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Changes coming to state track and field meet

Ipswich track coach Todd Thorson shouts instructions to one of his athletes at the NSU Fuller Invite. Photo by John Davis taken 3/25/2021

This year’s state track and field meet will have a much different look to it.

For starters, the South Dakota High School Activities Association announced that all three classes will be remain at different locations for both days of the event. Class AA athletes will be in Sturgis, Class A in Spearfish and Class B in Rapid City on Friday and Saturday, May 28-29. In past years all three classes have concluded the meet in one location.

“The whole school year has kind of been a little bit frustrating for everybody, and it isn’t just for athletics,” said Ipswich track and field coach Todd Thorson, who served on the advisory committee who helped to make the state meet decision. “It’s something that everybody has to get through. I’m trying to think about the positive of it.”

While keeping the classes apart is not necessarily ideal for the average spectator, it is safer for the athletes and fans, and as Thorson notes it beats not having a meet at all like last year. Thorson said it would be a bit selfish to complain about the move considering that some athletes have had to sacrifice an entire season because of the pandemic.

“I’m just happy that our kids get to compete,” Thorson said. “It might be a little bit of a modified version, but as long as the top 24 get to qualify and they get a chance, and it’s the same rules for everybody, I have to say that I’m happy with how it goes.”

The new version of the state meet will likely have an impact in certain situations because of the revised schedule. Again, Thorson believes it will benefit the athletes.

“Not having prelims in any events except for the 100-meter dash and 100 hurdles kind of changes things,” he said. “You’re not putting as much stress on your athletes.”

Not only that, but in some cases, it could make a big difference in what athletes are able to compete in. For instance, Thorson noted that some distance runners will now have a bit of a cushion if they qualify in the 800-meter, 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter runs. In the past, the 800 and 3,200 were just one race apart.

“Those are usually one race in between and it’s pretty tough to gamble on an 800,” Thorson said.

This year’s meet will also look a bit different because of a new state-qualifying format. Class A and Class B will now qualify the top 24 times and distances in each event.

“I think it’s going to get a lot more kids in in Class B,” Thorson said. “A lot of our events weren’t filled with 24 people. I think it’s going to be a lot more fair. AA really likes it. They’ve done it for years.”

What this means is that the region meets will take on a much different feel as well. Athletes will no longer qualify by simply placing in the top two spots at the region. It will prevent situations where those who have top times or distances in the state sit out the region for the sole purpose of giving others a better chance to gain an automatic entrance to the state meet.

“You still have that decision to scale it back and have kids go for really good times to get in that top 24,” Thorson said. “I don’t think I’ve ever tried to win a region meet. I probably still won’t. If I feel like my two-milers and milers are in, I like to rest them that close to the state meet. To me, getting kids ready for state if they’re already in, is more important than trying to win a region meet.”

Thorson believes that at the end of the day, the new qualifying process will ultimately mean more Class B athletes will be competing at the state meet.

“We’re going to have more events filled,” he said. “I don’t think either B division has ever filled every event with 24 kids.”

Athletes will still be limited to participating in four events at the state meet. So for instance, if an athlete in the top 24 in a certain event is unable to compete in say the 100-meter dash because he or she is in four other events, the individual who is 25th in the 100-meter dash will then qualify for the state meet.

“You’re still going to have to like guess where (coaches are) going to put their athletes,” Thorson said, “because you won’t know until the entries are in.”

No matter how the changes play out this spring, the fact remains that there will be a state meet unlike last year. That is good news for all involved.

“I just think with the state meet there might be some changes, but let’s try to be as positive as we can about it and move forward. I don’t think it really helps anybody to be negative about this situation,” Thorson said. “Let’s try to find the silver lining in just being able to compete. The top 24 still get to make it. All the rules are the same. All 24 kids that qualify will still have to try to medal the same way. It’s a fair process. That’s my outlook on it, just try to trust the people that made those decisions.”

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