STM: THE NEW YORK YANKEES OF THE BLACK HILLS CONFERENCE?

Written by SportsBuzzard 1 on Sunday, November 14th, 2010 at 5:35 am

Early this football season Groovy had a great post on the history of the Black Hills Conference (BHC).  As noted by Groovy, there have been teams come and go through the history of the conference. Some teams come and go and come back again, for example, the Spearfish Spartans. Rivalries follow with the changes in the conference. No doubt, the Spearfish/Belle Fourche rivalry will once again be rekindled now that the Spartans are back in the BHC fold.  That rivalry is largely driven by geography—-the two towns have many common families, are of similar size, and so it is natural that a rivalry ensues.

I have witnessed over the past decade or so a new phenomenon in the Black Hills Conference——a rival all conference schools can embrace—the St. Thomas More (STM) Cavaliers.  STM is a relative newby to the BHC, having joined the conference as a member in 1996.  When I first heard that STM petitioned to join the conference I thought the Cavs were insane, as STM was largely uncompetitive in many sports and were then classified two classes lower than then-BHC schools Spearfish and Sturgis. Hats off to the ADs during that era for accepting STM into the conference, as it has been a boon for all concerned. Most notably, the addition of STM helped expose the BHC to the Rapid City metro market. That exposure, in my opinion, has been good for the entire conference.

For many years STM remained uncompetitive with the upper-tier BHC teams in most sports, and were routinely thumped in the marquee sports of football and basketball. STM had never beaten the Belle Fourche Broncs in football until 2001, and even then it took a memorable individual performance from Eric Barker to squeak by the Broncs that season during the regular season. Barker was a home-grown STM athlete that went on to play football at Chadron State. It was around the Eric Barker-era that STM began to first compete routinely with the top BHC teams in boys basketball, and as mentioned above, in football.

Fast forward to present day. STM has arguably the best overall athletic program in the BHC, as the Cavaliers generally are at or near the top of the BHC each season in football, boys basketball, girls track, volleyball, girls soccer and girls basketball. So what has changed since the Cavaliers first joined the BHC some 14 years ago? I suspect some of the changes have been by STM’s own design and some have not, let me explain.

I mentioned Belle Fourche several times above, but I have not mentioned the Lead-Deadwood Golddiggers. Why? Well, the miners quit digging for gold in Lead in 2002 when Barrick Gold decided to cease operations at the Homestake Mine. With that decision came a flooded mine and continued hopes of a Neutrino Laboratory, and an exodus of people and students from Lead-Deadwood.  The once dominant Golddigger athletic program (football runners up in Class 11A in 2001 and 2002) has fallen on hard times of late. That change created an opening at the athletic top of the BHC, particularly in football.

In 1998 the Spearfish Spartans and Sturgis Scoopers were voted out of the BHC by the conference ADs, and subsequently left for the greener pastures of the Greater Dakota Conference.  Interestingly, once Douglas moved from Class A to Class AA no similar action was taken by the conference ADs. The GDC pastures have proven unfertile, and as alluded to above, Spearfish will soon return to the friendly confines of the BHC. Bottom line—the closure of the Homestake Mine and the departure of Spearfish and Sturgis created a power vacuum of sorts in BHC athletics. STM, somewhat quietly at first, filled that vacuum. In my mind a watershed event for STM was the arrival of a mild, unassuming kid named Nathan Jacobson. In basketball circles in the mid 2000’s in Rapid City it was well known that Jacobson was the ‘real deal’. Was he Louie Krogman? No. Could he compete with Louie? Yes. What surprised some people, including me, was how good Jacobson was at football in addition to basketball.

I say that Jacobson’s presence at STM was a watershed because he transferred from the Rapid City public school system when he was in 9th grade to attend STM. Jacobson, who now plays basketball for the School of Mines, went on to have multiple Dome appearances with the Cavs and helped STM claim two state basketball championships. Jacobson’s arrival helped cement STM at the top of the BHC in boys basketball and football, and the Cavs have remained there since.

