Say what you will about the term middle class in a political sense, but where basketball is concerned, South Dakota’s middle class is thriving.
Class A basketball is as strong as ever. Especially in the boys field. It’s loaded. You need two or more hands to count all of the contenders.
But folks who compete in Class A, like Sioux Falls Christian coach Mike Schouten, say it’s not exactly a new phenomenon.
“I’m not sure it’s deeper than normal. At least form my perspective, Class A’s been pretty deep for the last 10 years,” Schouten said. “That’s as long as I’ve been doing it.”
Class A schools — and for that matter, those in Class B — churn out high-level players regularly. That’s no mystery. What the schools lack in average daily membership, the SDHSAA’s enrollment tool used to designate class, they make up for in volume.
(There are 55 schools in Class A and 88 in Class B. That number is just 17 for ‘AA’ schools, and nine of them hail from Rapid City or the Sioux Falls metro.)
And yet, it’s not uncommon for Class AA schools to hog the spotlight.
A season ago Sioux Falls (and to a lesser degree Rapid City as Stevens advanced to the semifinals) held the limelight in Class AA. The championship game between Lincoln and Washington, as it happened, was packed with future college players.
But even before the dramatic finish in March at the Denny Sanford Premier Center, was there really any doubt that Lincoln and Washington were more than just the two best teams in Class AA, that they were the two best high school teams in the state?
That isn’t asked out of any fidelity to the top class. It’s probably the case most seasons.
For argument’s sake, throw third-place O’Gorman into the mix. They pushed the Patriots to the brink in a double-overtime thriller in the semifinals. During the regular season, the Knights also showed themselves to be a class above ‘A’ squads in head-to-head competition. O’Gorman walloped Sioux Falls Christian last January and clipped eventual ‘A’ champion Aberdeen-Roncalli when the teams met in February.
Would anyone from the ‘A’ ranks have contended with the Knights? Probably not.
This season there appears to be at least a momentary changing of the guard. The number of Class A contenders is near double-digits (or just above, depending on how you see it). And in heads-up play, ‘A’ teams have shined against their more highly-populated cohorts.
Call it trickle-down graduation. Or maybe a few consecutive quarters of negative growth, like a recession. But it’s clear — there isn’t much difference between upper and middle class, at least this season.
“Class A is getting better,” Schouten said. “I think you’re starting to see that as more As play the AAs and, if not beat them, compete with them.”
This season has already seen Schouten’s Chargers get the best of Washington and O’Gorman. On Friday, SFC pulled away from a scrappy Harrisburg squad for a third victory against ‘AA’ opponents.
SFC’s Dak-12 conference foe, Madison, defeated Roosevelt at the Pentagon a few weeks ago. St. Thomas More and Sioux Valley may have lost, but gave Washington and Lincoln tough contests. Later this season, Washington will try its luck on the road against Aberdeen Roncalli.
And don’t count out Dell Rapids, Dakota Valley, Sioux Valley, Red Cloud, Spearfish, Clark-Willow Lake, St. Thomas More, Tea Area or Winner. They’re all good.
No use in trying to settle the debate, though. The ESD has taken up much of the slack left by so many talented Sioux Falls departures. Watertown, Pierre, Huron and Aberdeen Central are among the state’s best in ‘AA’, and a grand total of none of them have matchups against ‘A’ teams this season. Oh well.
But many of the state’s best players suit up for ‘A’ schools. If you’re trying to build a case for ‘A’ beyond heads-up play, look there, and get the seat warm for any number of guys of worthy player of the year honors.
Maybe calling it a Golden Age is taking it too far, but this middle class sure is vibrant. No doubt about it.