As an entire hockey arena of spectators watched, the competitors jostled at center ice, not for the puck but for dollar bills — 5,000 of them to be exact.
Ten teachers were selected for a Dash for Cash giveaway at a junior hockey league game on Saturday night in Sioux Falls, S.D., enticed by the opportunity to make extra money for classroom improvements.
At the signal, the educators got down on their knees and frantically scooped up as much currency as they could. They stuffed the bills into their shirts as the crowd murmured.
The giveaway — organized by the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League, in conjunction with CU Mortgage Direct, a local lending company — was swiftly and widely criticized as being demeaning to teachers.
Critics said that no teacher should have to put up with the kind of indignity that unfolded at the hockey game. They pointed out that South Dakota ranks next to last in teacher pay, averaging $49,000 a year.
Reynold F. Nesiba, a Democratic state senator from Sioux Falls and a professor at Augustana University, said on Monday that while the organizers of the giveaway were “well intended,” the event was ill-conceived.
“It just seems insulting and absurd to have teachers doing an event like this to raise a few hundred dollars for their classrooms,” Mr. Nesiba said. “It also seems disrespectful to the teachers. What other profession would be asked to fund-raise this way?”
A video of the competition, which took place during the first intermission of the Stampede’s loss to the Tri-City Storm, had been viewed more than 14 million times as of Monday. It drew inevitable comparisons to the dystopian Netflix series “Squid Game,” in which hundreds of people facing financial despair play deadly children’s games for the chance to win millions of dollars. It was not the first time that a U.S.H.L. team sponsored a cash scramble for teachers: The Green Bay Gamblers held a similar event a few years ago.
The Sioux Falls Stampede and CU Mortgage Direct did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday, but a spokesman for the lending company told The Argus Leader, a newspaper in Sioux Falls, that the company wanted to do something to help teachers after a difficult few years.
“The teachers in this area, and any teacher, they deserve whatever the heck they get,” the spokesman, Ryan Knudson, told the newspaper.
In an interview last week promoting the event, Jim Olander, the hockey team’s president, told the television station KELO that each of the teachers had to explain what they planned to spend the money on as part of their applications to compete in the giveaway.
“Every teacher has a different reason, some of them it’s iPads for the classroom, some of them it’s just new equipment,” Mr. Olander said. “We know this day and age schools are in need of funding, and we’re just trying to play a small part to help them out and have some fun while doing it.”
The teachers each collected $378 to $616, The Argus Leader reported. In addition to getting to keep the money, $5 from every game ticket sold by the teachers went to their schools, KELO reported.
Several of the teachers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday, but they told The Argus Leader that they planned to use the money for flexible seating, document scanners, e-sports equipment and other items.
On Monday, the Sioux Falls Education Association criticized the event on Facebook.
“Events like this show that our educational system is broken — not only in the Sioux Falls region but across the state,” the association said. “It’s time for us to realign our priorities by focusing on putting the money back into our students’ education. No educator should have to crawl on their hands and knees to supply proper educational tools for our students.”
The event drew the attention of Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, who said it explained why he had voted against the National Defense Authorization Act.
“We spend billions on weapons systems our military doesn’t want, but teachers are forced to fight over $1 bills on the ground because our schools are so underfunded,” he wrote on Twitter. “As a congressman & the brother of two public school teachers, this is shameful.”
Bernice King, a daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the chief executive of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, wrote on Twitter that she disapproved of the giveaway.
“This just should not be,” Ms. King said on Sunday, adding a quote from her father: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
Writing on Monday for The South Dakota Standard, a commentary website, the columnist Tom Lawrence panned the way that the giveaway was handled.
“Yes, supporting teachers is a good thing,” Mr. Lawrence said. “Donating $5,000 to the cause is a generous gesture. And teachers sure need the money. But this was a bad look, a humiliating exercise for educators.”
Michael Levenson contributed reporting.