While Nathan Jacobson helped the STM programs significantly their success can also be attributed somewhat to location. The forerunner to STM was St. Martin’s Academy. In fact, I am a graduate of the ‘Academy.’ St. Martin’s closed its doors in 1991 and for the first few years STM operated out of the basement of National American University. Shortly thereafter the decision was made to locate a new campus for STM at their current location on Fairmont Boulevard, just across the street from Rapid City Regional Hospital. I contend that that location has been a boon to STM, as it has incredibly high visibility within Rapid City——anyone who visits the hospital, whether it be the MD’s on a daily basis or a patient cannot but notice STM on the hill across the street. While St. Martin’s Academy was a academic good school, it was buried in the hills on the outside of Rapid City. Many Rapid City residents didn’t even know St. Martin’s Academy existed. Like I mentioned above, St. Martin’s was good academically, but was not known for their athletic prowess (that’s being nice, the Ravens were often pretty horrid at the few sports they played). From a purely athletic standpoint the current STM location, I believe, has helped present the school as an option to Rapid City student athletes in a way the St. Martin’s location never did.

The title of this post is ‘The New York Yankees of the Black Hills Conference.’ The title was chosen in part to get your attention, and part to address fan attitudes toward STM. If you have ever been to a game in Belle Fourche or Newell (add to this list the current or former BHC teams) when it is announced, for example, that Winner has beaten STM in football, what happens? Loud applause by the local crowd, and often a standing ovation occurs. STM is universally rooted against across the entire BHC.

I have asked fans about the fan reaction described above and I get various responses. Some say it is the bad sportsmanship exhibited by the STM players and fans that causes the reaction. While STM has its share of boorish fans and players that exhibit poor sportsmanship I am not convinced that they are any better or worse than the rest of the BHC when it comes to their behavior. Rather, I think the response comes from the perception that when you are winning and bad sportsmanship occurs it is amplified in the eyes of those on the losing end. 

Another response I hear when I ask the question why BCH fans don’t like the Cavs is that they are upset by STM recruiting their town’s players. Pehaps the George Herman Ruth, Jr. analogy holds somewhat here? The transfer of players was facilitated roughly 10 years ago when the SDHSAA adopted their current open enrollment policy, but the reality is that the transfer of students from a public school to a private school, and vise versa, was largely not impacted by that policy, it was just formalized it a bit. The transfer of players between Rapid City Central or Rapid City Stevens and private schools in Rapid City is nothing new, it even happened when St. Martin’s was open back in my era. Rather, I think the change has been the increase in the overall number of athletes (and with it the fan discussion) that transfer between all the Rapid City schools in recent years. A newer development, and this is probably the bigger rub for the fans in the Black Hills Conference, is the transfer of students from the other BHC schools to STM. Ask anyone from Belle Fourche or Custer about this topic and expect to get an earful. This brings me back to the title of this post—–the Red Sox have never quite gotten over the exodus of Babe Ruth to the Yankees have they?  I would be remiss if I gave you the impression of the transfer of players between BHC schools was unique to STM. During the heyday of Custer boys basketball players routinely transferred to Custer from other towns, and although less common, still transfer to Custer to join their Throws program.

The other common reason I hear from conference fans for the distain for STM arises from the final scores of games, for example, this season in football STM beat Douglas by a score of 72-6. The question that is asked is is such a complete throttling really necessary? Furthermore, why not put in the JVs earlier and get them experience? Collin Boechler covered this topic early in the football season. Once again when you are on the throttling side of such a score it only adds fuel to the distaste for STM. The justification I usually hear from the STM faithful is that their ultimate goal is to compete for state championships and they need maximum playing time at the varsity level to get ready for that goal. A justification for this argument ooccured this year with the Harding County Ranchers football team—-the Ranchers had only one regular season game that was not stopped by the mercy rule.  There simply was not adequate west river competition or quality playing time to prepare the Ranchers for the final game against Hanson in the Dome.

A final aspect that has helped fuel the rivalry is that of enrollment and classification. In the STM Barker-era the Cavs were Class 11B in football. The then BHC football heavyweights, Belle Fourche and Lead, were in Class 11A. In other words, STM did not get in the way of the Broncs and ‘Diggers come playoff time. Starting with the realignments in 2007 STM joined Belle and Lead-Deadwood in Class 11A, and STM and Belle were on an annual collision course in the playoffs. The next round of realignments will come into affect next fall, and it is quite probably that STM and Lead-Deadwood will be in Class 11B and Belle will remain in Class 11A. However, with the new seeding format the once almost guaranteed BHC spot in the Dome in Class 11A is now a thing of the past.

