Cindy and I stood in awe, wide-eyed as we, after making our way down a couple flights of concrete stairways, found ourselves standing near the turf of the DakotaDome at about this time of the year in 1983.
Neither of us had ever seen, let alone stood inside, such a structure. It was so HUGE. I mean, you could fit an entire football field inside of it.
Plus, it was WARM.
I was in my third year of editing the Tripp Star-Ledger in Tripp. Cindy and I had set up housekeeping in a small, cozy house in the community after exchanging vows 18 months earlier, in June 1982. We were still in the process of experiencing many “firsts” as a couple, and the DakotaDome visit was among them.
The Dome, much like our marriage, was still in its infancy, too. Its construction was completed in 1979; when Cindy and I visited it as we prepared to watch the Tripp Wildcats battle Castlewood for the 1983 9-B South Dakota Football Championship, the Dome was only four years old.
After one has spent an hour in such building that initially dazzled the senses, the adrenaline wears off and you start to notice things.
Yes, the DakotaDome was finished, per se, and was now hosting athletic events. But, in many ways, it seems like the contractors that put up the building simply decided to leave once the inflatable roof stayed up and permanent seating was in place.
Nearly every exterior and interior wall, it appeared, was constructed of concrete block. All of those were still their original gray; not a drop of paint covered them. There were other rough edges here and there. Unlike the walls with their consistent gray color, the seats were a kaleidoscope of red, yellow and I think some white and even some beige.
The concrete blocks were visible in the lower parts of the walls that were visible from the field, especially at the end zones. Above that concrete, however, was this strange brown stuff that appeared to be clinging to a good portion of the Dome’s interior. One could only conclude that this stuff was insulation and I’m guessing it’s still there. You just can’t see it today because there is a black, curtain-like cloth covering it all.
Despite these flaws, they became easier and easier to accept over the last four decades by the football families that sometimes traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles to watch their favorite players compete in one high school championship game every November.
As I mentioned earlier, the DakotaDome is WARM.
The Tripp Wildcats’ journey through the high school football playoff system seems so long ago, but time doesn’t erase one unforgettable fact: those extra games that determined eventually which teams would earn the chance to play in the DakotaDome all had to be played outdoors. In November. At night.
It was freezing outside, or more accurately, below freezing.
This year, because of remodeling that’s going on inside the DakotaDome, the football playoffs will be held at the nearly brand new Dana J. Dykehouse Stadium on the campus of South Dakota State University in Brookings.
I’ve heard some muttering here and there about this. There’s been talk that maybe this is the first of many moves SDSU and Brookings will make to try to take the high school football playoffs away from Vermillion.
I’ve heard chatter by some, too, who question if the playoffs had to be moved at all. The Vermillion Tanagers played all their home games in the Dome. So did the USD Coyotes football squad.
The remodeling of the Dome means presently there is no seating on its west side which used to be furnished with bleachers and was typically where students sat during Coyotes home games.
That means that right now, there are roughly 5,300 permanent seats available on the Dome’s east side.
Earlier this year, the South Dakota High School Activities Association worried that more than 5,300 people would be attracted to this week’s high school playoffs. That likely is a conclusion that could be debated further, but I think there likely are other good reasons for the Dome not to host the playoffs this year. The people who attend the Dome have to be properly cared for and that could become difficult with fewer restroom and concession areas than normal. (I’m not fully convinced that this is a huge problem, especially with the facilities of the Sanford Coyote Sports Center nearby, but I won’t belabor this point, either).
As I’m writing this during a clear autumn evening in Vermillion, it is 25 degrees here. The “real feel” temperature is 9 degrees.
The National Weather Service predicts that the high temperature in Brookings will be 33 degrees on Thursday and will get down to 22 degrees that night.
On Friday, Nov. 15, the weather prognosticators believe Brookings will warm up to a balmy 38 degrees. By Friday evening, the mercury will drop to about 28 degrees. None of these predictions include “real feel” temperature predictions, but everyone watching high school state championship football this will be really feeling the weather because they’ll be outside the whole time except for those moments, like during halftime, where maybe they can seek shelter somewhere inside the stadium or maybe run to their cars for a while or something.
Personally, I’m not worried about the football championships leaving our community. Vermillion had hosted them 37 years straight before this week. Our community and its volunteers know how to make this event operate with clockwork efficiency.
Next November, the DakotaDome renovations will be complete and I’m sure the entire state of South Dakota is going to be blown away by the improvements. The four decades old building will, in many ways, seem brand new. It will be much more comfortable. It will truly be a modern sporting arena; the perfect host, once again, for the state high school championships.
Did I mention the interior will still be WARM??