and their emotions about the COVID restrictions.
“Our girls did a fantastic job of handling the changes and then getting themselves ready to go play. They played a hard-fought basketball game and got the win,” said Osthus. “I felt like we were through that. We were on to the semi-finals.” De Smet girls would be taking on Castlewood in the semifinal the following day.
The next morning everything began to unravel. Osthus got the news just as they were loading the girls on the bus and going to get a bite to eat. That's when the phone call came in.
“It was abrupt, it was very abrupt. We had like an hour to an hour and a half to get back to the hotel, get packed, on the bus and gone,” said Osthus.
“As a coach, you got some girls that are coming off a championship season from the year before and worked really, really hard to get themselves back in position,” said Osthus. “Those girls fought through a lot of adversity in the process, and in the blink of an eye, it is over. It was a really, really difficult day for sure. It was a long bus ride home with some upset girls. Out of our hands, it was one of those things we just had to deal with the best we could.”
“The other unfortunate thing is for some girls on the basketball team, it was their last basketball game they were getting to play in high school. We had some seniors on that team. That was it. They did not get to finish what they started. Yes, they had been a big part of the championship season the year before but for them to work as hard as they did to get themselves back in that position and then for your last high school basketball game to end in this manner is unforeseen, very, very difficult to comprehend,” reminisced Osthus.
The De Smet boys’ basketball team was headed to State the following week. Hopes were high after losing a close championship game the year prior, and earning a #1 seed for the tourney. It was not to be. Within days of the girls’ tournament being ended, the boys’ tournament was cancelled too. According to Coach Osthus, the dominos just fell for everybody.
Track and Field season was cancelled. Koby Spader had set a new high school state record with his discus throw in 2019. He was a junior then and would most likely have topped that record his senior year. No opportunity ever presented itself for the track and field participants to compete. Spader was never given a chance to top his own record.
Back in De Smet, school officials scrambled feverishly setting up distance learning. Gov. Noem had asked schools to shut down for a week. Then the request came for two additional weeks. Online classes were set up and teachers became accustomed to a new method of teaching. Then eventually the school year was recessed until fall.
De Smet School Superintendent, Abi Van Regenmorter the School Board and Jr. and Sr. High School Principal, Andrew Armstead, were working hard to ensure the students got to finish the school year and do so in a healthy manner. Plans were made, then redone, and changed again. But the schooling continued.
As the summer continued, opportunities were slowly opening once guidelines were released and put in place. As summer training commenced, students had their temperatures taken, terms like social distancing were put into place. Instead of the football team lifting weights as a team, students were divided into small groups and that is who they worked out with all the time. This limited exposures. This assured that contact tracing could be maintained.
Football teams soon had extended sidelines, so individuals could maintain six feet of distance. Handshakes with officials before a game and the opponents after were banned. Footballs had to be rotated regularly to avoid any contamination. If a team had COVID-positive players, the game was postponed. No more Pep Band at the games either. The school did not charge for tickets. Social distance was to be observed by those watching the game. Even the snacks at the concession changed. Everything was prepackaged. Fund-raising groups running the concessions made less revenue.
Volleyball teams no longer switched sides during their games. Trips out of town for teams used to require one bus, but social distancing mandated that two buses be used. Benches were sanitized for visitor’s protection.
Cross country teams probably saw the least changes. Their starting gate was now widespread. They had the same number of meets, but no awards ceremonies were ever given.
Basketball season brought vouchers for those that wanted to see a game in person. Digital transmission of games were broadcast. Even residents at local nursing homes were anxiously watching the girls’ and boys’ team throughout the season. Most venues had vouchers for just a third of capacity.
Valley FiberCom worked hard to make games available for those who could not or did not want to attend school sporting events.
Since basketball season has started the number of daily infection rates had dropped to an eighth of what the infection rates were at the peak of the pandemic. Most venues still require masks and social distancing.
Band has had lots of changes as well. The COVID pandemic brought forth the emergence of panty hose fitted on the end of brass, and woodwind instruments. The band trip is usually to New York City and Washington D.C. and involved hauling all the band instruments and playing to audiences at both locations. This year the students do not have to worry about hauling the instruments around, because they will not be playing for any audiences. Since New York City is still a hotbed of COVID activity, the city was replaced with Nashville, TN. 2020 seniors missed out on the trip due to the postponement.
Our students have seen many changes in their academics, activities, team sports and personal lives. Despite it all, their resilience has been unending. With the infection rates dropping, one hopes a normal life is just around the corner, not just for the students, but for everyone.