South Dakota High School Football: Since 1899 - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

South Dakota High School Football: Since 1899

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In its humble beginnings, football was far different than the fast-paced, hard-hitting game that transfixes the American public today.

Half the players played without helmets, which didn't become mandatory until the 1930s, and those that wore the protection had nothing more than a helmet harness. The uniforms didn't have numbers and the padding was ragged at best. It was a rough, rugged and often dangerous sport.

When football began in South Dakota in the late 1890s, touchdowns and field goals counted five points each with the current system of six points for a TD and three for a FG being adopted in 1912.   

While games went on, controversy brewed because South Dakota high school teams did not play for a championship. Except for a period from 1922-26, state champions were determined by newspaper reporters.  "Mythical titles" were created in 1905 by reporter Jim Ashley of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

The first "mythical" champion was Spearfish in 1899 with Brookings crowned a year later. Sioux Falls Washington earned its first of 35 "mythical titles" in 1905. From 1899 to 1980, 49 different schools were crowned mythical tit lists. 

According to, more than 100 schools were playing 11-man football by 1934. Other schools explored options in 6-man, 7-man and 8-man football. It is believed that the first six-man contest involved Strasburg in 1934.

The Claremont High Honkers, coached by Bill Welsh, began playing 6-man football in 1947 and they won 61-straight games (national record) through the 1953 season. After a 26-0 loss to Hecla in 1953, Claremont was undefeated in 1954. However, 6-man football lasted only until the 1962 season.

In the 1950s, schools were asked by the SDHSAA to convert from six-man to eight-man football. By 1955, 84 schools in South Dakota were playing eleven-man football and 126 schools were sponsoring six-man or eight-man football teams. 

There was a divide between smaller schools playing 8-man and 9-man football. In fact, scheduling for some schools included schools playing both 8-man and 9-man. However, a movement toward 9-man football took hold in the late 1960s and by 1973 most eight-man teams had transitioned to 9-man.

For several years, an effort to begin playoffs was initiated but failed in the South Dakota Legislature. With the playoffs an ongoing argument in sports circles, a development in Vermillion indirectly opened the door for the championships to be held. When the DakotaDome was opened in 1979, it provided an indoor venue for late season games. With the facility one of the major concerns of school administrators was countered. 

As a result of a court ruling, by May of 1981, the Association of South Dakota School Boards and Activities Board of Control approved the plans for football playoffs.

The first champions included Bridgewater in 9B and Freeman in 9A. The 11A champion was DeSmet while Winner won the first 11AA title and Sioux Falls O'Gorman captured the 11AAA title.

Beginning in 1984, the 11-man schools were classified by 11AA, 11A and 11B. In 1999, the 9AA class was added, creating the current six-class playoff system. 

Sioux Falls Washington's team, which currently owns the ninth longest winning streak at 26 games, has won 37 championships, including 35 "mythical titles."  Since 1981, 11A West Central (Hartford, S.D.) has won the most 11-man playoffs title with 11 titles in 12 appearances. Sioux Falls O'Gorman has the most title appearances with 14 (eight 11AA titles). In 9-man circles, Tripp-Delmont-Armour has seven titles (combination of affiliations) while Freeman has five titles. In the playoff era 88 high schools (51 in 9-man, 37 in 11-man) have won South Dakota football titles.

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