High school football participation numbers down in South Dakota
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, high school football numbers in South Dakota are down 16.6% percent over the past decade.
Many rural communities in the state are entering co-op agreements to ensure they have enough students to field a team.
Freeman is one of those communities.
Freeman has always taken pride in its football team, winning four straight state titles from 1996 to 1999.
But in 2015, Freeman found itself in danger of losing its program because of a lack of students, so the school decided to join forces with Canistota.
"It would have been very difficult to maintain, we're not even talking about a competitive program, but just a football program in general," Freeman School District Superintendent, Kevin Kunz said.
The partnership led the team to a state title this past season.
John Krogstrand, with the South Dakota High School Athletic Association, says many rural communities across the state are coming to a similar solution.
"It's not that kids aren't going out for football, it's that a lot of our smaller districts just don't have the kids, so we find more and more creative ways to put football together," Krogstrand said.
While health concerns, such as concussions and C.T.E., certainly factor into the decreasing participation rates, Krogstrand says the South Dakota Athletic Association wants to ensure parents they are doing everything they can to keep the student athletes safe.
"We've been so progressive as far as contact limitations and things like that go. We're trying to do right, and trying to keep our kids safe," Krogstrand said.
Krogstrand says that South Dakota ranks 10th in the nation when it comes to following high school football safety guidelines.