It’s August, which means high school football is once again right around the corner. For the All Nations Football Conference, they’re coming off their biggest year yet in the fall of 2021, and there’s excitement surrounding this season as well.
“We started back in ’19 with twelve teams in our conference. That was a great year, everyone was excited – especially with the participation numbers where they were,” said Lance Witte, Superintendent of Lower Brule. “Kind of the reinvigoration of football in Indian Country, and people were excited, and then we transitioned to the second year, and we were looking at eighteen teams and unfortunately covid hit.”
COVID postponed the 2020 fall season for the newly constructed high school football league, which turned into a condensed 2021 spring season with a reduced number of teams. However, the All Nations Football Conference turned right around in the fall of 2021 and had a season as well, which showcased teams from South Dakota, Nebraska, and North Dakota.
“We had eighteen teams and I think we had a very successful year as a conference, ended up with two divisions, we had a 9A and 9B,” Witte explained. “There was quite a bit of conversation when we made that move from twelve to eighteen whether we’d go 11-man or 9-man, especially we were thinking some of the bigger schools like Pine Ridge and Todd County would have a preference to maybe go 11-man. At the end of the day, everybody was completely satisfied with going 9-man.”
Last season, Tiospa Zina defeated McLaughlin 40-18 in the Class 9B championship game, while Winnebago (Nebraska) defeated Toddy County 62-12 for the Class 9A title.
One key adjustment that the league is taking this year is the addition of divisions. There are still two classes, but teams will play division opponents first, regardless of class, and then fill out the remaining games of their eight-game schedules with a few out of division opponents. Divisions are organized based on location, and the idea is that teams will save on travel costs and travel time by playing teams who are closer.
Cheyenne-Eagle Butte/Tiospaye Topa
Standing Rock (North Dakota)
Omaha Nation (Nebraska)
At the end of the day, the goal of the All Nations Football Conference was to increase participation in the sport of football amongst the native schools in the area. For those who work with the league, the success of these last four years is encouraging to say the least.
“I think our dream and vision was to increase participation in our tribal school’s football programs. We were hopeful other schools would get involved. I don’t think we ever felt we needed to have eighteen teams, but we just wanted to have a better experience” stated Witte. “I was encouraged when some of these schools, like Todd County and Pine Ridge, some of our larger schools were inclined to join us, but when they decided to, I was quite encouraged – we must be doing something right.”
Each team will play an eight-game schedule. Eight teams from each class will qualify for the playoffs with quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship games on the docket for the post-season. The championship games will take place on Friday November 4th at the Dakota Dome in Vermillion.
To view team schedules for both all nations classes, and the seven classes of SDHSAA sanctioned football, click here.