Goal of league, parents is sanctioned high school soccer in Vermillion

It's been less than two months since a state organization made a decision to no longer sponsor high school soccer activities after the end of the 2014 season.

Local high school soccer enthusiasts wasted no time in making sure that the Vermillion School Board is aware of that change.

A standing-room-only crowd was in the audience for the beginning of Monday, Dec. 10 board meeting in the Al Neuharth Media Center, making a pitch for Tanager boys and girls soccer to be elevated from its present club sport status to that of an activity formally sanctioned by the Vermillion School District.

"Although I do not have children in high school at this point in time, I am a Vermillion resident with three young kids who I hope will someday have the opportunity to be able to decide what sport or activity they will participate in while in Vermillion High School, including soccer," said Pat Cross, the new president of the Vermillion Youth Soccer League.

On behalf of the league, he made a formal request to the school board to sanction both girls' and boys' soccer. The league also presented a petition signed by over 600 registered voters in Vermillion requesting soccer be a sanctioned sport at VHS.

"We understand the complexity of the budget at this point in time, but we believe with collaboration as well as creative financing and fundraising, this goal can become a reality," Cross said.

He noted that for years, the Vermillion Soccer League in collaboration with the South Dakota State Soccer Association has run Vermillion's high school soccer teams.

The state association, in late November 2012, agreed to end its sponsorship of high school soccer activities after the 2014 season ends. At that point, the only high school soccer available in South Dakota will be that sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

"In 2011, South Dakota became the last state in the United States to sanction high school soccer," Cross said. "But time was allowed to determine whether soccer was going to be sanctioned at the high school level or not. So what you had last year were some teams that went sanctioned, and some teams that didn't.

Approximately half of the Class A schools in South Dakota – a total of nine –sanctioned their high school soccer teams last year, he said.

"This led to an interesting situation where there were two championships per gender and per class," Cross said, referring to separate tournaments for non-sanctioned and sanctioned teams.

"I'm proud to say that this year, our boys' soccer team won our first state championship title as a non-sanctioned team," he said.

After the fall 2014 season, high school soccer players in Vermillion will no longer have the opportunity to represent their towns and high schools or win a state championship if soccer is not sanctioned by the high school.

"There will no longer be a non-sanctioned soccer league option after the fall of 2014," Cross said. "The number of sanctioned South Dakota high school Class A soccer teams looks to be increasing next year."

That means Vermillion soccer will face a growing number of issues if it remains in its non-sanctioned status during that same time period, he said.

"One of the most profound issues is the majority of non-sanctioned teams that Vermillion will be playing against will be in the west side of the state," Cross said. "Most of the east side schools have become sanctioned."

Under this scenario, parents of Vermillion soccer players would have to pay larger sums of money out-of-pocket to support the players' travel, lodging and other expenses, he said.

Cross said it isn't known, with certainty, whether Vermillion High School athletes can continue to play soccer if the sport isn't sanctioned by 2014.

"Parents, if they have the financial resources to be able to allow their kids to play club soccer, could go to South Sioux City to play club soccer. This takes a lot of money and time to do that, plus they're going to require a specific level of skill," he said. "Without the appropriate skill, time and transportation, and/or financial resources, freshmen who played high school soccer this year will not have a soccer team to play come their senior year."

In the 2012 fall season, approximately 20 boys and 40 girls participated in Vermillion's high school club soccer programs, and it appears the number of female participants could grow to 60 in two years, he said.

"The question I raise is whether or not the school board is willing to tell this many voting parents and athletes that they will not be able to play soccer for Vermillion High School after the 2014 season," Cross said.

He noted that many schools have used creative means, within the confines of South Dakota law, to make sanctioning of high school teams possible.

"We are willing to discuss various models to make high school soccer in Vermillion feasible," Cross said, "but please note we do not want to have to raise $20,000 per team for gender for the next 10-plus years in order for Vermillion to have both boys and girls soccer teams."

Soccer provides a unique opportunity for high school students, he said. "Numerous high school soccer players are not participating in other high school sports. As you probably are aware, there is a high correlation between being active in high school sports and a positive performance in the classroom as well as social development."

By sanctioning high school soccer, Cross said the school board would help the district attract qualified coaches and limit parents' expenses, time and liability. It would also allow health care professionals to be on hand at games in case athletes are injured. He noted that the sport's cost is relatively inexpensive compared to other high school sports. 

"We are not asking to replace current activities with soccer, but we feel that the relatively inexpensive costs should be part of the consideration process," he said.

East River schools that have sanctioned high school soccer are Mitchell, Groton, Aberdeen, Sioux Falls Christian, Sioux Falls O'Gorman, Freeman Academy, James Valley Christian and Mitchell Christian.  School districts that are currently discussing whether or not to sanction the sport include Tea, Harrisburg and Garretson.

The school board made no decision following the presentation.

"Obviously, we are not prepared tonight to make a decision," said Vermillion School Board President Chris Esping. "We will take all of this information into account when we're looking at the budget for next year. We will start that process soon, and we will see what we can do."

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