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Pine Ridge Basketball Players Ride Nice Bus: Criticism Racist or Fiscally Responsible?

Every school and media outlet in South Dakota devotes too much time and resources to basketball. But a Watertown neighbor takes particular umbrage to find Pine Ridge spending money to send its girls to the state basketball tournament in comfort:

Hmm. Pine Ridge is the "poorest reservation in the country" (fact) " but yet it's girl's basketball team has a CHARTER BUS? Hmm.........I think their money could be going elsewhere [Hannah Schuster, Facebook post, March 2013].

A neighbor from Pine Ridge offers this photo of Pine Ridge's pretty nice bus:

...then challenges the racist post with a discussion of white privilege. Schuster responds with a statement that yes, some of her best friends are Indians, plus the remarkable historical claim that we Americans did not put the Indians in their bad socioeconomic situation; it was the French.

"Heidi" responds with another effort to try to get folks to put on their neighbor's sneakers:

Hannah, all I'm saying is, just consider how your post was hurtful. Imagine your own child on that bus, excitement and dreams in the air . . and here, thoughtless people try to take it away from them. Just have heart. And be grateful your children will most likely not have learned very hard and painful truths about life at only 15 years old that a lot of these kids have learned. And don't be that hard and painful truth to someone else's kid. That's all.

As I said . . white people, CHILL OUT ["An Open Letter to Hannah," Heidiroo, 2013.03.11].

(Full disclosure: my wife and I bought our daughter a fancy Razor scooter instead putting that money into her college fund.)

Heidi's racism critique is wholly appropriate. The only way we might defend a critique of Pine Ridge's chosen mode of transportation is if we discuss funding priorities. But if we go there, we have to go there on every school district. As long as any child is failing algebra or coming to school hungry, should any school be spending money on traveling around the state to play games? Is that the discussion South Dakotans want to have with their school board members (after they get done filling out their NCAA brackets)?

Related: The Madison Central School District is talking about spending $29,000 to replace the transmission and work on the diesel engine of the fancy activity bus it acquired four years ago so Madison's basketball players could have a "really nice ride."


  1. Matt Groce 2013.03.13

    That Madison Ride is really nice, and the Interp team takes it out for a spin every week in the fall.

  2. Nick Nemec 2013.03.13

    I have absolutely no knowledge of the Pine Ridge bus other than the photo posted but let me offer a theory. It's likely a used charter or commercial bus with close to a million miles on it. It was purchased for less than a new yellow bus would cost and was well maintained by the previous owner.

    A few years back my wife and I bought a used Buick with 20,000 miles on it for much less than the lowest priced new Ford or Chevy. It now has 200,000 miles on it and is running great. Sometimes used quality is cheaper and lasts longer than new frugality, and in the end is much more economical than a series of lesser quality new vehicles.

  3. Steve Sibson 2013.03.13

    Thanks for the post Cory...more proof that public education (actually indoctrination) is over funded.

  4. twu 2013.03.13

    In addition to agreeing with Nick's plausible--perhaps even likely--theory above, I would point out that Pine Ridge athletes, etc. are doing a lot of long haul miles on that bus. It may, in fact, be better financially for the school to use the "fancy" bus for drives like the 235 miles to play at Crow Creek or the 209 to play at Eagle Butte. This is a bus designed for long-haul driving, not a bus designed chiefly for the shorter hops picking folks up around a school district. And I'm pretty inclined to give students the comfiest ride possible when they're on a bus for 200+ miles one-way.

    I thought maybe the mileage alone would be a big difference for a school like Pine Ridge compared to a school like Watertown, but the total mileage traveled for away games for Watertown is 2616 compared to 2132 for Pine Ridge. Difference is, Watertown takes 11 away trips; Pine Ridge takes 7 (combining a bunch of games in a couple weekends in Rapid City and Spearfish). Sounds like a responsible financial choice to me on Pine Ridge's part, as they would need to add another 650+ miles to get to the locations they can play in one trip in the Civic Center or at BHSU. (For a little comparison, Madison's travel miles for their 11 away trips are 1086)

    Again, as Cory points out, this whole discussion mostly assumes that an investment in travel expenses for a basketball team is a reasonable school district expenditure (an assumption that seems open to debate), but it doesn't look to me like Pine Ridge's sleek black bus can be so easily defined as a money-waster over the yellow "cheese boxes."

  5. Chris Francis 2013.03.13

    Nick is absolutely right, older commercial buses can easily be found, many carriers dump their buses at a fixed mileage, even trying to sell direct to potential buyers, and sure, they don't cost much at all at first, until those constant and neglected repairs come to light. Also, Pine Ridge probably does a fair amount of distance travel, like many districts, these buses are quite a bit safer compared to traditional school buses, gain the extra axle and more surround seating with belts, and honestly, our kids should be in the safest possible bus, and if anything, the question should be, why are we putting our kids on buses that have a million miles racked up and in constant need of repair?

  6. Michael Black 2013.03.13

    The costs of running a bus pale in comparison with total budget of a school district. The question is: are the dollars put into athletics give enough return on invest to justify their existence?
    Activities make school fun for kids and that translates to a better experience.

  7. Heidi 2013.03.13

    Hi! So glad I checked the stats on my posts and now know you guys exist! I feel at home now, hah! I actually live in Aberdeen and what I didn't disclose in my post is that I do work on the reservations in the Great Plains region. I love my job and the people I serve. People like Hannah just rub me the wrong way and sad to say I "hear" people like her often around here and I was finally fed up with it. Her post was in no way trying to bring to light any sort of fiscal irresponsibility. It was just plain mean spirited.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.13

    T! Very useful numbers comparing Watertown's and Pine Ridge's travel budgets. Pine Ridge has some long, lonely drives to get to its games.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.13

    Michael, no argument: we need to run cost-benefit analysis on all school expenditures. The costs are clear: time and money. Deciding the benefits, however, is fraught with value assumptions.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.13

    And Heidi, we're glad to have you here, doing some good for our reservation neighbors and calling out prejudice when you see it. Keep up the good work.

  11. grudznick 2013.03.13

    It looks like a great bus. And it's wonderful they have it, those kids shouldn't have to ride on some old yellow bumblebus for hours and hours. What's the beef I ask?

    PS: I blame the French for a lot of stuff.

  12. Roger Elgersma 2013.03.14

    Now that they have the means to get there, they should take a lot of students for long drives so that the world can see that very poor Natives are actually quite nice people and so their kids can see what it looks like to not be in poverty. They are smart enough to not assume that poverty is the worst thing in the world since they are capable of being good people even though poor. I grew up with an outhouse when preschool and we were ok good people.
    They could use that bus to reduce prejudice in the world. If I remember correctly, there was once a Mr. Thorpe whose Dad told him to show the world what an Indian can do and how good they could be. That would be a very good tradition for them. Well at least THEY know that already.

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