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Argus Leader Features Incoming Freshman Softball Student-Athlete

Argus Leader: Washington Senior Shows the Bright Side of Diversity

Stu Whitney, Argus Reporter

In 2006, I wrote a series of articles on race relations in South Dakota sports, and the project included a look at increasing diversity in the Sioux Falls School District.

One of the athletes I spoke with was Shelby Thompson of Washington High School, who was a sophomore at the time competing in varsity softball and track and field.

Thompson, who also attended Cleveland Elementary and Whittier Middle School, was part of a small segment of African-American students (5.9 percent in 2006) in the Sioux Falls public schools. Only 32 percent of minority students were going out for sports, compared with 55 percent among whites.

By getting involved and refusing to be left out, Thompson and others helped put a new face on local athletics while paving the way for acceptance.

Shelby is now a senior in the final days of her high school experience - and the future looks bright. She accepted an athletic and academic scholarship to play softball at Augustana, where she hopes to spark the Vikings as a hard-hitting outfielder.

It's an interesting choice, since Augie is not known as a bastion of racial diversity, especially in women's sports. Overall, the private Lutheran school has an enrollment that is 97 percent white.

Did Thompson find it intimidating that she would be the only non-white member of the softball team?

"Not at all," she said. "It's been like that my whole life, so I'm used to being the only one."

Her main goal is to earn a solid education at Augie, where she will major in biology and chemistry with a plan of going pre-med.

"My dream is to be a surgeon," says Thompson.

The Washington standout, a four-year starter who batted .410 as a senior and was named first team all-state, also considered South Dakota State. But after spending time around both programs, she decided to stay in Sioux Falls.

Shelby has always been assertive about her education, but a big factor of her (choosing Augie) was the softball team," says her mother, Robin, who works at Avera Health. "They embraced her and welcomed her, and she didn't have that same feeling with SDSU."

Thompson will try to blaze new trails at Augustana, just like she did coming up through the Sioux Falls school system.

She recalls showing up for an advanced placement class and having the teacher ask: "Are you sure you're in the right place?"

Her response was to work harder, taking AP courses in four different subjects. That should inspire other minority students by showing that one way to fit in is to truly stand out.

"One thing I can say about Shelby is that she's very comfortable in her own skin," says her mother. "She knows who she is and what she wants, and she doesn't let anybody take that away from her."

For more information, visit the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.