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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today congratulated the South Dakota State University (SDSU) Jackrabbits on winning their second consecutive Division I national championship. Thune also discussed the upcoming Jones County Invitational basketball tournament, a long-running showcase of South Dakota high school basketball talent that was co-founded by his father, Harold Thune, nearly six decades ago.
Thune’s remarks below (as delivered):
“Mr. President, winter in South Dakota can be tough going.
“But no matter how low the temperatures go or how high the snow banks rise, you can count on South Dakota sports fans coming out to support local athletes.
“After all, there are games, tournaments, and trophies on the line this time of the year.
“And for sports fans like me, there is no better place to be than on the sidelines cheering for South Dakota’s athletes.
“And this year, Mr. President, we have not been disappointed.
“On Sunday, the South Dakota State University football team won its second consecutive national title.
“That’s right – the Jackrabbits are back-to-back FCS champions.
“This Jacks team has a lot of talent and an awful lot to be proud of.
“Sunday’s win closed out SDSU’s first undefeated season as a Division I program.
“They now boast a 29-game winning streak, the third longest winning streak in FCS history.
“Their defense was impenetrable this season, allowing an average of just 9.27 points per game, and allowing just 15 points to be scored
against them in four postseason games.
“I want you to think about that, Mr. President.
“You get to the postseason, these are the playoffs.
“These are the best teams.
“In the four postseason games that they played, including the national title game, they gave up a total – total – of just 15 points.
“And I think that record of accomplishment this year was perhaps best personified in the title game, when Montana was driving the ball in the first quarter down in SDSU territory, and they had a 4th and goal at the 1-yard line and the SDSU defense made a stand.
“In an iconic play, linebacker Adam Bock stopped the Montana ball carrier at the 1-yard line, stood him up, and took him down before the ball could cross the endzone and give them a touchdown.
“So the Jacks got the ball back, and from then, it was on to a 23-3 victory.
“Jacks quarterback Mark Gronowski won the Walter Payton Award for outstanding offensive player – the first SDSU player to win this award—and I don’t believe there was a close second; he was richly deserving of it.
“Gus Miller, center from Brookings, South Dakota, won the Rimington Award for best FCS center, also incredibly well-deserved.
“As one reporter put it, Mr. President, ‘This team is just dynamite.’
“And I couldn’t agree more.
“Their hard work and commitment to each other and to the team has brought them success this year, and Jacks Nation is incredibly proud of them.
“I want to congratulate the Jackrabbit players, coaches, and staff on this incredible championship season.
“There’s much to celebrate now, but I’m sure Coach Rogers will have the team soon working hard again to keep that winning streak going.
“Mr. President, at this point, I want to recognize the South Dakota State University Jackrabbit football team by entering a resolution into the Congressional Record.
“Mr. President, as I said, it’s not just football championships keeping South Dakota sports fans busy this time of the year.
“There’s just as much excitement – sometimes even more – at a Friday night basketball game in towns across our state.
“And over the holidays, I was able to get around South Dakota for some of those games.
“I caught up with Coach Phillips and the Northern State University basketball team last week.
“I brought my grandkids to see the Sioux Falls Jefferson girls take on the O’Gorman Knight girls for some Friday night hoops.
“I went to the girls hoops matchup between the Faulkton Trojans and the Highmore-Harrold Pirates.
“I got to see some of the Hoop City Classic at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, and Saturday, was able to see a cross-state matchup between the boys teams from Rapid City Central and Sioux Falls Roosevelt.
“Mr. President, as I travel around the state, I take every opportunity I can to stop in to a local game or sporting event.
“I can count on catching a good matchup wherever I go.
“And it’s a chance to connect with people across South Dakota and to support South Dakota’s athletes.
“This weekend, I’m looking forward to being back in my hometown of Murdo for the Jones County Invitational basketball tournament.
“For three days in January, the gym at Jones County High School is the center of the universe for the eight teams that are competing for the tournament title.
“And for West River basketball fans, the Jones County Invitational is just in our DNA.
“And it certainly has a special place in my heart.
“The 1969 inaugural tournament was organized by my high school basketball coach, Jerry Applebee, and my dad, Harold Thune, who was our school’s athletic director, plus Murdo Superintendent Maurice Haugland.
“And when they organized that first tournament, they weren’t sure how long it would last.
“But each year the entire community would come together to make it a success.
“And now, it is the longest-running tournament of its kind in South Dakota, which is a fitting tribute to the impact that my dad and Coach Applebee had in our community and on countless young athletes, myself included.
“I can remember sitting in the stands as a kid dreaming about the opportunity to play in the big tournament one day.
“I remember the rush of adrenaline that I got coming out of the locker room to a packed house for those games.
“And nothing would compare to the thrill of winning the whole thing with my teammates, which is something that we were able to do a couple of times when I was in high school.
“Mr. President, the Jones County Invitational was also how I got introduced to an important influence in my life, and that was, at that time, Congressman Jim Abdnor.
“In the Friday night semifinal game of my freshman year, I had six attempts at the free throw line, and I made five of them.
“So the next day, we had to play, again, the Saturday night game.
“I was at the Main Street department store in my hometown at the checkout counter, getting ready to buy something, and somebody in the line behind me tapped me on the shoulder.
“And I turned around, and he says, ‘I noticed you missed one last night.’
“And I’m like, ‘Who’s this smart aleck? I made five out of six, I’m a freshman, right? Give me a break!’
“Well, he introduced himself as then-Congressman Jim Abdnor.
“Jim would go on to be a great friend and mentor and I’d eventually have the opportunity to work for him when he served in the United
States Senate and as head of the Small Business Administration under President Reagan.
“But the Jones County Invitational is how I got introduced to him, and that chance meeting is what first opened the door that would lead me to public service.
“Mr. President, sports are part of the fabric of South Dakota’s way of life.
“They’re one of the places we come together and connect as a community – and, as I said, particularly on these cold winter evenings.
“And for many of us, sporting events bring back good memories of our days competing for our school, and remind us of the important lessons that we learn from competitive sports – lessons that have often had an impact far beyond the field or the court.
“So I’m looking forward to being in the bleachers once again this season and watching South Dakota’s athletes keep our great heritage going.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”