VERMILLION, S.D. -- When a branch of the United States military becomes engaged, an event can take on a certain air of significance.
The occasion is the renewal of the biggest football rivalry in the state when South Dakota State and South Dakota meet at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in the final game of the regular season at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17.
Leading the charge are the Army ROTC programs from both schools. In “Operation Road Runner,” the respective units will run the ceremonial game ball from Vermillion to Brookings and deliver it prior to kickoff.
“This past fall we talked with the USD Army ROTC staff and thought we should come up with a joint effort to support not only both Army ROTC programs, but the two universities as they resume their football rivalry as Division I members,” said Maj. Aaron Schultz, professor of military science at SDSU.
“The cadets are excited to be part of this event for the challenge and to participate as a team with both Army ROTC programs coming together in Operation Road Runner.”
There will be 30 cadets from each Army ROTC program participating in the 132-mile journey, which starts Friday, Nov. 16, at the DakotaDome. A brief ceremony will be held at noon prior to the cadets running the ball down South Dakota highways.
“We thought it would be a great team-building exercise for the cadets and a great way to generate support for the football game,” said Maj. Ross Nelson, professor of military science at USD.
The cadets will run through the towns of Centerville, Chancellor and Hartford during the afternoon and late evening on Friday. The trek resumes early Saturday morning through Colton, Chester, Colman and finally Brookings.
“Although many of the times will be late in the evening and early in the morning, we hope alumni and fans will be around to cheer on the cadets as they arrive in the local communities,” said Schultz.
The plan calls for a cadet from one school to run a mile with the football and then switch with a cadet from the other school. Following behind the runner will be two buses holding the remaining cadets.
“We intend to rotate back and forth between SDSU and USD cadets,” said Schultz.
Cadets will bring many of their own snacks and each program will provide various other food and drink items. A 4-H group in Vermillion will serve lunch on Friday at the DakotaDome. Pizzas will be provided from Pizza Ranch in Hartford and breakfast will be served at the Brookings VFW on Saturday morning.
Schultz said he expects some “friendly competition” from the Army ROTC cadets during their run to highlight the renewal of the series. The two football programs have met 104 times since 1889, but this year marks the first meeting since 2003.
“Both Army ROTC programs win because when the cadets get commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Army they will work with people from all walks of life and other branches,” said Schultz. “I expect the atmosphere to be like the passion that is played out in the Army/Navy football game every year.
“Our goal is to promote the SDSU and USD Army ROTC programs and to showcase the start of this big game. We hope this will be a start to a new Army ROTC tradition every fall.”
Said Nelson: “The weather may be colder, but we’re hoping that football fans and community members along the route will come out and show their school spirit and support the future leaders in the U.S. Army.”
The approximate arrival times for the cadets on Nov. 16:
• Centerville, 4 p.m.
• Chancellor, 7 p.m.
• Hartford, 10 p.m.
The approximate arrival times for the cadets on Nov. 17:
• Colton, 1 a.m.
• Chester, 3 a.m.
• Colman, 5 a.m.
• Brookings, 10 a.m.
For more information, contact SDSU ROTC at 688-6642 or USD ROTC at 677-5284.