Recent Op-Eds

In Sports and In Life

By Sen. John Thune

November 11, 2022

Whether you’re lacing up for a state tournament, bundling up for a late-season high school football game, or setting up for the start of winter, the fall season is a great time of year for sports in South Dakota. As I travel throughout our state, it’s great to see so many young South Dakota athletes giving it their all, working as a team, and achieving the goals they set out to accomplish together.

Like many South Dakotans, I grew up in a small town where everyone knows each other, looks out for each other, and supports the local sports teams with a passion. I consider myself lucky to have been raised in a town like Murdo – shout-out to the Jones County Coyotes – where South Dakota values like a strong work ethic, a firm belief in personal responsibility, and a sense of responsibility to the broader community run deep.

I’ve long since hung-up my jersey, trading my spots on the field and on the court for a spot in the stands, but I’m still proud that South Dakota’s student athletes continue to embody these core values, excel as a team, and inspire the next generation of athletes to get in the game. They can be proud of the hard work and dedication they have given to their sport, and I’m confident our teams will continue to impress communities in every corner of our state.

Growing up in Murdo, playing and watching sports were important parts of my upbringing. In addition to being a World War II hero, my dad was a Big Ten basketball star, and he later served as a coach and the athletic director at our high school. His lessons about sports and life continue to guide me, and they serve as an important foundation for my work in the Senate.

My dad always emphasized humility and service – that your job is to make the team, not yourself, perform as well as possible. Dad didn’t have much patience for ball hogs or players who were in it for personal glory. To him, as a member of a team, you should both help to make your teammates stronger and be humble enough to let your teammates make you stronger. I can practically hear my dad saying, “You should always make the extra pass.” I’ve tried to carry these lessons with me throughout my life.

In many ways, experiences, relationships, and lessons from sports have also shaped other areas of my personal and professional life. One experience in particular sparked my interest in politics. After a basketball game my freshman year of high school, in which I had made five out of six free throws, one spectator greeted me and said, “You missed one.” That spectator was then-U.S. Rep. Jim Abdnor, and this was the beginning of my long friendship with him. I could never have imagined that one day I would represent our state in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as he did.

I am humbled to have been entrusted to represent South Dakotans for another term in the Senate, and, much as I learned that night in high school, there’s always more work to be done. In sports, as in life, we can always accomplish more when we work together for the good of the team. I look forward to continuing to work for our state and with the people who call South Dakota home. You make our state all that it is.