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20th Anniversary Series:District moves up in activities classes

[Editor’s note: The Tea Area School District will be celebrating their 20th birthday on Friday, July 7th with a bus tour and community potluck. In preparation for the celebration, Tea Weekly will be featuring articles showcasing the changes in the District over the past 20 years. The following is the first installment:]

When the district started in 2003, Tea Area had about 600 students.

At the end of the 2023 school year, there were 2,261 students.

Those first couple of years of the district, the student numbers had them in class B for activities. They moved up to class A and will soon move to class AA for all activities.

Since football classes work off of male-only student numbers, football has been class 11AA the last two years.

All other activities will move up to class AA at the start of the 2024 school year.

Former activities director Brent DeBoer, who served as the activities director for about 10 years, said during his time in the district, they added boys and girls soccer as well as cheer and dance. Since then, the district has added girls wrestling, girls softball and FFA.

“Our addition to all of those activities increased as our enrollments increased to sanction those things and increase in the fine arts side. We just grew all the time,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer said they knew the transition to class AA was coming. He and superintendent Jennifer Lowery started talking about it about five years ago.

“We tried to make some plans in the last five years, which included beefing up some of our schedules with some of the other bigger schools because we knew this was going to happen and didn’t want to jump into it and have to play all the bigger schools at once,” DeBoer said. “I think it was something that was very good for our school district and for our teams. It challenged them a little bit and we were certainly able to compete. I’m glad we had the wherewithal to look forward instead of backward and move ahead.”

Current activities director Craig Clayberg coached football for 12 years before starting as the AD this last school year. He has been working through the process of joining a conference in class AA.

“We knew we were going to be moving up so we’ve transitioned our schedules. We play a really tough schedule because we play a lot of A schools and AA schools already just so the year we go to AA we aren’t automatically going to have a whole AA schedule,” Clayberg said.

Starting in the fall of 2024, the district will move out of the Dakota 12 (Dak 12) Conference and into the Eastern South Dakota (ESD) Conference. They will be playing schools like Pierre and Aberdeen so they will have to travel further for some activities.

“We just felt more comfortable with that conference right now. We’re excited to be in that and I think they’re excited to have us,” Clayberg said.

Besides the ESD, they also looked at the Metro Conference that has all of the Sioux Falls schools, Harrisburg and Brandon Valley.

While their class AA schedule for all activities will alter what schools they play, Clayberg expects them to compete against some of the class A schools they already play.

As the district has grown, both DeBoer and Clayberg have seen some challenges like scheduling, field and court time and transportation. DeBoer said there are only so many days in the week and in the fall, they have to schedule two soccer teams, a volleyball team, cheer and dance, cross country and football, plus all of the sub-varsity games.

Scheduling buses and bus drivers to travel to two or three different locations during the week can be a bit of a puzzle.

“My biggest fear as an AD was you forgot something or you were playing at home instead of playing away and you lay awake worrying that the other team’s traveling to the other spot,” DeBoer said.

Clayberg said as the district has grown, that has impacted practice time and space. For example in the fall, they have to schedule high school and middle school football and boys and girls soccer. Some teams have to practice before school, some after. Some practice on the turf field, while others practice on the grass fields. Some wait to practice until after another sport has finished for the day.

During the winter months, they deal with gym space. With the high school expansion, that should help alleviate some of the space crunch.

“With the new addition at the high school, we’re adding an auxiliary gym to the east of our high school gym right now. Then we can practice at the same time,” Clayberg said. “You have to keep track of a lot of facilities. We have really nice facilities. Our board has done a great job and our administration has done a great job of keeping up to date with that type of stuff.”

DeBoer came to the district at a time when they did not have a track and the football field was a mess.

“We were fortunate enough that we had a great school board to get the field turf in and do all that. I feel really good about that because it really made us move forward,” DeBoer said. “I feel good about the success that all the programs have had and they just continue to grow and to succeed.”


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