The sight of a group of local schoolteachers scrambling on their hands and knees to snatch up stray dollar bills at a "Dash for Cash" event at a minor-league hockey game in South Dakota has drawn a backlash for looking like something straight out of "Squid Game" or "The Hunger Games."
Ten teachers from the Sioux Falls area participated in the event between periods at a Sioux Falls Stampede game on Dec. 11, competing for a total of $5,000 to be used in their classroom or school.
Wearing hockey helmets and kneeling on a tarp filled with 5,000 dollar bills, they each scrambled to grab as many bills as they could in under five minutes.
The team and the company that put up the cash, CU Mortgage Direct, presented it as a way to help local teachers.
“With everything that has gone on for the last couple of years with teachers and everything, we thought it was an awesome group thing to do for the teachers,” Ryan Knudson, Director of Business Development and Marketing for CU Mortgage Direct, told the Argus Leader. “The teachers in this area, and any teacher, they deserve whatever the heck they get.”
However, the event also drew criticism for being a "dystopian" and "degrading" scene of underpaid teachers battling each other for meager resources like it was "Squid Game," the Netflix hit where people in debt compete in games and fight one other to the death for a giant piggy bank of cash.
It also raised the question of why teachers have to fund expenditures for their classrooms out of their own pockets.
"Only in America do public school teachers race one another to scrounge around on the floor to collect $1 bills in order to... *checks notes* fund their classrooms," journalist Ashton Pittman tweeted, calling it "dystopian."
"Maybe if you didn’t force teachers to humiliate themselves in public for money, just saying," one commenter wrote in response to a tweet by the Stampede's verified account. "Bad mistake and you must make amends to the teachers as well as the public."
"I was a teacher for 8 years, and that 'game' was so degrading," another commenter wrote. "A properly funded classroom isn’t something to 'earn' by crawling on our hands and knees for $1 bills. These are highly educated professionals who are being demoralized for 'entertainment'. Imagine CEOs doing this."
Knutson and Stampede president Jim Olander did not respond to requests for comment from TODAY.
Jamie Smith, a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives who represents part of Sioux Falls, understands the backlash.
"I think people’s outrage highlights the need for funding in education in the state of South Dakota," Smith told TODAY. "I don’t think necessarily anybody tried to do anything nefarious within the STampede,
"I think people’s outrage highlights the need for funding in education in the state of South Dakota," Smith told TODAY. "I don’t think necessarily anybody tried to do anything nefarious or anything like that with promotion within the Stampede, but it's sad that they had to go that direction."
"To be underresourced all the time, to be underappreciated, and to now have this happen (at the game), it’s unfortunate."
Smith is a former teacher whose wife is a middle school teacher, and he appreciates the particular difficulties teachers have endured during the pandemic.
“To be underresourced all the time, to be underappreciated, and to now have this happen (at the game), it’s unfortunate," he said.
Olander told local station KELO ahead of the event that schools had to apply by having each teacher describe what they would use the money for in their classroom. The teachers also sold tickets for $5 to the game, with the proceeds going to their respective school.
Reynold Nessiba, a state senator who represents part of Sioux Falls, also condemned the promotion.
"I hope … the absurdity of that image of teachers on their hands and knees in the middle of a hockey rink, trying to grab money, brings attention to the education funding needs that exist here in Sioux Falls, across South Dakota and across the U.S.," he tweeted.
South Dakota's teachers are the second-lowest paid in the country behind Mississippi's, according to a report on the 2019-20 fiscal year by the National Education Association. Teachers in the state earned an average of about $49,000, compared to an average of $66,000 nationwide. The state also spent an average of $10,805 per student, ranking 38th in the country, according to the report.
Barry Longden, a teacher at Harrisburg High School, snagged the most money during the "Dash for Cash" with $616 and said he will use it for the school's esports team that he coaches.
“I’ve been throwing my name in the hat everywhere I can find so that way I can get opportunities to get money for the kids,” he told the Argus Leader.