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Editor's Note: This story is revised from the July/August 2011 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a back issue or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117.
Guidance from a legendary wrestling coach helped turn Daktronics into the world’s leading scoreboard builder.
Al Kurtenbach and Duane Sander were electrical engineering teachers at SDSU when they founded Daktronics in 1968 as a medical device manufacturer. They built other projects, like an electronic voting system for state legislatures, but the fate of the business was sealed when Kurtenbach met Warren Williamson for coffee.
Williamson, an SDSU coach, was involved with college wrestling nationally. He told Kurtenbach the scoreboards used for national tournaments were too big and didn’t display pertinent information. Kurtenbach and Sander developed a prototype and used it during a meet at SDSU in 1970. Other coaches liked it so they built 17, and with help from Williamson the new boards were used in the national wrestling tournaments that year.
Those were the first of thousands of scoreboards the Brookings company has built over 40 years. As of 2011, Daktronics had equipment in 26 of 30 Major League Baseball parks, 29 of 31 NFL stadiums and 20 of 29 NBA arenas. Early scoreboards used simple incandescent lamps, but today’s huge, colorful boards are illuminated by thousands of tiny light emitting diodes, or LEDs. They convert energy to light more efficiently and don’t have a filament, so instead of burning out they gradually grow dimmer.
Much of Daktronics’ business is sports related, but the company also designs computer software, billboards and the signs along South Dakota interstates displaying road conditions and Amber Alerts.