- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) - Scott Schmidt has returned home.

After more than six years working out of state, Schmidt, 30, stood out over 58 other applicants to take the reins as the city’s director of the recently renovated Corn Palace.

“Coming back home I think was the next step,” Schmidt said. “Coming back home and making a positive impact on this community.”

Born and raised in Mitchell, Schmidt is returning to his hometown following a career that brought him around the country, The Daily Republic (http://bit.ly/1StTjDM ) reported. After a short stint working at the Aurora Plains Academy in Plankinton, Schmidt found himself in Memphis, Tennessee, to work for former Mitchell High School graduate and NBA player Mike Miller’s M33M Basketball youth program alongside fellow MHS graduate Ernie Kuyper.

After getting the job with M33M, Schmidt earned a Master’s degree in sports and leisure commerce at the University of Memphis and later took a position as Miller’s assistant for a year. Soon after, Schmidt took an opportunity to present a strategic plan to Florida National University in Miami to establish an athletic program, of which he served as athletic director and head basketball coach until taking the Corn Palace director position earlier this month.

With years of education and experience in tow, Schmidt becomes the third person to be officially approved by the City Council to hold the position in under two years. Schmidt will soon find himself managing the revamped tourist attraction and event center following a $4.7 million overhaul, but he’s ready for the challenge.

Schmidt received word from a friend in Mitchell that the Corn Palace director position was open for the second time in less than a year and that he should apply. He thought his friend was joking until he saw the job posted online and then decided to apply.

Soon after, Schmidt found himself interviewing for the position and earning the job, which he credits to his ability to connect with people and experience in event administration and fundraising. Schmidt, who officially starts as director on Monday, hopes to bring those qualities and the communication skills he learned as a coach to the position.

Schmidt replaces former directors Dan Sabers, who held the position for less than one year, and Mark Schilling, who resigned after a state audit found he misused a city credit card and failed to maintain proper financial records, as well as Steven Koch, who was never confirmed by the council but was allegedly offered the position prior to Sabers. Koch later filed a civil complaint against the city and former Mayor Ken Tracy on five counts of illegal activity including defamation and breach of contract.

With the recent history of turnover at the position, Schmidt said his hometown deserves some stability from the manager of the city’s main attraction.

“Every single step of the way, I’ve been wanting to impact people’s lives and I feel like at this point in time, the city deserves somebody they can trust and somebody that has accountability in the position,” Schmidt said.

Despite the recent history of the position, Schmidt said he wasn’t deterred from applying.

“I believe in myself, I believe in my morals and I believe in my values, and I believe those came to me through being raised in this community,” Schmidt said. “It didn’t deter me at all because I knew what this city needed, and I knew what this city wanted and I felt that I could bring that to the table.”

Schmidt, though, said it was difficult to leave his basketball team midseason. That’s because he said there was a bond with his players during his two and a half seasons in Miami, but he said his players understood his decision to return home.

One of the contributing factors to his players’ acceptance of Schmidt’s departure as coach was their recent trip to Mitchell to play in the Mike Miller Classic. Although they lost to Schmidt’s alma mater, Dakota Wesleyan University, he said the student-athletes were able to see how the community treats people and understand why Schmidt would want to return home.

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Now that he’s back in his hometown and surrounded by family and friends, Schmidt hopes to continue his father’s legacy of involvement in the Mitchell community while serving as the Corn Palace director. Schmidt’s late father, Jim, served on the boards of the Mitchell Safe House and Abbott House and was a member of the Mitchell Baseball Association among several other organizations.

“I knew I always wanted to be in a position where I impacted people’s lives, and I think it was through seeing what my dad did,” Schmidt said. “Seeing the type of impact he had, I always wanted to do something to keep reaching to better people’s lives.”

One way Schmidt hopes to impact lives in Mitchell is by improving the Corn Palace experience. Schmidt said engaging visitors with interactive activities at games and events, maintain top-notch customer service and increase brand awareness. But first Schmidt said he needs to get a grasp on the operations and procedures of the Corn Palace before he said he can make some educated decisions about the building’s future.

Once he has a firm understanding of the nuances of the facility, Schmidt said balancing revenue-generating events with the interests of residents could be challenging. But Schmidt is ready to take on the responsibilities of the job.

“No two days are going to be the same, and I like the fact that each day I wake up there’s going to be a new challenge,” Schmidt said.

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Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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