What is now known as Sanford Sports got a huge boost 10 years ago with the construction of the Sanford Fieldhouse and Sanford Pentagon. It’s a boost that has served as a launching pad for Sanford’s efforts to promote active lifestyles in communities all over the Upper Midwest.
There wasn’t anything quite like these two structures in the region when they appeared on the landscape in northwest Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The result was that both kids and adults got opportunities to do things they hadn’t in the past.
In the years since then this has led to more opportunities both in Sioux Falls and throughout the Sanford network. The scope of community benefits is expanding all the time, too, with Sanford now established as a research leader in the prevention of injuries and in quicker and more complete recoveries.
‘A really strong sports town’
Ten years ago, it may have been as simple as sports fans being able to see major-college basketball programs face each other. Or, it may have been a motivated 12-year-old wanting to become a better athlete.
Beyond the boundaries of the Sports Complex, Sanford Sports now has established facilities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and California that attract more than 1 million athletic contacts a year.
The Sanford Sports traffic will increase with the addition of the Sanford Diamonds and Sanford Crossing, a sprawling 18-field addition with lights that includes 1.7 million square feet of outdoor FieldTurf.
“I’m very proud that Sanford took a stand and said it wanted to invest in sports because it would be good for the community,” said Steve Young, president of Sanford Sports. “Now we’re seeing the effect of that – when we have these fields here and we can host tournaments and bring people together, not just from Sioux Falls, but from this region.”
There were dozens of reasons for taking advantage of the opportunities presented at the Complex when it first opened. Ten years later there are many more. For the benefit of the community, its presence continues to evolve at a promising pace.
“All you have to do is say ‘Sports Complex’ and you know exactly what it means,” said Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken. “I remember when the concept was first birthed and it was like ‘What? We’re going to build what out there? And will this work?’ It was kind of a Field of Dreams and then if you build it, they will come. And it’s just exploded in the last 10 years and I think that has happened because this community is a really strong sports town.”
Sanford Diamonds and Sanford Crossing
It’s a sports legacy that began as “Sioux Valley High Performance Training” tucked into the back of what was then the Sioux Valley Wellness Center 25 years ago. It kicked into a higher gear with the addition of the Fieldhouse and Pentagon 15 years later and has never stopped growing since then.
Sanford Diamonds and Sanford Crossing are the most recent major enhancements at the Complex. Made possible by a portion of a $300 million gift from Denny Sanford that was announced in March 2021, the new fields are expected to attract an additional 1 million visitors to Sioux Falls over the next five years via increased participation in tournaments, training programs, and youth and adult league games in baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and other activities.
“The economic impact will be huge,” Young said. “If I’m a business owner, I’m excited to be partnering in this region and in this neighborhood. If I’m a downtown owner, I’m excited because I’m bringing in that many more people to this community.”
Home of the Skyforce
What was once flat farmland on the prairie in Minnehaha County has been transformed.
The Pentagon, the 160,000-square-foot centerpiece of the Complex, is host to youth basketball and volleyball teams and tournaments throughout the year. It includes the 3,250-seat Heritage Court that is host to the Sioux Falls Skyforce NBA G League professional basketball franchise, as well as the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Augustana University.
The facility is symbolic of Sanford’s presence in the sports community in that it provides opportunities for a great variety of sports interests. It includes fans, professional athletes, elite amateur athletes as well as young athletes just learning about the benefits of getting involved in sports.
Mike Heineman has seen the Pentagon’s five sides from several angles. As president of the Skyforce, the G League basketball team for the Miami Heat of the NBA, he has a vested interest in the arena the franchise plays and practices in. He’s also a father whose children use the Sports Complex facilities.
“This building has really helped us solidify ourselves in the community, kept us around and helped us flourish,” said Heineman, a Sioux Falls resident whose family has been part of the Skyforce management team for three decades. “It helped us create our relationship with the Miami Heat. That was a huge deal for our franchise.”
Multiple sports attract more fans
Since the Sports Complex became a reality, the area now includes:
- The Sanford Sports Complex Acute Care Clinic
- Scheels Ice Plex
- Huether Family Match Pointe indoor tennis facility
- Power & Grace Gymnastics
- Great Shots
- South Dakota Junior Football
- Rugby field
- Sioux Falls hockey headquarters
- Summit League headquarters
- Sioux Falls Storm headquarters
- Blue Rock Bar and Grill
- Fairfield Inn & Suites
- Comfort Inn & Suites (opening in the spring)
The entire complex now includes more than $150 million in capital investments that was spurred on in part by establishing a tax increment financing district in 2012. It has since proven to be a wise decision on the part of the city.
