Spearfish schools dissolve softball co-op agreement

SPEARFISH — The Spearfish School Board dissolved a cooperative softball agreement Tuesday with the Meade School District

The dissolution of the agreement will be effective Oct. 31, 2022. 

The reasoning for the dissolution to not take effect until the fall of 2022, is to allow  softball players who began in Sturgis to continue their softball careers there. After those freshmen play their senior seasons, a Spearfish Softball Club is intended to be in effect. However, the application for Spearfish Softball Club was not approved at the meeting, and is being tabled for another meeting. 

In June, members of the Spearfish Youth Baseball and Softball Association told the Spearfish School Board members that it would like to form competitive fast pitch softball teams and play under the Spartan banner. But the agreement the districts entered into two years ago required Spearfish to notify Sturgis by November, the year prior, of its intent to dissolve the agreement.

This past season, the Spearfish team, playing under the youth softball banner and not the Spearfish Spartans. The group fielded freshman and junior varsity squads.

After Oct. 31, 2022, a varsity softball team will be much more likely a possibility for the Spearfish district. 

Players and coaches voiced their opinions.

“For the past three years, I’ve played fall high school softball with the Sturgis School District through an agreement with the Spearfish School District has had with the Sturgis School District. My experience with Sturgis has been a positive experience, and as a team, we have been successful,” said player Chloe Drolc. “Dissolving makes the next season uncertain in terms of coaching, teammates, and tournament participation. I would hate to see this agreement dissolve. Moreover, nobody from the Spearfish Softball Club has reached out to current players or their parents about the change. It would be nice if those making decisions to actually involve those it effects in the process to hear their views.” 

Dan Roe, head coach of the Meade School District Softball Program, spoke on behalf of the program as well.

“We’ve been co-oping with Spearfish now for a couple of years. I think the majority of us here tonight were looking at this, making sure it wasn’t any worse then what the date listed on here for dissolution was, 2022,” Roe said. “However, there are a few things, as Chloe mentioned, we have been approached by a few eighth-graders, seventh-graders that have expressed interest in wanting to do so. So I just want to talk about the co-op agreement, why it even started in the first place. It’s hard for schools like Sturgis or Spearfish to have enough kids and enough talent to field enough teams to go out and compete.”

Roe also went on to say that a lot of the smaller schools don’t have teams. According to Roe, the co-op team is successful only because of the agreement in the last couple years, and has led to future college opportunities for some of the athletes. Those, he is afraid, will dry up if the team is not competitive. 

“If we’re not playing in those big games, or on those varsity levels, it’s just not going to be out there,” he said. “Those opportunities for colleges aren’t going to be out there as easily. With the co-op agreement, we were able to put together three successful teams. Now we’re able to bring in other schools. We’ve always had to travel, or just go off what Rapid City is willing to give us for a schedule. Watertown and Pierre have both asked about coming to play us in Sturgis or Spearfish in this next season. It is able to bring people to town, which we haven’t been able to do before.” 

It is rewarding for Roe and the team to see the school districts merge in a common goal of being competitive and successful at a high level. 

“It’s really a pretty cool experience to see the two school districts that maybe are rivals in basketball, and things like that really come together and a really good life lesson to come together and work together as a team and how they adapt and how they learn that from this experience,” Roe said. 

The co-op team had eight girls from Spearfish last season. With 36 players total, Rowe stated that without those eight, Sturgis would not be enough for three teams. The co-op is only for Sturgis and Spearfish, not other area schools. Since Sturgis letters for club sports, Spearfish players were also available to receive certificates to present to colleges with the same requirements that other sports in the district.

Spearfish School District Superintendent, Kirk Easton, thanked the Sturgis School District and the Sturgis Softball Club for bringing the co-op agreement to the Spearfish School Board so that Spearfish softball players had the opportunity to play fall softball and to go on to postseason play. He also went on to explain the possible benefits of Spearfish having its own team. 

“I think now that there’s a thought in the air, for entering an application now to have our own Spearfish team, I think that needs to be given some consideration. However, I’m drawing the line at girls currently in high school,” Easton said. “There might be girls in seventh- or eighth-grade that they may not be happier. The parents may not be happier, but at some point we have to draw a line to say these girls have the opportunity to finish out with the Sturgis team.”

Scott Odenbach, a member of the school board, asked “So we’re considering the dissolution of that agreement as part of the consideration of whether to form a Spearfish (team). They’re mutually exclusive — if we do the Spearfish (team), we have to dissolve that? Why are we considering dissolving the agreement? Maybe we should go back a little.”

 “I think at some point its going to be hard to field, as Dan (Roe) mentioned, a competitive team if we’re splitting the talent in Spearfish between the Sturgis team, and a Spearfish team,” Easton said. “It might mean there’s going to be a certain talent level here in Spearfish and there’s going to be a certain talent level that goes to Sturgis. If everybody is in Spearfish here, or chooses to play, it would be a more competitive team here in Spearfish.”

Mistie Caldwell, president of the board, added that another aspect of Spearfish beginning its own team, is that “softball is on the short list to be sanctioned as an activity association’s recognized activity. So at some point, the Band-Aid has to be ripped off, right? At some point, it’s going to be sanctioned,” Caldwell said. 

But just because a sport is sanctioned, doesn’t mean that it will become sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, school districts — the individual districts would then have to adopt that. 

At that point, Caldwell entertained a motion to approve the dissolution of the agreement with Meade School District effective Oct. 31, 2022. The motion carried. 

The next item on the agenda at the meeting was to approve the Spearfish Softball Club application. 

Easton asked the board to table the motion to approve the application due to the current policy regarding non-school sports or club activities. 

“Our current policy is more tailored around the clubs that you might be generated in a high school, like drama club or German club or whatever it might be, is more around that,” Easton said. “I think we need to have a policy that deals directly with non-school sports. So whether it be softball, or in the past be like soccer or something like that. That really spells out the expectations and the guidelines.”

Other points of concerns Easton addressed were physicals, proof of liability, the expectations of the players, and so on. He recommended that the board take a policy to the policy committee to be amended or created. After doing so, the application will be brought back off the table and be acted upon. 

Prior to officially being tabled, Troy Ihde spoke to the board on behalf of the Spearfish Fall Softball Association and thanked the Spearfish School Board for considering the application to become an official club activity of Spearfish. 

Ihde handed out materials including their applications, participation deals created by the softball association, as well as a handbook that was signed by players and parents, “that closely mimicked your policies and procedures as much as possible, of course without access to grades and things like that — we can put that on the parents,” Ihde said. “But, we tried to do our best in our first year to mimic an official club as much as we can because we want that transition, if there is one, to be as smooth as possible.”

The Spearfish Softball Club was created this summer with a goal of forming teams to play in the Fall Softball League against teams from Rapid City, Douglas, and Sturgis. Ihde stated that due to strong interest and participation, they were able to form two teams including over 30 players, over half of which were from Spearfish, with some from Belle Fourche and some from the Lead-Deadwood area. 

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