South Dakota group recruiting American Indians as referees

By Wayne Ortman
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) 7-09

An effort to recruit American Indians as high school basketball referees drew more than a dozen prospects on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwest South Dakota and will expand to football and volleyball officiating.

The reservation, which covers much of an area from Highway 83 west to the Wyoming border and from Interstate 90 south to Nebraska, did not have any basketball or football officials until last year, said Wayne Carney, executive director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

Then Mary Tobacco, a former high school coach at Red Cloud and Little Wound on the reservation, recruited 16 men and women to become basketball officials. Two moved away before their training was complete, but 14 finished, Tobacco said.

Gov. Mike Rounds’ office provided $15,000 for that effort and has committed $20,000 this coming school year to find and train football and volleyball officials on the reservation.

The money comes from a $100,000 contingency fund that can be used at the governor’s discretion, aide Dale Bertsch said.

SDHSAA’s Native American Advisory Council identified a need several years ago to have more certified and registered game officials in southwest South Dakota.


Tobacco said she was excited when she was asked to recruit.

“I thought it was possible because we have a good population of people that really love basketball,” she said.

Tobacco, who now oversees the fledgling athletics program at Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, said she finds prospects through her contact with college students and others involved in sports.

There were few opportunities in the past for reservation residents to move up to varsity officiating and those who tried it at elementary or junior high levels – perhaps as a volunteer picked from the bleachers – sometimes weren’t ready to respond to fans, Tobacco said.

“If you don’t really know the rules and the people question you, you don’t have a lot of confidence and it’s not a very fun thing to do,” she said. “People know the rules now and they’re real confident.”

Referees recruited through the program have more self esteem, can earn extra money and have the opportunity to advance to officiating at the college or professional level, Tobacco said.

The money given by the governor’s office last year was used to hire Tobacco and pay for recruits’ uniforms, Carney said. A portion also will be used this summer to send Tobacco and three of the new officials to the National Association of Sports Officials summer meeting in Arizona.

“I think that’s going to be a tremendous educational experience for them to hear people who are working at the big-time college and professional ranks, how they got started, how to communicate, just all kinds of different topics that will be very good for them,” he said.

“Obviously, what we’re hoping is they’ll come back and from that small seed a big tree will grow.”