“Development drives development,” TenHaken said. “When developers and businesses see investments happening in the community, they see action and when they see spaces that have been activated like the Sports Complex has, they want to be a part of that.”
Peacock Classic a title game rematch
Assessing the history of the Sanford Sports Complex after 10 years goes well beyond recording when the buildings appeared and how much ground they cover. In measuring the impact of the Pentagon, host site to a series of marquee college basketball games over the last decade, the walls can talk.
On Dec. 18, 2020, the Pentagon was host to a national television audience when No. 1 Gonzaga faced No. 3 Iowa. Gonzaga’s 99-88 win was a highlight in the Pentagon’s history but just one of many games that have attracted national interest.
The inaugural Peacock Classic matched No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 14 Gonzaga on Dec. 2 in a rematch of the 2021 NCAA title game. Baylor’s 64-63 victory at the sold-out Pentagon is the most recent example of the kind of quality basketball that shows up at the Pentagon on a yearly basis.
The Peacock Classic streamed exclusively on Peacock with participating players getting the opportunity to partner with event sponsors to promote the game through student athlete Name, Image and Likeness deals.
“The hospitality was amazing,” said Scott Drew, Baylor head coach after the win. “I love this atmosphere. We’re building a new gym ourselves that’s going to be somewhat similar to this. I can’t wait for that, because (the packed-in environment) is a big home-court advantage.”
Positive effects on communities
Sanford Sports’ future, a future that essentially began at the Sports Complex, promises to expand geographically, but also in the roles this health care institution can positively affect communities.
Beth Ann Nord of Grand Forks, North Dakota, can vouch for the positive benefits associated with a Sanford presence. Nord, the mother of three children, was introduced to Sanford Sports via Sports Performance facilities that opened in Grand Forks in September of 2021.
In short, there are parts of her life and that of her family’s that are different now.
“I knew some of the trainers who were going to be working there,” Nord said. “I heard about how they were going to run their classes and what they were going to offer. I got my son, a middle-schooler, involved, too. He plays hockey and football, and he loves the workouts. When I saw what they were doing and how they were going to run the business, I really thought it would be a good fit.”
Her instincts were correct on that count. She now takes weekly boxing lessons from Anthony Morando, Sanford Sports’ general manager in Grand Forks, as well as regular fitness classes.
“I feel like I’m getting a higher level of fitness since Sanford came to Grand Forks,” Nord said. “Sanford Sports has been around for a while, not in Grand Forks, but other places and they have a great reputation. It’s a trusted place to be.”
Commitment to research
A future that includes more facilities in more communities will also include delivering better care to those living active lifestyles. The same philosophy that was the driving force behind building the Pentagon and Fieldhouse is present for providers like Ben Noonan, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in the Fargo-Moorhead area who specializes in anterior cruciate ligament injuries in young athletes.
As part of that, he is also involved in research. Because he’s a team physician for Moorhead High School sports and also a team physician for North Dakota State, he gets to see a lot of athletes dealing with those kinds of injuries.
“It’s a very rewarding population to work with but also a very challenging population,” Dr. Noonan said. “They’re not just trying to get back to walking around, they’re trying to get back to competing at some of the highest levels possible.”
Dr. Noonan’s research, part of a Sanford ACL initiative, aims to improve the human condition as it applies to ACL injuries. It can involve collecting normative data from healthy athletes that can then provide a baseline for determining full recovery. The initiative is also involved in assessing surgical techniques used, rehab options, biomechanical testing after ACL surgery and finding new ways to prevent injuries.
“We’re trying to tackle the problem of ACL injuries from start to finish,” Dr. Noonan said.
At the same time Dr. Noonan and other Sanford orthopedic surgeons are caring for injured athletes they’re also doing what they can to improve those efforts on all fronts. It’s the kind of commitment to a community – in this case, that community would be people with ACL injuries – that fueled the creation of an arena and a fieldhouse 10 years ago.
“I’m so glad Sanford is here,” Dr. Noonan said. “It takes a large commitment to take a busy orthopedic surgeon and say, ‘We value what you’re doing and the benefits to our patients and the community enough to take you out of the operating room for that time.’ But I feel like it will pay back a hundred-fold because if you can change the practice of medicine and improve these patient outcomes, that’s what I’m in it for.”
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