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State Leaders Share Plans for Adding New Sports, Activities

By Juli Doshan on November 10, 2015 hst Print

When it comes to adding a new sport or activity, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. From thinking about the logistics involved to garnering enough interest in the activity, the task is challenging. However, when that new activity or sport successfully encourages the participation of students who previously haven’t been involved in anything, all the extra effort and hard work can pay off.

At a workshop conducted in July at the NFHS Annual Summer Meeting in New Orleans, the audience got a behind-the-scenes look at creating opportunities for emerging activities and sports from the perspective of two state associations that have recently offered new programs.

James Weaver, former assistant executive director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) and current fine arts curriculum coordinator at Sioux Falls School District, described the SDHSAA’s implementation of three new activities in the past two years.

“One thing we looked at was what were under-served areas, what were areas that needed some more control,” Weaver said. “We looked at what we were going to do in fine arts and what we had as far as limited amount of exposure for the students.”

Weaver said two activities, visual arts and storytelling, were implemented last year and the third, show choir, will be a state event for the first time this upcoming spring. He said visual arts was suggested as an option for a new activity from art teachers at a meeting of the Arts Education Association of South Dakota.

“This was a teacher-driven effort,” Weaver said. “They really wanted this because we had an under-served population within our state in the visual arts. The hard part about this was planning and deciding what categories we would like to have.”

After narrowing down the potential 50 categories to 11, Weaver said they decided to have the event in conjunction with the state basketball tournament.

“It’s a nice combination effect,” Weaver said. “We’re combining the arts side of it with the athletics side. A couple of things that are really nice about this is that we don’t have to pay for the facility to use for the visual arts because we’re already paying for it for basketball. So we’re able to use the extra space that comes with that facility and put the visual arts component in.”

The first year, Weaver said he was pleased to receive nearly 250 entries from 33 schools, representing about 20 percent of South Dakota’s member schools.

“The thing that’s a little bit scary is that we have already doubled the amount of schools interested in participating next year,” Weaver said. “So, space will be an issue, but it’s a good problem to have.”

Storytelling was an event within an activity that came out of a necessity to strengthen the rules of speech in South Dakota, Weaver said. In previous years, they were running into a problem where one piece was being edited differently to be able to be performed in two different categories.

“After three years of tinkering with the rules, I finally said, ‘this is enough,’” Weaver said. “’We need to just change the category, get rid of the category or do something completely different.’ So we did something completely different.”

After surveying member schools to see what they wanted, Weaver said the SDHSAA combined serious prose and serious plays into one category and added storytelling. He said they ran workshops at their fall meetings so people understood the new category and how speech competitions would be operated with the new addition.

Weaver said the new category was designed to act as an introduction for beginners to oral interpretation to boost participation.

“We found that a lot of small schools were able to grab onto that and get some of their younger students to really get into that activity,” Weaver said. “The hope would be that storytelling would allow them to get into more intense activities as they move forward.”

Unlike visual arts, which was teacher-driven, show choir was suggested by administrators within the state.

“Show choir, due to the need for greater authority for enforcing in-season and out-of-season rules, and travel requirements, administrators in our state really want to start having that control,” Weaver said. “In South Dakota, we have schools traveling all over the country to compete in this activity as well as nearly competing year-round, which is not what we want to have.

“We want to have those multiple-activity, multiple-sport students, and so if they’re confined to one specific activity year-round, which show choir was becoming in our state, that becomes a problem.”

Basically, Weaver said the addition of show choir as an official association-approved activity will allow for more structure and fairness.

“With the growth of this activity in South Dakota, many athletic directors and principals are looking for these statewide rules, which are going to help get the competitive fairness where it needs to be,” Weaver said. “Ten years ago, we had six schools with show choir. Now, we have more than 30 schools so it’s come to the point now where we’re going to start needing some statewide rules in order to handle the growth.”

Dr. Kerwin Urhahn, executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA), said he gets calls all the time with suggestions of new sports and activities that the MSHSAA should add. Some, like ultimate fighting, he immediately knows won’t be feasible, but others, he is more willing to take into consideration, given their potential upside to the student-athletes.

