The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Nov. 12, 2013
Combine two Dakotas into one for high school football
It's true that South Dakota high school football isn't healthy.
Yes, we have seven divisions for 141 teams. That's far too many divisions.
Yes, there are too many blowouts during the regular season.
And yes, great enrollment discrepancies are only getting greater, meaning an easy solution isn't likely to surface anytime soon.
So here is the easiest fix: Combine South Dakota and North Dakota into a single football "state," with teams eventually playing for a single Dakotas title.
We realize this won't happen, but bear with us anyway.
South Dakota has 141 teams and North Dakota has 91. That's 232 between the two states, but it's still far fewer than Minnesota's 386 teams.
How many champions will Minnesota crown later this month? Seven — same as South Dakota. North Dakota will crown four.
Mileage shouldn't be a concern with this idea, since it's closer for Sioux Falls schools to drive to Fargo than to Rapid City.
In our plan, schools would play mostly according to geography during the regular season, with six games against teams from the same state and then another two or three against out-of-state teams. The first round of the playoffs could be based on geography and then later rounds would be seeded.
Still worried about mileage? Tell that to Harding County, which this year traveled to Hayti (about 400 miles and seven hours) for a playoff game just one week after traveling to Burke (365 miles). Other teams made big trips this year, too, including: Wall (264 miles to Avon); New Underwood (300 miles to Howard); Hill City (325 miles to Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan); De Smet (364 miles to Hill City); Rapid City St. Thomas More (300 miles to Parkston); Redfield (289 miles to St. Thomas More); Custer (325 miles to Parkston); Aberdeen Roncalli (230 miles to Canton); Belle Fourche (410 miles to Dell Rapids); West Central (385 miles to Hot Springs); Sioux Falls O'Gorman (350 miles to Rapid City Central); Rapid City Stevens (350 miles to Sioux Falls Lincoln).
Meanwhile, Minnesota's north-south geographic size isn't much different than the Dakotas', yet that state seems to have figured out trouble with excessive mileage by playing at neutral sites.
The same could be done in the Dakotas. By our calculations, each of the top two divisions could have 16 teams, generally classing Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks programs into the upper class and the current South Dakota Class 11AA teams with North Dakota's Jamestown, Dickinson, Williston, Devil's Lake, Mandan and so on.
Without great changes, South Dakota's football problem will never go away. South Dakotans are still migrating from rural areas to the edges of the state, and until more schools consolidate, enrollment discrepancies will continue to widen.
We believe a seventh class was justified, since Sioux Falls and Rapid City schools will continue to outpace enrollments at Mitchell and Huron and other central South Dakota schools. It's likely the same is happening in North Dakota.
But that seventh class is only a Band-Aid, and big changes are needed before football truly becomes exciting and fair again in South Dakota.
Combining our state playoffs with North Dakota is radical, but radical changes eventually must happen.
In the end, maybe the most radical of ideas may make the most sense.
Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Nov. 12, 2013
Victim notification system needed
Many victims of violent crimes live in fear that someday the person who attacked them or a member of their family will get out of prison and hurt them again. That's why all but three states have a crime victim notification system to alert victims of changes in an offender's status.
Unfortunately, South Dakota is one of the states without a notification system, a fact that could change. A 20-mamber task force has been meeting to develop an online system that will offer crime victims automatic notifications through phone calls, text messages or email.
A lack of funding has kept the state from notifying victims if an offender has a parole hearing, is released from prison or has his sentence commuted. This year, the South Dakota Attorney General's Office has a $790,000 budget to develop a crime notification system and plans to have it operating by July 15, 2015, said Attorney General Marty Jackley.
It is about time South Dakota joined other states in creating a crime victim notification system.
But why will it take until 2015 to have it in place? How much effort and expense can it be to call crime victims or send them a simple postcard? A website could take time to create, but a two-year time frame to develop any form of notification is too long, in our view.
The parole hearing for Joaquin Jack Ramos is an example of South Dakota's broken victim notification system. Ramos was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1994 for the shooting death in Rapid City of his pregnant girlfriend, Debbie Martines. When then-Gov. Mike Rounds commuted Ramos' sentence in 2010, making him eligible for parole, Martines' family were only told after the commutation, too late for them to prevent it.
Martines' family and Ramos' ex-wife, Angela Hanson, who says she and her children were victims of domestic violence by Ramos, recently complained that they only received two weeks' notice of Ramos' first parole hearing.
"We feel that the notification system is completely broken in the State of South Dakota and ask for prison officials, legislatures and our current Gov. Dennis Daugaard to take steps to implement a program that makes sense for all involved," Hanson wrote in an email to the Journal. "We hope that a future system will include online notification along with a web based program that allows victims of crime access to current status of inmates, including their locations."
The fact that victims of violent crimes are informed about a change in an offender's status as an afterthought, if at all, is a failure of South Dakota's criminal justice system. Keeping crime victims fully informed and protecting them from further harm should be as important to the state as rehabilitating criminal offenders.
South Dakota needs the proposed State Automated Victim Information and Notification System, and a launch date of July 2015 is too long to wait.
Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Nov. 9, 2013
New help at detox worth exploring
The collection of people who end up in the Minnehaha County Detox Center each week arrive via different paths.
Some are chronic substance abusers, picked up by police after a night of drinking, in need of a place to dry out and sleep. Others are individuals who struggle with drinking and have crash landed at the center under the weight of stress and personal turmoil.
All are addicted to alcohol, but the latter group wants to change things. Minnehaha County officials hope to find a way to offer a hand to those residents.
The county wants to start a recovery program through the detox center. Staff members would reach out to the people who want help kicking their addiction and start as soon as that individual arrives at the center.
The county is asking agencies that deal with alcohol abuse and recovery to submit proposals on providing treatment options for detox center occupants who want to change their lives.
The general philosophy of the program is: Separate the smaller group of individuals who want help fighting substance abuse concerns and assist them with counseling and support. Staffers could refer residents to agencies that can help them gain sobriety for good.
"When somebody is ready to stop drinking, we need to be there," Carol Muller, director of human services for the county, said recently.
We agree and applaud the attempt to help this troubled population.
That simple step of reaching out and talking to someone can make a difference in a person's life. And, of course, taking them out of the cycle of substance abuse could save taxpayers money as well.
Those who are not interested in making lifestyle changes still could find a warm place to sober up, safe from the elements. That detox center function would remain.
But those who find themselves in the detox center after traveling a different route could get a roadmap and a way out of the substance-abuse cycle.
This idea is well worth exploring. It would have to be cost-effective, of course. But if the right agency submits a plan that could be efficient and effective, the program should get serious consideration.