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Special Olympics state basketball tournament shortened to one-day event due to weather

Mar. 21—MITCHELL — Originally slated for two days, pending inclement weather has condensed the timeline for the Special Olympics South Dakota state basketball tournament to one day.

But the fun and games will go on, starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at gymnasiums across Mitchell.

"We're excited to bring another state event back to Mitchell," said Jill Kvanli, marketing manager for Special Olympics South Dakota. "The community has been such a welcoming place for our Special Olympics athletes and staff members, as well. It's been an awesome experience for everyone."

Each of the past two years, Mitchell played host to Special Olympics South Dakota's Fall Classic, which includes softball and bocce tournaments. The most recent Fall Classic in September 2023 featured more than 700 athletes.

In its two-day configuration, Special Olympics South Dakota expected the state basketball tournament, which also includes a basketball skills competition and a cheerleading competition, to be among the largest events it has hosted. The organization's sports director, Haley Zerr, told the Mitchell Republic earlier this month that approximately 70 teams and over 1,000 registered participants were expected.

Even with the weather-shorted schedule, Zerr said there had only been one group of approximately 20 people that said it wouldn't be in attendance.

"We've had to scale it back a little bit, but teams from across the state are still going to travel even for a one-day tournament," Zerr said on Thursday. "There's a lot of anticipation for all of our athletes getting together and being able to compete and spend time with one another."

"We did not want to cancel the event," Kvanli added. "... It was a bit of a scramble the past 24 hours, but we were able to pull it off."

The condensed schedule still features nearly 90 games on the schedule, divided between courts at Mitchell High School, Mitchell Middle School and Dakota Wesleyan University's Avera Sports and Wellness Complex and Christen Family Athletic Center. Games begin at 8:30 a.m., with a new slate of contests every 45 minutes until the final set at 4 p.m.

"Having the community come out and our athletes be able to showcase their talents is just amazing," Kvanli said. "... The DWU men's and women's basketball teams are a big part of this, too. They're the ones reffing the games and running the scorebook and scoreboard. Our athletes looking up to (the DWU student-athletes) and interacting with them, that's huge; that's what they look forward to."