One thing is certain, STM won’t forever be the chief rival for the Black Hills Conference, as these rivalries are always cyclical. I suspect the return of the Spearfish Spartans will cause the Bronc and Golddigger fans to renew their former rivalries with the Spartans, and the Red Cloud Crusaders, always a force in basketball, will give the BHC teams a new quality foe to reckon with on a regular basis.

15 Responses to “STM: THE NEW YORK YANKEES OF THE BLACK HILLS CONFERENCE?”

  1. sports nut Says:

    Nice write up there Buzzard.. Like the Yankees your either loved or hated..So STM falls right into the same mode..
    One thing STM has had in it’s favor is winning.. Winning will draw some good athletes that might not want to go to a 11AA school knowing they can’t win in that division.. I can see where that has helped STM some and probably continue to do so.. At least until the likes of the RCC and the RCS teams start winning at a more successful rate.. Especially in football..
    Like you said the seeding might have stuck a burr under the saddle of the STM football success until they do get as good as the teams out East..

  2. Joe Says:

    The nice thing about STM’s state-wide power is that it gives publicity to the BHC year in and year out. It also benefits in drawing attention to those schools that are having the “once every 10 years” seasons (Hill City 2009, Belle 2010, Custer this year).

    The ultimate problem is not that STM is in the conference, its that they are in the district and region of these schools.

  3. Sod Buzzard Says:

    And along these lines, as a Chicago Cubs fan, I say go Hill City football!

  4. Silk52 Says:

    Why do you not mention that during that Douglas game their coach was asked if he wanted to use 11A rules he declined and said that their would be no mercy rule, that his boys would play out the game no matter what the score. He commented that his players had not been scrimmaging very hard in practice and having live bodies across the line was exactly what they needed. Is this STM’s fault or is it the Douglas coach trying to give his players an opportunity to learn something you can’t teach in practice. Why bust STM’s chops about that when it is another coaches call.

    Also, kids transfer for reasons that are none of anyone’s business. A kid that left STM after his freshman year for another program came to our house after training camp and said “my new camp was a Disney vacation compared to what I did last year at St. Martins for those 3 days”. This particular kid liked what HE PERCEIVED to be a less demanding program. But yet another kid who left a public school was in my living room again after camp saying “you guys don’t know how lucky you are to have the opportunity to stay out at that monastary and train, it’s amazing how much work you guys put in, how close everyone is and how much even I as the new kid feel a part of something – I love it.”

    So two kids moving around looking for a system that works for them and their own personality and their own competition level. Both kids and both families hopefully happier in the end and to heck with anyone who would deny either of these kids those moments just because of geography.

  5. TR Dunn Says:

    one big difference with your comparison is that the yankees win championships. outside of boys baseketball, STM falls short. their dominance in the BHC can also correlate to how pathetic the competition is…. i would say they are closer to the Buffalo Bills, beat up on the weak competition in their division/conference and get crushed when it matters……..

  6. SportsBuzzard 1 Says:

    TR:

    Be nice!

    SB1

  7. SportsBuzzard 1 Says:

    Silk:

    Geez, the post went on far too long already, plus I knew you would be more than ready to bust some chops, namely mine…….Yikes!

    SB1

  8. Sod Buzzard Says:

    Silk – what do you serve at your recruiting dinners?

    : )

    (just kidding)
    (kin

  9. Silk52 Says:

    Sod, you and anyone with and SB in front of their blogger moniker are welcome at my dinner table or in the basement for some Black Ops with a plethora of fragrant teenage boys anytime, I will bring snacks and drinks to you on a regular basis. I willingly feed cobblers, raiders, wildcats, broncs, spartans, bison, rough riders, eagles and knights when they pass through town and I have not one recruit to my name probably because I do the listening to the kids and not the talking or preaching, they have plenty of people in their lives for that.

  10. buzzard32 Says:

    Nice post! I would like to add my 2 cents! I think that all of us really need to take a long look at who we really are. Haven’t most of us been recruited at one time or another?

    Read this post and I will tell you who I am! First I must say this I bleed COBBLER RED! Heck my mother was the lady who drew the Cobbler mascot! NO KIDDING! My grandparents were Cobblers. My parents were Cobblers and all of my siblings were Cobblers. I was a member of the 1984 Central Cobbler STATE CHAMPION Wrestling team! I played football for the Cobblers! I watched every State A basketbal tournament that the Cobblers were involved in from the time I was in the first grade until I was a senior in high school, including their 1980 State Champion win! There is a saying around Central circles and it goes like this “Once a Cobbler Always A Cobbler” ….. that being said I must admit my child does not go to Central he goes to STM. It was a tough decision to send him there in 3rd grade but probably not quite as hard as a good friend of mine who was a TWO time STATE CHAMPION wrestler for Stevens as his children now wrestle for Central and I may add that he looks great in RED!

