Six hundred wins. Thirty-five years. Two state championships. Twenty-five state tournaments. Two schools.
Those are the tangibles of Dawn Seiler’s coaching career. Numbers that matter in a society, and a specific arena of that society, with an overwhelming need to count things.
It’s an unprecedented level of success, but one that will come, as all things do, to an end. Seiler announced her retirement from coaching today, stepping down from the helm of the Central High School girls basketball team. She leaves the game as the winningest coach in South Dakota girls basketball history.
"It's something that's been on my mind," Seiler said. "It's not something that just all of a sudden I said, 'This is it.' It's been coming."
She retires as a coach with a career record of 600-228.
Seiler will continue as assistant principal at Central.
The tangibles matter in basketball, of course. Sports are built on just that — counting, if nothing else, points. The team with the most wins.
And Seiler did a lot of that, needing just more than 800 attempts to put 600 wins on the board.
But Seiler’s legacy extends beyond the measurable things that make tidy little lists for those interested enough to peruse them.
It is the intangibles — fierce competitiveness, the respect of the coaching community at large, the ability to love the game enough to use it to love her players more — that will leave an indelible mark as Seiler steps away.
"We tried to do things the right way," she said. "We tried to treat people well. We tried to get kids to understand that there's a right way to do things. This is basketball, but sports is life, too. You can learn so many things by playing this game and through competing that can carry you through different avenues in life. Hopefully, you can look back and say, 'Hey, I learned this while I was competing in basketball.'"
On one hand, Seiler’s coaching journey is a relatively simple one. She spent 15 years at McIntosh, taking the Tigers to seven state tournaments before taking over the Central program in 1998.
There, she guided the Golden Eagles to 18 more state tournaments, winning Class AA state titles in 2016 and another one in 2018.
But 35 years of coaching does not come without its challenges.
Take, for instance, Seiler’s first day of practice in her first season at Central, when the Golden Eagles’ starting center went down with a broken bone in her foot. Or the myriad of injuries, illnesses, weather delays and other factors that routinely plague teams over the course of a normal season. Or the not-so-normal seasons when those things plague the coach herself. Or the inevitable outside forces and pressures that accompany the profession in general.
"You can't let the highs get too high, but you can't let the lows get too low, either," Seiler said. "There's got to be somewhere in between. You've got to stay level. There's a lot of peaks and valleys. You can take every season and you can find peaks and valleys, and your coaching career is like that, too. You have teams that have struggled, and you have teams that have overachieved and you have teams that just play to your best all the time."
But the hardest thing about it? Still not a tangible, measurable thing.
"It's definitely when an athlete gets hurt," she said. "Especially with an injury, that's going to be season-ending or career-ending. The most recent ones are (Karli) Gardner and (Melia) Mounga. It just kills you to watch those kids have to go through that ... that's the hardest part, watching somebody not be able to compete anymore. You don't have any control over it. It's so frustrating, because there are no answers, and you can't give the kids any answers as to why that happened. Nobody knows."
Though Seiler steps away from the coaching aspect of the game, basketball will remain a significant player in her life. In fact, it beckons, if possible, even more now.
"It's not like you walk away from the game," she said. "Now you can enjoy other parts. I never got down to (South Dakota State University in Brookings) and watch Paiton (Burckhard) play, which I've wanted to do. I've never been to the Summit League tournament, which I'd like to do. I'd like to be able to go watch Brianna Kusler play at Northern. It's not like it's going to be a void, because there's basketball everywhere in South Dakota."
Those things — plus others, like watching her daughter Brooke's Parkston squad play more often and being able to visit her parents more than at Christmastime — are significant draws, and only possible when the time is not the currency of the day.
"It's never just one thing," Seiler said. "These are the things that stuck out the most. Long bus trips in the middle of winter. Miles and miles and miles of video. You probably spend two hours watching a video all the time. I never go anywhere without thinking I should be home watching a video. And the last thing is the late practices. When you're getting done with practice at 7:30 (p.m.) after you've started here at 7 o'clock in the morning, it makes for a long day. By the end of the season, you're worn out."