PIERRE — Native American schools in South Dakota are considering forming their own high school football conference.
The conference would be separate from the South Dakota High School Activities Association. The SDHSAA board learned about the proposed All Nations Football Conference at its October meeting on Wednesday.
SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos said the schools are considering the conference in an effort to rebuild their football teams.
“They’re trying to do something to get numbers back up in their programs,” Swartos said.
Lower Brule head football coach Zeke Prado told the board it was hard to get players to go out for his team when they looked at the schedule and saw that they would face powerhouse teams like Parkston, Bon Homme and Potter County.
Prado said the idea for the conference is an attempt to get “our students the best football experience.”
The board saw a proposal for the conference from Lower Brule Superintendent Lance Witte. In the proposal Witte noted that in the 36 years of the SDHSAA football playoffs, a tribal school has never won a state championship.
According the Witte, the proposal calls for east and west conferences. Teams in the west conference could include Cheyenne-Eagle Butte, Little Wound, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Pine Ridge and Takini. The east conference could include teams from Crow Creek, Flandreau Indian School, Tiospa Zina, Lower Brule, St. Francis and McLaughlin.
Teams would play an eight-game regular season schedule between Sept. 30 and Nov. 9. Eight teams would be eligible for three weeks of post-season play culminating with a championship game at the Dakota Dome at the University of South Dakota.
“I love the notion that you’re trying to get kids involved in activities,” said SDHSAA Board Chairman Brian Maher of Sioux Falls.
Even though the proposed conference would be separate from SDHSAA, its existence would have some bearing on the association. Swartos said the association would need figure out how its eligibility standards meshed with the new conference, work out how to schedule officials and decide if the catastrophic insurance purchased by SDHSAA for member schools would apply.
Maher, who came to Sioux Falls from a position at a school in Nebraska, said that for years six-man football in that state was not affiliated with the state’s activities association.
“There may be some lessons learned there,” Maher said.
Prado acknowledged that there is plenty of work to do before January’s SDHSAA board meeting. That’s when football conferences are aligned.
Board member Steve Morford of Spearfish noted that the schools interested in the proposed conference impact every football division except for Class 11AAA.
“I think there’s some real opportunity here,” Maher said. “You’ve got a lot of work to do.”