Apr. 9—The All-Nations Football Conference is back on track.
The football league made up of Native American schools debuted with 12 charter teams in 2019 and it added four members for the 2020 season. But its momentum was halted when the 2020 fall season was canceled due to COVID-19.
The school's administrators were aggressive in scheduling a spring season and seven members will play this spring.
"I just think we lose a little momentum by not having anything this year," Lower Brule Superintendent Lance Witte said. "So by having a seven-team spring league, I think it kind of keeps the torch lit and keeps things moving forward. I think it's better just to get the season going again."
Lower Brule, Cheyenne-Eagle Butte, Marty, McLaughlin, Tiospa Zina, Omaha Nation (Neb.) and Winnebago (Neb.) will compete this spring. The regular season began on Friday and it will conclude on May 14. The four-team playoffs will start on May 21 and the championship game is set for May 27.
"We are really excited about it," Witte said. "Omaha Nation and Winnebago are involved this spring. They will be involved going forward as well. McLaughlin was able to get their board to agree to start football up this spring."
The league was intended to boost participation in its 12 members schools. It accomplished the goal in 2019 as the schools saw a 60% increase from 2018, while three schools fielded football programs for the first time.
Despite the 2020 fall season being wiped out, the league has attracted more schools for the future. In addition to the seven schools playing this spring, Red Cloud, Oelrichs, Takini, Little Wound, Crazy Horse, Crow Creek, St. Francis, Marty, Pine Ridge, Todd County and Standing Rock (N.D.) will round out the 18-team league.
In the fall, the teams will be split into two nine-man classes: 9A and 9B. They will play an eight-game schedule before the playoffs. The classes will be determined by average daily membership (ADM) and they will be on a two-year scheduling cycle, similar to the South Dakota High School Activities Association.
"If they (the schools) decide they want to continue or if they've got good numbers and they want to try to go back in the regular league, they would have that option to do that," Witte said. "I think we are on a good path forward to give teams options anyway."