Week 12 (South Dakota)
My first time seeing games in South Dakota was the seven state championship games. All seven were held over three days at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. In the far southeastern corner of the state. Being the only dome available, in early November, this location made a lot of sense.
Vermillion is a small college town. It’s about an hour from the major city of South Dakota, Sioux Falls, and also about 45 minutes or so away from Sioux City. It’s located just a few miles north of Nebraska and the Missouri River.
The overall problem with the games being held at the DakotaDome is its size. It’s listed capacity of 11,000 makes it very small. However, with the current setup, and ticketing policy, it comes nowhere close to that total.
The dome is one of the smaller fixed-roof domes, and for the visitor sidelines, pushes back the center sections to give more space. The SDHSAA then splits fans up between Adult and Student tickets. Students sit in the bleachers are on the far side of the field, while adults have reserved seats on the ‘home side’. Tickets at the gate were a lofty $15 each for adults, while the general admission student tickets were $9. If a student wished to sit on the home side, they’d have to pay the $15 adult ticket price. The primary way to go between the two sides was along the walkway behind either endzone.
Given the setup, the two fan bases were split right down the 50 yard line on both sides of the field. There’s only one concourse which runs halfway up the seating bowl on the home side. Sections go from A through I, with a lower and upper section split by the walkway that meets the vomitoriums.
The concourse is small and claustraphobic but incredibly light as everything is white with highlights of red for the USD Coyotes. There’s only two bathrooms on the home side. Mens to one end, and women’s to the other. Even during a packed college game, the bathrooms would handle the crowd, though the concourse would not. Even for high school games, it became unbearably packed at halftime.
The reason for the reserved seats was simply the limited number of seats for adults. This also meant splitting the games up with a new ticket required for each session. Games were played on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The first session was a Thursday morning doubleheader starting at 10:30am. The rest of the sessions are single games. 7:30pm on Thursday while Friday and Saturday are both 1pm and 7pm splits.
Because of how small the stadium is, this actually works out well. Parking is free though it’s very limited. For USD games, they park in the grass fields around the stadium, but for high school it was restricted to the paved lots and streets. I had a hotel room right across the street behind the stadium, so it was a quicker walk than some of the lots around the stadium.
For South Dakota, as expected, there are a LOT of small schools. Which leaves them with three 9-man classes, and four 11-man classes. Originally, it was split 3 and 3, but the sheer size of the Sioux Falls schools (aptly named Washington, Roosevelt, and Lincoln), as well as private school O’Gorman, the two Rapid City schools (Central and Stevens), Brandon Valley (surburb of Sioux Falls), and two big cities, if you can call them that, with Aberdeen Central and Watertown.
Under SDHSAA, the split is:
400+ are 11AAA (9 schools)
225-399 are 11AA (9 schools)
100-224 are 11A (17 schools)
56-99 are 11B (25 schools)
The top 1/3rd below 56 are 9AA (27 schools)
The middle 1/3rd below 56 are 9A (24 schools)
The bottom 1/3rd below 56 are 9B (25 schools)
I’m not entirely sure why the numbers aren’t actually a third each, however there are some playups and geography is a major concern with a state 400-plus miles wide. Most of the schools do come from east Pierre or along I-90. Like a lot of western states, co-ops are well known and usually aren’t as subtle as you’d find in some eastern states. For Pennsylvania, for instance, the ‘primary’ school is generally the only school listed for the team. In South Dakota, you wind up with teams like: Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central. And yes, they do document all games like that.
As for schedule, the smallest and largest 9-man class play the doubleheader Thursday morning. The final 9-man game is that night. 11-man has the stage for Friday and Saturday with single games.
One interesting thing about South Dakota is that for 9-man, they use a regular 11-man field. In non-11-man football, it’s generally that 6-man is a shorter, narrower field with much different rules. 8-man plays with basically the same 11-man rules but on the smaller and narrower field. For 9-man, which is only played in the three-state area of South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota, the general rule is to play only a 100-yard field but still be 40-yards wide like 6-man and 8-man. However, South Dakota has no prescribed width for 9-man. It can be narrower. But, the regular 53 1/3 yard width is acceptable.
