Thanks to Hennepin County, all seven Minneapolis public high schools now have updated weight rooms and new equipment. Last week North High School became the latest to open theirs — this week’s MSR front page features a story on its grand opening.
While at the festivities, we asked school district officials if the new addition might help in closing the existing facilities gap between Minneapolis City Conference schools and their more affluent suburban counterparts. We also asked whether the update might help to stem the talent drain the conference have suffered over the years and assist in leveling the playing field.
“Our young ladies for so long have not had this component,” said Crystal Flint, North’s girls’ basketball head coach. “To have [the new weight room] right here in the building is definitely going to take us to another level.”
“It is important to keep all the teams together,” added North junior football player Davonte (Leon) Haynes.
“Another place to call home,” declared junior track sprinter T’Nia Riley.
“We want to make the North Side proud,” noted Haynes’ teammate Antonio (Menchez) Simmons, also a junior. His coach Charles Adams III reiterated, “This is definitely a step in the right direction with other districts in [having] top notch facilities. [Local] kids now don’t have a reason to leave” for so-called better facilities, he pointed out.
“Having facilities like this across the district is helpful to all of our athletes,” stated MPS Athletic Director Trent Tucker. “One of my goals when I started in April, 2013 was to upgrade facilities in all of our [high schools], and we have been able to do that,” he recalled.
Like anything else, it takes money. And again, thanks to the county dedicating up to $4 million annually of the Twins ballpark sales tax that was approved in 2006 to fund the Hennepin Youth Sports Program. As a result, each school applied and subsequently was awarded six-figure grants to re-do fields, install “fitness rooms” and purchase needed equipment for their athletic programs.
This certainly has been a boon for these schools, considering the fact Tucker has perhaps the state’s smallest athletic budget — reportedly around one percent of the overall MPS annual budget to pay for necessary things such as coaches, uniforms and other athletic equipment.
“Funding will always be a challenge,” he admitted, “but we can’t allow that to be the reason why other types of funding” can’t be sought, he said.
Perhaps is it again time to revisit our Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) proposal with other local pro teams that use publicly-owned stadiums — the Vikings, Wolves and the Lynx? Maybe a set-aside amount to go into the existing Youth Sports Program or something specifically to help fund MPS athletics is in order?
These teams could be in essence “silent partners,” noted North AD Leo Lewis, supporting our idea.
“I don’t see why they can’t,” said Flint.
“I would love to partner with our professional teams,” added Minneapolis School Board Member Kim Ellison. “I think they have a lot to offer to our students, and our students clearly look up to them.”
“You need community partners, those who are invested into the future of our young people to come to the table,” continued Tucker. “I think if we continue with the right planning, these are some of the things we can achieve in the future.”
“We are going to need everyone’s spirit” in moving the Minneapolis district forward in many areas, including athletics, said Superintendent Ed Graff.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.