MINNESOTA’S TOLERANCE OF IMBALANCE IN HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

Irondale Knights

This column is a result of my personal frustrations with the Minnesota High School League and how things seem to run. Ever since Minnesota adopted an “open enrollment” policy, many of the more powerful and better funded high schools, have been able to capitalize by openly recruiting blue chip athletes to enroll in their school. I’m talking about “PUBLIC” schools here. I’m not saying the schools that do it are wrong, they are rightfully taking advantage of a situation the state made available to them. In fact, I salute the coaches of the schools that blatantly recruit, because they are smart and pro-active. They are not breaking the rules.

Over the past few years I have gotten to be a big Hopkins High basketball fan. They openly recruit, last year only a couple of the boys on the team lived in Hopkins district. But, they had 4 all-met players and the starting seniors all got D-1 scholarships. That’s what I call smart recruiting and good coaching. I went to a ninth grade basketball tournament last week and was blown away at how good Hopkins team is. Now the shocker, I was watching their “B” team! I was told by some of the parents I was sitting with that the “A” squad is so loaded that probably on 2 at best from the “B” squad will make varsity! The start them young, and get a metro-wide feeder system in place that simply reloads every year with the best talent in the metro. More power to them. As a basketball junkie, I appreciate good basketball and Hopkins epitomizes good quality high school basketball.

This years state high school wrestling tournament was won by none other that Apple Valley High School. Four of their best wrestlers reside in places other than Apple Valley. This high school has become the Hopkins of wrestling! Success begets success. Kids want to play for a winner.

The state high school hockey tournament just concluded with Edina beating Minnetonka for the Championship. These are two of the traditional high school hockey powers, Edina longer than Minnetonka. Minnetonka high school is making some bold moves athletically. A few years ago, they hired Dave Nelson to be the head football coach. Part of that deal was to build a practice facility similar to the one at all sports power Eden Prairie high School. So now Minnetonka has a beautiful domed football practice facility that allows them to attract a better grade of football playing athletes. Since coming to Minnetonka, Nelson has, in my opinion, raised the caliber of athletics at the school to one of the elite in the state. All legal, the state high school league allows all of this stuff.

With the state basketball tournament just two weeks off, it will be the usual schools competing for the title, Hopkins, Eden Prairie, etc. As a fan of high school sports, this is becoming monotonous. We do have a nice surprise coming up this year in a lower class. That would be the Governors of St. Paul Johnson High School. I saw them play at Humboldt High School a couple weeks ago and they won 113 to 42, or something like that. This is a team with a lot of greyhounds for players. it seems they are all interchangeable parts, all great athletes. This is a fun team to watch. I am surprised none of these guys got recruited to a suburban mega-athletic factory school.

I’m not sure what the answer is to counter the power of these suburban mega-athletic public high schools. The state high school league did put a one year restriction or delay, on kids that transfer for athletic purposes, but if it is in effect, I don’t see it working. Maybe we need to restrict the number of out of district athletes on the teams. I’m not sure. I hope somebody will have some rational explanations about this for all of us. I’ve only focused on the public schools to this point, and the Twin Cities metro area only, see how many Canadians play for Warroad’s hockey team.

The private schools in the Twin Cities are a different story. They recruit because they can and they have to. They don’t have districts. My biggest complaint about the private schools is the fact some of them compete in lower levels to get easier competition. I think there should be a separate private school conference, and all schools in that conference will compete at the highest level in the state. It has to be that way because they can and they do recruit the best athletes in the state. I find it a joke that Totino-Grace competes at 3-A in football and they are dominant. What would they do if they had to play Cretin-Durham Hall every year? I don’t know why the high school league allows this.

The other thing that really bugs me about our high school sports is the Minneapolis Star Tribunes love affair with Totino-Grace High School. It seems like every week it’s something about that school athletics in the sports section. Give us a break! There are other high schools in the north metro. I think the paper is too slanted toward the athletic power house schools and doesn’t share enough about the non-power schools. Just a personal problem I have with it because my kids go to Irondale High School which pretty much stinks at sports. They did have, in my opinion, the top two girls hockey players in the state this year, and senior Gina McDonald didn’t get the Stribs Ms. Hockey award because Irondale is nowhere on the Star Tribune’s radar, but perennial athletic powerhouse Roseville is, so their girl won the award! Our girl Gina, was the top scorer in the metro for two straight years, led an awful hockey program out of the dumps and into the state tournament the past two years, and will be playing hockey for Harvard next year for academic reasons! Good for her, she’s more than a jock! Anyway, the traditionally poor school athletically gets dumped on again by the press.

I can’t blame anyone for poor Irondale athletic woes, but Irondale itself. I spoke with the now retired principal at Irondale a couple years ago about the problems of the poor athletics. When I mentioned to her she might turn the heat up on her coaches to get in the game and start recruiting she bristled at the idea. She said we’re not allowed to do that. I asked her if she has ever bothered to look at some of the athletic factory schools team rosters to see how many of the kids live in that school’s district and she hadn’t. Irondale has an excellent academic program. A couple years ago, it was named one of two public schools from Minnesota to the national best academic high schools in the country. Orono was the other. The was a poll done for U.S. News and World Report. I asked the principal why the coaches couldn’t pursue blue chip athletes and sell their parents on Irondale’s great academic reputation. She would have no part of it. It kind of reminds me of a small University of Minnesota. The administration and faculty don’t care about athletics, so it just flounders.

That’s my view of the state of Minnesota high school sports, please comment and share ideas. And if you can think of ideas for me to present to the new principal at Irondale, I’m all ears! Thank you.

Cam Obert

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2 Responses to “MINNESOTA’S TOLERANCE OF IMBALANCE IN HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS”

  1. Doug Says:

    Your column has good points but does leave an ugly taste in my mouth. You congratulate public high schools for taking advantage of State laws, which it seems you approve of. Then you bash private schools for doing the same saying they should take it upon themselves to cool down their own teams. What is your bias to hate private schools? Enrollment numbers determine division for public and private schools alike. So why bash Totino-Grace and not Johnson High School, who beat Humbolt by more than 60 points? Seems Johnson High School should also move up to get some competition, but you don’t mention that.

    • youandmedoweagree Says:

      One of the central points of my column was all private school in Minnesota should be in their own conferences and then compete for state titles at the highest level in each sport. The reason being, they have more money and they can legally recruit. The power public schools also recruit but on a more covert level. Two years ago, Hopkins High School’s state title basketball team had only two out of twelve team members from the Hopkins school district. Johnson’s area at the time just has better talent than Humboldt. Oh, I attended that game, it was an incredible blow out!

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