By Sen. John Thune
Second by second, time ticks off the clock as the senior point guard, knowing his team is about to clinch a spot in the pinnacle of all tournaments – NCAA’s March Madness – dribbles the ball past half court. As the buzzer rings, his teammates rush the court, and the team’s fans leap from their seats to celebrate the victory. A lot of hard work goes into these defining moments – the two-a-day workouts, the early mornings, all of the season’s wins, and even the losses. Every minute is worth it, if you ask these athletes.
Almost every South Dakotan who knows me, even a little, knows how much I love the game of basketball, specifically South Dakota basketball. When people talk about Indiana, Kansas, or other places frequently dubbed “basketball states,” I always make the case that South Dakota belongs in that category too. Take just this year as an example. Both the Jackrabbit men’s and women’s teams punched their tickets to the big dance, and the Coyote women are representing our state in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. On both the men’s and women’s side, we had a handful of South Dakota teams selected for the NAIA and NCAA Division II tournaments, including Augustana who’s headed to the Elite Eight. I could go on and on – haven’t even mentioned all of our successful high school teams.
Not only do we have talented teams and players, but South Dakota has some of the best fans in the nation. At this year’s Summit League Tournament, I was impressed by the amount of blue and red in the stands supporting our state’s schools. It’s a pretty remarkable feat for a town the size of Sioux Falls to boast some of the top attendance numbers in all of Division I basketball. And no matter how fierce the competition may be, it’s always fun to see rivals in the stands trade stories and friendly banter, all while sharing in the accomplishment of our student athletes, because at its heart, that’s what this is all about.
I can’t help but think the reason we compete well at so many levels, especially on the national stage, is because of the intangible talent our kids possess – the things we in the Dakotas instill in our children at a young age. While we might not always have the height or speed that power-five teams possess, we will always have the hardest-working players on the floor. We have well-disciplined athletes that know the fundamentals. They understand teamwork and how to be humble, yet confident and poised in uniform. They are kids raised on the prairie who know that their effort and diligence will ultimately lead them to success.
To all the South Dakota athletes and fans, congratulations on an excellent season at all levels. Thank you for giving us all a reason to come together as a state to celebrate in your hard work and leadership.