“This is not about pointing fingers. It’s about looking ahead,” Superintendent Al Stoeckman said.
Some seventy Yellow Medicine East parents, teachers, coaches and administration gathered in the high school auditorium Tuesday evening as a part of a parent forum to discuss the lack of involvement and success in the school’s athletic programs.
The Granite Falls and Clarkfield Area have a decorated history when it comes to athletics, but in recent years staples of the school’s historic programs have waivered, in particular football and basketball.
District Superintendent Al Stoeckman facilitated the discussion beginning by reading the athletic code of conduct in hopes of encouraging a positive discussion.
“This is not about pointing fingers. It’s about looking ahead,” Stoeckman said. “Let’s continue to build on the successes we’ve had.”
Building on any sort of success takes constructive action, and much of Tuesday’s conversation seemed to grasp for an explanation as to the cause of the current state of things as well as seek out solutions to turn trend lines around.
Some causal factors that were thrown out by the audience included a lack of parental involvement, community support, school enrollment, practice space, effective coaching and teamsmanship as well as prohibitive costs and poor self-esteem.
Audience solutions, meanwhile, largely revolved around finding ways to get students to begin sports at an earlier age and practice more often, whether through youth programs or other mechanisms. In regard to poor player self-esteem, it was suggested by some that players not be ‘weeded-out’ before getting a chance to develop while others pointed out that sometimes it’s not about being the best on the team, but being the best teammate.
Only at the close of the conversation did the audience hear from YME Athletic Director Tim Knapper. Recently, Knapper said that YME coaches and advisors gathered to make their own list of barriers to sport involvement and success. Heartening, he said, was the fact that about 95 percent of what coaches and advisors perceived as issues was also vocalized by parents. Other major factors not mentioned he said included fewer athletes (as in: you can’t teach a kid to be 6’7’’ for basketball), the number of families in poverty (scholarships are available for sports programs but these kids still don’t typically get involved) and the growing percentage of minorities (who have also been less inclined to participate).
Following the meeting, YME basketball coach Nate Dahlager explained the issue more in depth by providing an example of the present situation coaches are facing, noting:
“One of the things that I see as a problem that wasn’t addressed this evening is that the number of kids who receive free and reduced meals is growing and the minority population is becoming the majority in our elementary school. If we have a class size in fourth grade that starts at 60 kids, the ones who are participating in free and reduced meals don’t participate in athletics and a lot of minorities right now are not participating in athletics, either. That leaves 30 kids, of which 15 are girls and 15 are boys. Let’s say seven of them participate in wrestling, then seven are left from the basketball perspective, of which three probably don’t want to participate in anything. So we’re starting our youth basketball team in fourth grade with four kids... and it just doesn’t work.”
As to where things go from here, at this point Knapper said he wasn’t sure. He said that the students are the other stakeholders that the school district needs to hear input from, and this will be facilitated sometime in the near future.
The bottom line is that the solution(s) to what ails YME athletics is still coming into focus, but that the district and its supporting students and parents are all now closer to being on the same page, with a shared understanding of circumstances––which should only serve to benefit all parties heading into the future.