The Black Hills Conference: In a League of it’s Own

Written by Groovy on Sunday, August 29th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

In recent years St. Thomas More has owned the Black Hills Conference. Time and time again teams would come along and challenge their stranglehold on league supremacy. This was evident two years ago when Belle Fourche won the league. The celebration in Belle Fourche, however, was short lived when the Cav’s traveled to Belle Fourche a week later and upset an undefeated and talented Bronc team on their way through the playoffs. The league wasn’t always dominated by one team. The 1980′s were a great decade to be a fan of the Black Hills Conference. The BHC was arguably one of the toughest and most balanced leagues in the state. No year was more evident of that then 1983. At that time the BHC was a multi-level league that had a AA team (AAA at the time), many A (AA at the time) teams , and even a class B school competing. You had the traditional powerhouse in Sturgis that was the largest school in the conference and was a consistent state qualifier in the state’s largest classification. It was not unusual for the Scoopers to beat RC Stevens and RC Central during the regular season or playoffs. You also had the large Class A schools in Belle Fourche and Spearfish who were very competitive and a talented Lead squad who could beat anyone on any given night. The surprise team of the league during this time frame was the Newell Irrigators. Newell had a good run of athletes and competed night in and night out. Newell didn’t win a lot of league games but after playing such a difficult league schedule they were a tough out during playoff time. During the 1983 season the Black Hills Conference had two teams playing for a state championship in Vermillion. Belle Fourche beat Milbank, who was coached by the legendary Kim Nelson, 20-13 and the following night the Scoops lost a difficult game to a good Brookings team. What many people don’t remember about that year, though, is that Newell lost to the Gregory Gorrilla’s in the semi-final game in the Class 11B playoffs. Think about it, if Newell had gotten into the State Championship game that year the BHC would have been represented by three teams. Pretty impressive when you consider it was an eight team league. Belle Fourche won the championship that year but only after getting beat 21-0 the previous year to Lennox. It took that learning experience of playing in the dome and understanding the magnitude of a state title in order for them to walk away with the trophy. Sturgis didn’t have that luxury. They played hard that night but lost to team that probably wasn’t as talented as they were. I’m sure that loss is a huge regret to many of the players on that team. As a young boy I remember watching Brett Burditt swallow up running backs from his middle linebacker position for the Sturgis Scoopers. I also remember watching Chris Gadsden run the option behind Jody Grubb churning out yard after yard. Or watching Bob Hannah run over would be tacklers from his tailback position for the Belle Fourche Broncs or seeing Lenny “Freight Train” Jones bust loose for the Golddiggers. Not only did the BHC have great players but they also had great coaches. Belle Fourche was led by Rick Swenson. Swenson is still the only coach to win a state championship for Belle Fourche. Down the road Mick Wysuph was starting his very successful coaching career in Sturgis that would eventually lead him to his own state championship where he led RC Stevens to a title in the 90′s. Dave Broadie, who coached for over thirty years in Douglas was another coaching legend that the league cultivated. He won his title in the mid 90′s. Those were wonderful days for the Black Hills Conference. I sometimes wonder with the addition of Spearfish getting back into the league starting in 2012 that maybe the league will find a better balance. I also wonder if maybe letting Sturgis back in would improve the other teams in the league as well. Maybe I’m just a little nostalgic but somedays I miss the old BHC.

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