“The empirical data shows kids who participate in sports and activities are more successful in high school,” Urhahn said. “So we have to ask, are we serving all those kids in our high schools?”

Urhahn begins by taking every potential new activity to the schools in Missouri through regional meetings and questionnaires to gauge their interest.

“Whenever I have a suggestion, we take it to our area meetings and talk to our schools,” Urhahn said. “Depending on their feedback, it may go on the questionnaire. Then, we look at our questionnaire … to see ‘do we need to look at adding anything?’”

Sometimes, the questionnaires and surveys bring to light the fact that only certain areas of the state are interested in the sport in question. Urhahn said water polo, boys volleyball, girls lacrosse and girls field hockey were only prevalent in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, so a bylaw was written to encourage the sports to grow throughout the state. The bylaw required a minimum of 50 schools in three board districts to participate in a sport for at least two years before it would be allowed to have a state championship event.

“Instead of waiving the minimum requirement, we put one in,” Urhahn said. “We allowed those [sports] to continue on and we told them, ‘if you want to grow this to a statewide playoff system, it’s your responsibility to do that. Grow your sport.’

“We’re not a St. Louis association or a Kansas City association. We go statewide and we want to make sure it’s being participated in throughout the state.”

So far, those four sports have not gained enough momentum to be upgraded yet. Urhahn also gave examples of target shooting, bowling, chess and bass fishing and where each is in the process to become a recognized sport or activity in Missouri.

Bowling presents an especially interesting case, since Urhahn said if it were to become a full sport, some student-athletes would violate rules regarding non-school sports.

“We have a very specific sports rule that says in the same sports season, you cannot participate in non-school same sport,” Urhahn said. “What’s going to happen is we’re going to have kids who are bowling with their parents in a league, it’s going to be high school bowling season and you’re going to have to tell that kid, ‘you can’t bowl with your parents in that league because you’re on the high school bowling team.’”

Urhahn suggested if an association does not want to commit to adding a whole new sport, it can simply add new events to existing sports. After a year-long study last year, Missouri will be including javelin and adapted wheelchair exhibition events to its track and field slate next spring.

“We’re figuring out a way to do it safely at our state championship,” Urhahn said. “All of this goes back to our schools telling us what they want us to do. We don’t tell them, ‘we’re going to do this.’ We simply say, ‘tell us what you want.’ If that’s what you want and everybody agrees with you, then we’ll look at putting it in.

“The hard part for us at the office is figuring out how we’re going to get it covered and get it done. Sometimes you have to make a nickel look like a quarter and you’ve just got to get it done.”

Both Weaver and Urhahn provided suggestions to other states that might run into similar challenges when implementing new programs.

Urhahn said that no matter what stage emerging activities are in, they are still required to fulfill the same rules as the established sports, including the minimum school requirement and basic eligibility rules.

“If you’re going to represent your school in an emerging activity, you still have to meet the grade requirements, semester requirements and the citizenship requirement,” Urhahn said. “They have to do all those things that all other students who participate in our recognized sports and activities do for those emerging activities.”

Coaching and officiating requirements were also an important thing to consider for both speakers. Weaver said he wasn’t quite sure what to expect when coordinating officials for the visual arts competition.

“It turns out, we have an awful lot of really good visual arts officials in our state,” Weaver said. “We had professional artists, college professors and everybody in between those two areas, and we ended up with some great judging panels.”

As with any major event, Weaver said there were also various unknowns that popped up and had to be dealt with on the fly, from ordering tables and handling a much larger crowd than was expected to controlling light and air conditioning.

In the end, both Urhahn and Weaver considered the extra time and effort put into the emerging sports and activities worth it, especially when it comes to adding new offerings for an underserved population.

“Just as James looked at the fact that in their activities, they’re not reaching some of those kids, I love that they’re doing the visual arts,” Urhahn said. “That’s a group of kids that have immense talent, but don’t get to showcase it on a Friday night.”