Is it a case of public versus private and parochial?

Is Hill-Murray next? . . . maybe . . . maybe not

The recent attempt to oust St. Thomas Academy from the Classic Suburban Conference has raised more than one question.

Probably the first question raised was if it was legal. After a vote of 6-2 and one abstention by the nine activity directors of the conference to kick out St. Thomas beginning in the 2014-15 school year, a review of the Classic Suburban bylaws raised the question of legality. Evidently the bylaws are unclear as to whether that can or can’t be done.

The Classic Suburban Conference AD’s recently authorized Tartan AD Bryan Munter and South St. Paul AD Chad Sexauer to meet with Minnesota State High School League executive director Dave Stead. They discussed the options that might be necessary before changes are made in the Classic Suburban Conference membership.

After the meeting, Munter stated, “Not much happened. We went over what has to happen if we insert new bylaws. We already, some time ago, inserted a bylaw that allows us to disband.

“As yet we have not added any bylaws change which would allow for exclusion. If we decide to go that way, an exclusion bylaw would have to be added.”

According to Classic Suburban executive secretary Pete Veldman, a meeting of the conference AD’s will take place Wednesday, May 8. It is expected that all options available to the AD’s will be discussed.

One option was to disband the conference and start over. Another was to change the bylaws. A third option, and at this point the most unlikely, would be to remain the same.

One of the first things that Veldman validated was that each of the AD’s had been granted the authority to speak for their respective school.

The entire issue raised the question of “Why?”

Depending on which party one queried - as is the case in most differences of opinion - you get differences of views.

“Disparities will only grow wider”

St. Thomas is a Catholic, all-boys, military prep school. Its activities director, Jack Zahr, stated, “We think the Classic Suburban Conference is a perfect fit for St. Thomas.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Simley High School AD Will Short. He stated, “There is no way that comment is true. St. Thomas is in no position to be competing socio-economically with public schools.

“Their population isn’t going to change, where ours has changed drastically in the last 10 years. St. Thomas is good now (in extracurricular activities) and in the next 10 years they are just going to get better.”

What Short was talking about - and he cited several facts to back up his beliefs - was the number of students from low-income families attending suburban public schools as opposed to those enrolled at St. Thomas.

“The disparity will only grow wider,” Short stated.

“It isn’t a matter of athletics,” he continued, “it is a matter of the socio-economics. The population of the kids that St. Thomas draws isn’t going to change.

“The populations of the public schools and the amount of money we have to provide better facilities just can’t keep up with schools like St. Thomas.”

He said St. Thomas has superb athletic facilities and is able to tap highly generous and affluent alumni to further improve the school’s student and athletic facilities.

In the last couple years, St. Thomas broke ground on an $18 million Student Center. The Cadets play hockey in their own ice arena, and their football stadium would make most colleges envious.

Add to this a growing belief among public schools that the state Legislature made a mistake back in 1978 when it forced the Minnesota State High School League to accept private schools into the league.  

What about Hill-Murray?

The Classic Suburban’s attempts to oust St. Thomas raised the question of the future of Hill-Murray, the other Catholic high school in the conference.

When the conference began in the 2000-2001 school year, the Pioneers petitioned to join. They were initially turned down.

MSHSL rules state a school must petition two conferences. If the school is turned down by both, the MSHSL has to right to assign a school to a conference. The League chose to assign Hill-Murray to the Classic Suburban.

That seemed to be a natural fit.

Upon entering the conference, Hill-Murray administrators promised to provide a new track facility within five years. Thus far that has not happened.

Also, Hill-Murray does not offer gymnastics, boys swimming and wrestling.

Does this have an effect on whether or not Hill-Murray may be next in line to leave the Classic Suburban?

Munter chuckled and said, “We haven’t gotten rid of St. Thomas yet. (The Classic Suburban AD’s) are still evaluating what to do with the St. Thomas situation. We’re just reviewing what’s the best thing for our kids.”

Munter was asked if there been discussions regarding the Pioneers.

“I haven’t heard anything about the possibility of attempting anything with Hill-Murray,” Munter stated. “We will see what happens. We have to keep thinking about what is best for our kids. Right now it is a sensitive problem.”

North High School AD Jed Helwig echoed Munter’s comments. “No, that possibility (voting to eliminate Hill-Murray) hasn’t been discussed. I make decisions based on what is in the best interest of North and our student athletes. As far as St. Thomas is concerned, it does what it can. That’s what it is for them.”

Lechner: “We can’t worry”

Hill-Murray AD Bill Lechner also discussed the situation. “This isn’t a Hill-Murray thing. I liken it to dating. If someone doesn’t want you, you find someone else. It’s the same kind of thing. If someone doesn’t want us, we go somewhere else. I’ve kind of taken that approach. We can’t worry. We try to do the best we can.”

The issue of the outdoor track was mentioned and Lechner stated, “At the time we entered the conference, my principal said it would be OK to (make that promise). I suppose, if it came down to something like that, people could use that as one aspect of them not wanting us in the conference any longer. I won’t lose any sleep over it.”

Hill-Murray has been making many building improvements, but Lechner explained that donors play a role in determining how their money will be spent.

Lechner explained, “We have the bids (for the track). It will cost about a million and a half. Right now we have about a million dollars committed to the project. At this time I’m trying to find the other half.”

Hill-Murray was one of the two schools - St. Thomas was the other - that voted against excluding the Cadets from the conference.

“We’re not St. Thomas. I maybe wish we were,” continued Lechner. “Hill-Murray doesn’t have that kind of money (to upgrade its facilities). Would I go through the process (finding a new conference) again? I’d rather not.

“This is just a bump in the road. We live one step at a time. I’m not worried about it. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. If the bridge isn’t there, we won’t worry about it.”

The question of wrestling and gymnastics was also raised and Lechner mentioned the Hill-Murray student body. “We have nearly 300 boys and 300 girls. Of that we have 80 to 90 percent of our kids involved in sports.

That is a much larger percentage than most schools. We also have boys and girls lacrosse which most of the schools (in the Classic Suburban) don’t have. We do what we can.”

Most will concede that Hill-Murray not only does what it can, but it does it pretty darn well.

At this time it doesn’t appear that sentiment is to have Hill-Murray kicked out of the Classic Suburban any time soon. And there doesn’t seem to be anyone comparing the Pioneers with the Cadets.

That puts us back in a mode of waiting to see what the Classic Suburban AD’s decide at their next meeting. Don’t bet that they won’t vote to disband and start all over.

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