An unprecedented protest. Local outcry. National attention.
Drama surrounded last year’s Minnesota dance team state tournament after coaches and girls from five top metro-area teams stood off to the side of the Target Center floor holding hands in protest as Faribault was named high-kick champion in Class 3A.
The teams, which did not receive awards during the ceremony, felt Faribault copied choreography, uniforms and music from a Utah team. They also were upset that an investigation by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) before the tournament cleared the team of any violations.
The protest resulted in one-year suspensions for coaches at Chaska, Eastview, Lakeville South and Wayzata. Eden Prairie’s coach resigned. League associate director Kevin Merkle said he knew rules needed tightening before the spectacle. Eager to get past the publicity stain, the league has since created a new scoring rubric to ensure performances, when influenced by another team, are not overly similar.
A five-person review panel tallies points for borrowed choreography, music or uniforms. Too many points can result in disqualification at the league’s discretion. Teams are also required to list influences for their performance on a form the league keeps on file.
The scoring rubric and listing of influences come from a hybrid of suggestions made by the Judges Association of Minnesota Dance Teams and the Minnesota Association of Dance Teams (MADT).
“We leaned on our four rule coordinators last year, but there wasn’t the process we have now,” Merkle said.
A review of the Faribault performance by dance team rule coordinators found “32 counts that could be considered the same or similar” to a team in Utah, Merkle wrote in a letter to the Faribault activities director before last year’s state tournament. He added, “While the uniform and music are similar, and the theme is basically identical, these in and of themselves are also not a violation of current MSHSL Dance Team rules.”
Music and uniforms received less consideration last year.
“It’s OK to be inspired,” said Allison Bridges, vice president of MADT. “We looked at some questionable material earlier this season and none tripped the violation mark.”
No plagiarism questions or concerns were brought forward after recent section performances, Merkle said. The 20th MSHSL tournament begins Friday at Target Center. Chaska, Eastview, Lakeville South and Wayzata qualified in the Class 3A high-kick division. Faribault, which moved to Class 2A based on its enrollment, also qualified.
Faribault coach Lois Krinke, in an e-mail, expressed support for the rule changes, as well as preseason rule training and continuing education for coaches. Merkle said the league did not want to “pick on” Faribault by testing last season’s winning performance against the new scoring rubric. Krinke would have welcomed the chance.
“Even with these new rules in place for this year, our dance in question from last year would have been within all the rules outlined,” she wrote.
Activities directors at Eastview and Wayzata, a Lakeville South spokesperson and new Eden Prairie coach Jessica Howells said they are satisfied with the tighter rule criteria. Trojans AD Jaime Sherwood called the rule changes a “great jumping off spot.”
Merkle said: “There are still some raw feeling involved. But there are also the people who think, ‘It’s over.’ ”
Suspended coaches were allowed to work with their teams at practices this season and be present at performances. But they could not take part in competitions or have contact with team members from the last competition through the state tournament.