The Minnesota State High School League Representative Assembly took steps Tuesday morning to add extracurricular opportunities for some athletes and not provide additional options for others.
With amendments to officially sanction the sport of boys volleyball — and add section and state tournaments for girls wrestling — a two-thirds majority vote was required from the Representative Assembly to add both for the 2021-22 school year.
Girls wrestling passed easily, with the 44 yes votes and four no votes comfortably clearing the benchmark to pass. Boys volleyball, however, was shut down with only 29 yes votes, 18 no votes and one abstention. With the one abstention, 31 yes votes were needed for the amendment to pass.
Northfield Activities Director Joel Olson, a member of the Representative Assembly, voted yes for both amendments.
The vote was preceded by eight speakers presenting in support of adding boys volleyball, and attempting to explain that through the four years boys volleyball has existed in Minnesota outside of the Minnesota State High School League interest in the activity has exploded while not hemorrhaging participation rates from other spring activities.
“I don’t know if you can put a price on diversity and inclusion in our state," University of Minnesota volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon said during the presentation. "If it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work for other communities. It’s hopefully an easy decision.”
Other speakers in favor of adding boys volleyball included Farmington Activities Director Bill Tschida, who said a senior on the Farmington club team has obtained a scholarship to continue playing volleyball in college.
Those types of opportunities highlighted the case for adding boys volleyball, as well as the opportunities for the MSHSL and its member schools to better serve its student population.
“It is built on equal opportunity, so if you feel they have earned this opportunity than the vote is yes,” said Walt Weaver, the co-founder of the Minnesota Boys Volleyball League, and member of the MSHSL and Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“A no vote serves no one," he continued. "It simply denies an opportunity that is deserved. Vote yes for them, it’s the closest we will ever come to a win win.”
Minnesota's First Lady, Gwen Walz, also pleaded with the Representative Assembly to approve the amendment, citing her son in eighth grade that has shown an outsized interest in playing volleyball as opposed to other sports.
“Do we mean what we say?" Walz asked the Representative Assembly. "I became involved because my son asked me to. He asked me to further this impact to see if I could do anything. We see change and opportunity for students in activities in this great state of Minnesota…The answer is not complicated if we mean what we say and if we are student-centered.”
Students from Mounds Park Academy also attempted to persuade the Representative Assembly, praising the efforts of volunteers during the past four years to keep boys volleyball afloat as a club sport, but that official sanctioning from the MSHSL would guarantee the sport's long-term viability.
Fong Vang, the boys club coach at Hmong College Prep Academy, furthered the point that boys volleyball serves a group of students not already participating in MSHSL activities.
“We can’t offer other sports because we don’t have the interest in baseball and lacrosse," Vang said. "Volleyball for us is the only spring sport that will be sustainable. It will mean the world to the Hmong community and the athletes that we serve.”
After the presentation, the Representative Assembly broke into small caucus groups to discuss what they had heard and organize their thoughts before an official vote. After emerging from the small groups, a list of barriers were presented that prevented many from voting yes on the amendment.
During the spring season, members of the Representative Assembly worried about gym availability when spring sports often need to retreat inside to escape the weather. Another major sticking point offered up centered around potential Title IX implications, with some members saying that adding another boys sport was not feasible, since that required adding another girls sport.
The cost of adding those two extra activities was too cumbersome, those members said, in the face of rising member fees from the MSHSL.
Ultimately, those costs outweighed the opportunities boys volleyball might present for students.
GIRLS WRESTLING APPROVED
While plenty of contention and discussion surrounded the boys volleyball vote, the decision to approve girls wrestling was relatively straightforward.
There was no presentation in favor or against the amendment at Tuesday's meeting, and the primary issues raised against the amendment were the potential for coaches to be stretched thin once the postseason arrives, and how the addition of girls brackets might alter the schedules and locations of the postseason.
Starting in the 2021-22 season, an option will be presented for female wrestlers to enter in separate weight classes for the individual section and state tournaments, instead of needing to battle through a co-ed weight class. During the season, and for team competitions, female athletes will still compete alongside their male counterparts.