The post-season flurry begins in February with the wrestling championships. Minnesota is still one of the nation’s high school wrestling hot beds, and is well attended by collegiate and Olympic coaches. This tournament attracts over 100,000 avid fans each year, with individual venues sometimes having as many as 19,000 fans in attendance! It figures the University of Minnesota wrestling team is ranked in the top five every year and has won three national championships in the past decade. J Robinson, head coach at the “U”, finds most of his all-america caliber grapplers right here in state. I love J Robinson, he’s a great coach, he’s honest, and he’s blunt, he really hates Title 9, the program that has destroyed athletic programs in schools all over the country!
Next, in early March, comes the premier high school sporting event in the United States. The Minnesota boys state hockey championships are a spectacle that none other can even come close to matching! This year was no exception. In the 2-A Championship game, the hated Eden Prairie Eagles beat the Duluth East Greyhounds in triple overtime! The game winner was actually kicked in off a Greyhound player’s skate in a scrum in front of the Duluth net. This was hockey at it’s very best! These kids are incredible hockey players. Very fast, very powerful, great puck handlers, smart crisp passes, great fore and back checking and quality goal tending. The games at this level are fast and competently played. I believe, high boys hockey is the fastest most exciting spectator sport there is. The 1-A championship game didn’t disappoint either. An overtime nail biter as well! Some of the “outstate” smaller schools, the pond and lake hockey schools also pump many players into D-1 hockey and the NHL! Folks, the bottom line is, if you want quality, if you want action, if you want speed and power, high school boys hockey is where it’s at!
This week, we close out the state tournament season with the basketball championships. This event will draw well in excess of 100,000 fans as well. There will be games at the 4-A level at Target Center that will host 18,000 fans! This probably is one of the premier state basketball tournaments in the country. Mostly based on tradition and avid fans, but in Minnesota it’s the best high school hoop action you will find. Does it compare to power states like New York, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida? Quality of ball playing, not even close! Our state still is way behind those states as far as quality of game goes but, it makes up for it in fan interest and enthusiasm. Though it is somewhat of a down year at the top-level, Hopkins will be there again. It’s amazing how coach Ken Novak Jr. year in and year out finds a roster full of blue chip players. While attending one of Hopkins’ games this year, I was speaking with a mother of one of their players. She told me the pipeline is so full of great players, that they are now losing some of them to other schools who are looking for more playing time! Almost sounds like D-1 hoops doesn’t it? Novak is the best high school basketball coach I’ve experienced since Morgan Wooten was running up championships at Dematha High School in suburban Washington DC. I’m thinking Hopkins will be the favorite again this year but, the hated Eden Prairie has thrown a lot of money at their program in recent years, recruited heavily and now they can compete with Hopkins! So I do look forward to an exciting tournament this year, with two powerhouse programs hoping to run the table!
I made an attempt again this year to watch some girls hockey and basketball. There really is a reason why the boys attract 15,000 to 20,000 fans to their games and the girls barely eek out a thousand. Sports fans understand the purity and competency of sports. The girls on the ice and on the hard wood fall way short of these goals. The play is slow, passes are not crisp and they are almost always telegraphed, in hoops, the shooting isn’t very good, though some, when given wide open looks, which happens way too often, can make shots. In both games, the pace is slow when compared to the boys’ games, and not physical at all! In hockey, apparently the girls are not allowed to hit, so most hard checking is either an accident or is called a penalty which sits the guilty party in the penalty box.
I give the girl participants credit, they play as hard as they can, they are very team oriented, and they don’t give up. Another point about the girl high school athletes, for the most part, they are all great in the classroom! More than the boys, the girls carry the athletic team discipline over to their study habits. I wish some of the boys, especially the ones with D-1 talent, would be better students thus making it easier for them to continue their playing days into big-time collegiate sports. Most girls athletes have no problem academically qualifying for college entrance.
It is about “student athletes” after all. Another point to make is what you see at the high school level carries over into college. The boys are the pieces in the multi-billion dollar revenue generating sports at college, football, basketball, and hockey, The revenues generated by those three sports must finance the athletic department at most schools. An example of why this is important, the Star Tribune pointed out that in the great couple years at the “U” with girls hoops, Whalen and McCarville years, the team barely averaged 3,500 to 5,000 people per home game. This was a team that went to the final four!
Then the “U” spends tens of millions of dollars to build Ridder Arena for the girls hockey team. This program hemorrhages money annually like no other, and they get a separate arena built for them? Does this make sense? They average a couple thousand fans a game. What is wrong with Marriucci? Many say it is the premier ice arena in the country! Oh well, it’s a no-win discussion.
So Minnesotans, sit back and enjoy the boys hoopsters for the next week, and relish the pride of hosting three of the great high school sports tournaments in the country! Thanks for today’s read and I look forward to your comments.