Jul. 10—Starting in 2021, eight is old enough to play for a state baseball title for some communities in South Dakota.
For the first time, South Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars is sponsoring a state baseball tournament for boys and girls under the age of 8. The tournament started Friday and runs through Sunday at the Center youth baseball field, located approximately seven miles north of Salem.
The tournament was open enrollment to the entire state and any boy or girl who hasn't reached the age of nun by January 1 can register. Eight teams have signed up for the three-day tournament, which will provide the youngest organized baseball teams a chance to win a state championship trophy.
South Dakota VFW has been hosting baseball tournaments since 1959, beginning with ages 13 through 16.
A parent of a Flandreau player within the tournament said her son was "super excited" to participate in the tournament because his older brother also has.
While VFW has expanded its range of participating ages over the years, both older and younger, the chance to expand offering baseball to younger players was in line with the organization's mission of growing baseball and having competitive tournaments.
"At the age of 8 and under, this is for their experience and learning how to play as a team, but we're not a participation organization," South Dakota VFW Baseball Chairman Danny Frisby-Griffin said.
"We have winners and losers. This will help them deal with that, which is a part of life," he added.
The 8U division state bracket is new to baseball in South Dakota, but not new to youth sports in the state. In youth wrestling, individual state championships are awarded to children as young as five or six years old, while the South Dakota Golf Association sponsors Junior Tour events for children ages 9 and under. USA Softball of South Dakota begins sanctioning state tournaments at age 10 and under, while the South Dakota Youth Soccer Association awards state championships starting at the under-13 age bracket.
Platte-Geddes assistant coach Jarod Meyerink, who also coached in the I-90 Little League, feels it's great for to begin sports this young.
"It helps with their coordination, they learn teamwork, they get to stay active, and they make friends."
On Friday and the beginning of Saturday, the tournament will be arranged in a pool play bracket. Teams will play one another and their win-loss record will determine their seeding in the championship bracket. Championship play will not begin until Saturday evening, depending on field availability.
The first-, second-, and third-place teams will receive a trophy and the top-four teams will receive individual medals.
Frisby-Griffin said the tournament is important for kids this age to develop skills that focus on team priorities, rather than individual goals.
"This is where kids start building team concepts," he said. "They'll learn how to work together, how to work out conflicts, and learn that they're better when they play together."
While the tournament is open enrollment to the entire state and any boy or girl who hasn't reached the age of 9 by Jan. 1 can register, there are some unique rules.
A pitching machine will pitch to all batters throughout the tournament, fed by an adult with the speed between 39 and 42 mph with the pitches coming in from 42 feet away. Ten defensive players will be on the field, including four in the outfield. The defensive player listed as the pitcher cannot leave the pitching circle until the ball is hit.
On offense, the batter will receive a maximum of six pitches and must swing at three of them. If the ball makes contact with the pitching machine, the batter is awarded first base and runners will advance one base accordingly. Teams may only bunt a maximum of two times per inning, but the fair ball arc is a 20-foot arc drawn from first baseline to third baseline, meaning the ball has to be hit outside the arc to be playable by the defense.
Runners cannot lead-off or steal bases. A team can only score a maximum of five runs per inning and the game will be called if the opposing team is mathematically eliminated from scoring enough runs to tie or win the game.
Frisby-Griffin said the veterans brought this opportunity to South Dakota as a way to invest in the youth and build a culture of sportsmanship.