Soccer teams for Rapid City Central and Rapid City Stevens will not be funded by the Rapid City Area Schools for at least one more school year. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

Most of Rapid City’s high school soccer players will be waiting at least another year to play under a state-sanctioned banner.

After weighing the cost of adding the sport amid more rounds of budget cuts, the Rapid City Area Schools will not be sponsoring the activity for either Rapid City Central or Rapid City Stevens this fall, superintendent Tim Mitchell said.

The school district must reduce its $192 million budget by $8 million over the next two years. Consequently, when $4 million of cuts this coming year is juxtaposed with an estimated $120,000 total cost of adding boys’ and girls’ programs at two separate schools, there’s not much of a choice to be made.

“It’s just flat-out about timing,” Mitchell said Wednesday. The decision was informally reached between Mitchell, Stevens activities director Jared Vasquez and Central activities director Darren Paulson, among others, late last week. “I am not against sanctioning soccer. I have hardly come across anybody against it. We see the benefit of soccer as we do with our other activities. A lot of kids enjoy it. In the near future, we hope to pick a plan that will potentially make (sponsoring the sport) an option.”

Vasquez said the cost for funding soccer would be about $30,000 per gender per school: four teams, in other words. That estimate comes from consulting similar-sized schools such as Aberdeen Central and Sioux Falls O’Gorman, which already sponsor soccer.

Currently, St. Thomas More and Custer are the lone schools in the region already sponsoring the sport. The South Dakota High School Activities Association agreed in March 2010 to begin sanctioning the sport for the 2012-13 school year.

The SDHSAA originally gave individual schools and school districts the option to opt in or out of operating under the state’s umbrella by Jan. 1. This past fall, the deadline was extended to April 1 in order to accommodate budgetary negotiations and the state’s legislative session.

A third option for schools was to sanction the sport on a five-year transitional scale, with financial support coming from outside sources on a decreasing trend until the school was able to fully sponsor the activity.

Central activities director Darren Paulson said he had drafted a rough sliding pay plan for a five-year transition, but implementing that option this year wasn’t discussed at length.

His comments echoed Mitchell’s reasoning.

“Timing is everything. And right now, the timing is just bad for soccer to get funded, given the budget constraints for much of the state,” he said. “… I think the five-year plan has merit. As we go on, I see (school-sponsored soccer) happening. The other problem, to be honest, is that the (South Dakota State Soccer Association) has done such a great job of managing their sport.”

SDHSAA assistant executive director Bob Lowery said Wednesday he was unaware of more schools that were going to sponsor the sport beyond the nine who were supporting the activity before the new year.

Among schools currently in the Class AA configuration, that’d mean just Aberdeen Central, O’Gorman and the Mitchell girls are in SDHSAA play. Lowery had said last fall that there would just be one SDHSAA class if there were 15 teams or fewer under the association’s umbrella. 

That would change if there are at least four ‘AA’-sized schools available for boys or girls competition. This fall’s SDHSAA state tournament will be in Aberdeen.

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For schools still playing the sport at the club level, the SDSSA will still be holding its own organized season and state tournament as long as the need is there.  Greg Stone, who’s a local representative on the SDSSA’s high school committee, said the organization will also coordinate with activities association schools to help provide well-rounded schedules.

The SDSSA tournament, Stone said, is tentatively scheduled to take place in Rapid City, although plans for next season have not been finalized.

Mitchell said he consulted with other school boards to gauge the state’s overall ability to sponsor the sport, and he said that plenty of districts are in the same financial boat.

So, for competition’s sake, it might be better for the large schools in the short term to play at the club level against like opponents.

For his part, Stone said he’s been impressed with the understanding and earnest efforts of all parties involved to fairly and logically weigh the options of adding the sport.

“The soccer community and the schools have gotten along and will continue to get along,” he said. “Everyone wants to do it right, and to make it work, you’re not going to have to do a lot of reinventing the wheel. It’s about judging the economic times. In previous budget cycles, we probably wouldn’t be having this problem.”

Vasquez said a recent meeting including himself, Paulson and the four current club coaches helped lay out the foundations of a workable plan going forward. If the economic forecast is brighter, he said the hope is to have a proposal ready to present the board at the earliest possible opportunity.

“If we do this work up-front,” Vasquez said, “the groundwork will be there to get things moving, to make sure that we and the soccer organizations will be on the same page. Then we can be comfortable presenting this plan to the next level without any hesitation.”

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