SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (BVM) — Baseball has been around in South Dakota for a long time. It’s the birthplace of American Legion Baseball.
“Legion baseball has had a prominent role in providing baseball in the state,” said Dane Yde, the Executive Director of the South Dakota High School Baseball Association. “There was certainly a large baseball presence. We are a huge baseball state generally speaking. There just wasn’t a spring high school season.”
It was then in 2001 when Yde’s father, JR, and many other people came together to form a high school baseball season.
“I’m grateful for all of the individuals that were alongside my dad 20 years ago did what they did to get this thing going,” Yde said.
Yde played in the inaugural season of the SDHSBA back in 2001, coached by his father on a team that was composed of players from four different high schools. They were one of 27 teams made up of players from 35 to 40 high schools that played in the Class B division. The Class A division had eight schools.
Twenty years later, there are a combined 56 teams in both divisions with players from 86 different schools.
“It’s helped expand the sport,” said Ryan Bauer, the President of the Board of Directors for the SDHSBA and one of the people who helped found the organization.
“A large majority of our high schools in the state have representation on one of the high school baseball teams,” Yde said.
The creation of the SDHSBA has given kids the opportunity to play baseball for their high school and bring the community together to cheer on their hometown teams.
“It’s all about that camaraderie,” Bauer said. “The coaches, associations and 50 some affiliates that we have with high school teams. They’ve made it something really special. It’s just not like another sport, it’s very unique.”
The ability to play for your high school and the uniqueness of the league has not been taken for granted by the players who have played in the league.
“I know that myself and one other board member were both part of that first year of high school baseball, so we both got to play four years of high school baseball,” Yde said. “We definitely feel humbled to know that we got this opportunity that a lot of people before us didn’t.”
Bauer was one of those people who did not get the chance and it’s one of the reasons for his involvement in the creation of the SDHSBA.
“I think everyone from my generation that went to high school in the early ‘90s, late ‘80s, they just see where it is today and they just think what if this was 40 years old instead of 20,” Bauer said.
The league has helped grow the game of baseball in the state of South Dakota. Communities have worked to set up fall academies and build better facilities for players to use throughout the year.
Along with that, the high school league appeared as there was also a growth in travel baseball, private coaching clinics and more opportunities for players to work on their craft. It’s all led to an improvement in the overall skill level in the state.
“We’ve had plenty of individuals in our state that have gone on to play college baseball and certainly a number that have had professional experiences, but I think you’re seeing more now,” Yde said. “It’s not just the high school thing. But I do think you’re seeing a higher level of talent come out of our state.”
All of this has been done in 20 years and it’s something to be proud of. That’s why the SDHSBA decided to create its own Hall of Fame to begin to honor all the people who have helped bring South Dakota high school baseball to where it is today.
“At least we got to do something to commemorate, celebrate 20 years of high school baseball in spite of their not being a season,” Yde said.
The original plan was to announce the class at the state tournament over Memorial Day weekend. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancelation of the season, and as the SDHSBA tried to find a way to have a season, the Hall of Fame continued to be pushed back.
The class was officially announced on June 14 with 22 players, coaches and contributors being named.
“People are excited about us celebrating it,” said Bauer, who led the push to create the Hall of Fame. “I’m already looking forward to next year’s class.”
With the hope that baseball can get back to normal next spring, the SDHSBA will continue to work at giving every kid an opportunity to play high school baseball. Twenty years have already passed and the next 20 look just as promising as the first.