Fan support was about what you’d expect given the travel some of these teams faced and the size of the towns. Still, there were a good couple of thousand for each game. The doubleheader being the most troublesome as it was two intertwined fan bases sharing the same sections.
Food was rather high priced even for college. Though it was water, pop, and candy that was most noticeable. Burgers and hot dogs were actually reasonable. Strange that a small candy bar would cost $3.25 yet a cheeseburger costs $4.50.
For the games themselves, it was an interesting assortment of games. A lot of close games, and a few blowouts. South Dakota does have two mercy rules. A 35-point running clock, and a 50-point ‘sudden death’ rule. Anytime in the second half a team leads by 50, the game ends. However, for the state championships, that rule is rescinded. Though, in the one game with the 35-point rule enacted, it really didn’t speed up the game much.
9B Colman-Egan 42, Sully Buttes 28
9AA Gregory 56, Irene-Wakonda 30
9A Britton-Hecla 44, Corsica-Stickney 36 (OT)
11B Sioux Falls Christian 27, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan 12
11AA Pierre T.F. Riggs 24, Harrisburg 21
11A Madison 42, Dakota Valley 20
11AAA Sioux Falls Washington 20, Sioux Falls Roosevelt 19
There’s some good football in the midwest. It may not be flashy. But it’s fun, entertaining and with a good grasp of the fundamentals. Nobody is going to confuse SF Washington with Mentor, for instance, but for what they have to offer, it’s still football. Same as always. The fan support was the best part of it. For the smaller crowds 9-man brought, there was a pulpable enthusiasm as an entire small town–or towns–show up to support their kids.
At the other end, SF Washington and SF Roosevelt may not have had the largest crowds for being the biggest schools, however their student sections obliterated anything any other game brought. They eached filled their two sections and were uniform in chants and attire.
The Britton-Hecla/Corsica-Stickney game was one of the more entertaining as it was a back-and-forth affair that ended with a fumble in overtime while C-S was going for the tying score. And for the finale, Roosevelt opted for a two-point try to win it at the end and failed to convert. Conceding the title to the now three-time defending champion Washington Warriors.
Even the blowouts were entertaining. The stadium is incredibly confined and intimate. It’s warm. Which feels so strange when walking in dressed for the 20-30 degree weather outside. The town of Vermillion is quite fun, though a bit boring.
Food options in town offered a few pizza places downtown. However, the best option was a Korean storefront along the bars and pizza joints called “The Silk Road.” It offered a wide range of Asian cuisine, from Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and even Indian. A very unique find for South Dakota.
The drive out there, and back included some off the beaten path stops. Including some county counting. If you head to the midwest, HuHot is a good Mongolian Grill to eat at. A chain that originated in Montana (apparently), that has spread east. Cropping up mostly in college towns but it’s spreading around. The unibiqutous Pizza Ranch has amazing chicken. Which is so unusual to say. And their Buffalo Chicken Pizza may be the best Buffalo Chicken Pizza ever made. And of course, Culvers’. Even though it’s available in Ohio, it’s not near Youngstown so any trip through the midwest requires at least one stop for a ButterBurger.
On Sunday and Monday, driving around South Dakota included a stop in DeSmet (for anyone even vaguely aware of Little House on the Prairie), and a trip around the eastern hinterlands that usually get passed over. Long expanses prairie making way to bluffs near the river and fields. Endless, endless farms. Mostly cattle and some grains.
But, on the 13th, I added South Dakota as the 36th state where I’ve visited every county. Won a little money at the Dakota Sioux Casino that night as well. Enough to pay for the room, which was already incredibly cheap compared to surrounding lodgings. And incredibly upscale even for the price ($32).
The trip from Vermillion to Minneapolis for the next week took a circuitous route that included two paths through North Dakota. Departing Fargo east, following along US 10, and east to Brainerd and a night in Breezy Point, a small blip on the map. The nexday was the few hour drive south to Minneapolis for a marathon of games at the newly built U.S. Bank Stadium