    I would also like to add for SODS entertainment. My household consists of a very nice woman from WINNER, SD…..She was a heck of an athelete in her day. She held the Winner high school 100 yard dash record for many years. She also played volleyball and basketball for Winner. She had to quit because of an injury to her knee in her junior year of high school. To take this post further one of my future step sons was part of WINNERS last STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPION TEAM.

    As stated above my son goes to STM! He plays football, basketball, and Tennis! We all wear blue on Fridays even those who would normally wear purple and gold! As a matter of fact last year we set with STM for their dome game and with Winner when the WARRIORS won a STATE CHAMPIONSHIP! I was in the front row! In fact if you watch the you tube video you will see a kid with a CAVALIER sweatshirt on cheering the WARRIORS on!

    While I am posting I would like to add I don’t give a crap what people may think about moral victories….As a parent they are ways that I help my kids who love the games they play deal with losses that life deals to them….I have held my son while he cries over a stupid loss have you????????

    Rivalries are fun but sometimes they get out of hand and it is mostly the fault of adults who can’t grow up. My advice is to let the kids play where they want to play! I wish you all a great day!

  11. Sod Buzzard Says:

    Winner and Kevin bacon both hold six degrees of seperation from nearly everyone. Nice post buzzard32, but I don’t ever recall seeing you at any buzzard family reunions.

    I was at STM’s dome game last year, and I was one one of the few ones not wearing blue that was cheering them on. STM has worked it’s way to being a top notch program, but have undoubtedly stepped on a few toes along the way. And yes, rivalry drives emotion.

  12. Birdman Says:

    STM actually competed right off the bat in boys basketball, winning the BHC conference tournament in its first season in the conference by defeating a couple of Class AA teams (Sturgis and Spearfish) and perennial power Custer for the title at the Civic Center.

    To leave that first season of BHC competition out (Hollenbeck’s first) as a significant factor in STM’s BHC success is missing a huge point. That basketball team — and the 1995 football team that was beaten by eventual state champ Bon Homme in the Class 11B semifinals — went a long, long way in the development of both programs.

    People seem to forget that Joe Elkjer and Tom Mousel were both named Rapid City High School Male Athlete of the Year in 1996 and 1997. With the exception of about three or four seasons, the Cavaliers have always been good in basketball.

  13. SportsBuzzard 1 Says:

    Birdy:

    Points well taken. Should probably throw Nick Wald into the mix here too.

    What took you so long to set the historical record straight?

    SB1

  14. Birdman Says:

    I just missed the post until the other day.

  15. Raider612 Says:

    Great post. I transferred to St. Martin’s from Dakota my freshman year, not due to any athletic prowess, but my prowess at getting into detention. Despite being Catholic, I had never heard of St. Martin’s until my parents threatened and then succeeded in sending me there. After behaving for a year, I was allowed to transfer to Stevens but I always kept some layalty to SMA. When we would play O’Gorman, I always wondered what it would be like if SMA was half as successful athletically. My senior year, SMA started football, I believe in 9 man. That year I went with my friends from freshman year to see St. Martin’s varsity boys’ basketball team play Central’s JV. At that time there was nothing to suggest they would ever be a rival to the public schools, in fact they were barely a rival to Rapid City Christian.

    My youngest brother followed in my footsteps, transferring to Catholic school as a freshman, although by that time it was STM. One day during the State AA tournament Mitchell was practicing at the National College campus that STM was using. My brother overheard the Kernel players seeing banners displayed in the gym and asking “Who are the St. Thomas More Cavaliers?” I don’t think they would ask that question today.

    Stevens had some great teams when I was there(not due to me), Central and Douglas were no slouches either. It’s been great to see STM become the competitive program it is. As intense as the Stevens-Central rivalry is, it was cool to have another nearby rival in Douglas when we played them in basketball 2 times a year(or 3 for the brief time they were in AA back in 90). They should all use some non conference games to play each other every year. I’d love to see the Raiders play STM in their Ravens throwback jerseys!

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