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WHERE ARE THEY NOW?       August 2008

Jerstad Makes the Move to S.D. State Politics

By Lacy Lee Baker

 

Many years ago, I was at the NFCA Division II Leadoff Clas- sic in Irving, Texas, and play had been postponed because of a winter weather advisory. It was cold, icy and not a good day for softball. Nor was it a good day for jogging, but on the way back to the hotel after checking out the fields, we passed NFCA Hall of Famer and Augustana Head Coach Sandy Jerstad, all bundled up and jogging in the frigid weather. Today, the retired coach has given up her jogging shoes, but she’s still an avid bicyclist and uses her bicycle to go door-to-door to see her constituents as a South Dakota state senator.

 

Three years after you retired from coaching in 2003, you ran for the South Dakota Senate as a Democrat. How did you get into that?

 

I’ve had an interest in politics my whole life, but had never seen myself as a candidate. When I was coaching, I had been asked several times to run but the thought of going to Pierre, South Dakota, in the winter where I would sit all day in meetings and meet lobbyists in the evening did not sound appealing. But then in 2006, I was at the Rebel Spring Games and I got another phone call urging me to run. Then I got encouraging calls from Tom Daschle (at that time a U.S. Senator from South Dakota) and Tim Johnson (current U.S. Senator from South Dakota). I talked to my three kids, prayed about it and thought, “I’ll give it my best shot and see what happens.”

 

And, you won!

 

I was really a long-shot, and in the last three weeks, it got pretty close. I won by 13 votes after a challenge. Since I had been a coach, I was used to working 24-7, so I got out there and worked hard. I think the incumbent took me for granted. I also think my softball career had given me good name recognition and good credibility.

 

Describe your district.

 

It's located in the southwest part of Sioux Falls and includes the town of Tea, South Dakota, and the surrounding countryside. It's 45 square miles, containing about 19,000 voters. South Dakota has been overwhelmingly Republican, but the Democrats have closed the gap by about five percent in recent years. Although most voters may be registered Republicans, they vote for the person and what he or she represents. 

 

What is your reaction to your first term?

 

I really enjoy the work. I enjoy helping people, and they email or call me with problems, and I can pick up the phone and get answers and some real help for folks. I’m on several committees and my main focus has been on long-term care and increase in teachers’ compensation. One thing I am very proud of is bringing a really good program for combating childhood obesity to the Sioux Falls School District. They are going to pilot the program this year.

 

Do you think coaching prepared you for a career in politics?

 

It absolutely did! It gave me wonderful experiences and taught me to be prepared for anything. As a coach, I also felt I was in the “Good Ole Boy” system sometimes since you had to fight for everything you got ... scholarships, bigger budget, a bigger piece of the pie. The South Dakota Senate has the lowest percentage of women in government among all states, so I work with a lot of men. Because of my coaching experience, I understand how they think, and I’m more effective because of that.

 

How did you get into coaching?

 

I never planned a career in coaching. When I graduated from St. Olaf College in 1966, women were either teachers or nuns. It was my husband Mark who volunteered me for the position after we moved to Sioux Falls for his job as the campus pastor for Augustana in 1977. We had a schedule of about 12 games, and a team of 24 players, many of whom had never played softball before. They had to buy their own uniforms, and our old bus wouldn’t go over 50mph. But, I discovered I loved it!

 

You won the NCAA Division II Softball National Champion- ship in 1991, and when you retired from Augustana in 2003, you had amassed 1,011 wins. What advice would you give younger coaches today?

 

The first thing is to keep learning your whole career. I would always go to the NFCA convention and go to as many other clinics as I could. I learned so much from other coaches, like Linda Wells who was at Minnesota at the time. I also learned a lot from my players.

 

Secondly, you always have to evaluate and look for things you can do better ... in terms of all facets of coaching, like fundraising, planning, scheduling, etc.

 

Thirdly, you have to have a balance between good disci- pline and fairness. It’s the leadership at the top that makes any organization successful. On a team, the head coach is at the top, and he or she can make or break the organization. In addition, the coach works in the athletic department and is part of that team.

 

And, speaking of balance, you have to have balance in life. You have to take care of yourself. A friend of mine was the volleyball coach at Augustana, and she worked 24-7. Last spring, she quit, just burned out from the experience. She was only 39 years old.

 

Through coaching, I learned that you have to be respectful of other people, and proud of yourself at the end of the day. One year, I was working at the Rebel Spring Games and a young coach was swearing at the officials and getting tossed. I knew she wasn't going to last too long in the profession, so I talked to her. I told her that life wasn't always fair, and whether you got the good calls or bad, you had to stay positive. I also told her that her actions were seen by others. Besides setting a bad example for her players, her unprofessional behavior would eventually hurt her career. When I saw her the next day, she had taken the words to heart. 

 

What do you think characterized you as a coach?

 

Besides always trying to better myself, I tried to create team unity. Also, recruiting was a strong point, and I was a relentless worker. I prided myself in getting the job done. We used to have to raise $15,000 to $20,000 a year to supplement the program ... you just did the things you had to do to be successful.

 

On the regret side, I wish I had made more friends during my coaching career and that I was more respectful of umpires. Since I have worked at the Rebel Spring Games, I've seen the umpires in a different light.

 

So, besides your political career, what do you do with  your time these days?

 

I’ve incorporated one of my hobbies – bicycling – into my political career. I’m currently in a reelection campaign, so I ride my bicycle door-to-door in my district. In fact, cycling has become a symbol of my campaign. I’ve also ridden on three Tour de Kota bike rides, which are 475 miles across South Dakota.

 

I play a lot of golf. I’ve been waiting my whole life to play golf! And, since retiring, I’ve had more time to spend with my grandchildren: two in Minneapolis – Sarah and Joe; and two in Sioux Falls – Elizabeth and Luke.

 

What's on the horizon for Sandy Jerstad?

 

I still teach at Augustana, and I’ve developed a coaching graduate assistant program there. Besides giving future coaches a master’s degree, it also gives them two years of coaching experience. The coaches at Augustana love the extra help. I’ve also been able to hire some of the students for my campaign, which gives them a part-time job with flexible hours.