Eighth-grader Bryna DelCastillo didn't run her fastest time at last week's cross-country sectional in Anoka. But Bryna, who challenged an Anoka-Hennepin School District rule that does not allow seventh- and eighth-graders to compete in varsity events, did run for Coon Rapids High School.
But Sydney Paulson, a seventh-grader, was not allowed to compete with the Anoka High varsity team. And her father, Brandon Paulson, a 1996 Olympic silver medal-winning wrestler from Anoka, has charged the school board with age discrimination.
Paulson said last week that he has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. The Minnesota State High School League allows seventh-graders and up to compete on varsity teams, at the school's discretion.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District, the state's largest, is the only one that does not allow seventh- and eighth-graders on varsity teams.
"The Anoka-Hennepin school board has not given any rational reasons for this illogical policy," said Paulson, a club wrestling coach in Shoreview. "They have stated that they believe athletes will have the chance to participate when they are in ninth to 12th grades. We have no idea what the future holds for any of these student athletes.
"This doesn't make any sense as we are only asking to allow age-eligible athletes to compete for varsity spots in sports that don't cut athletes. Why deprive a young athlete who would qualify in any other school district?"
Sydney Paulson, 13, had the third-fastest time for Anoka at the section meet, but "unfortunately, it was for the JV team," her father said.
The Anoka-Hennepin rule has been amended several times over the past two decades. It was created to appease parents and athletes who objected to seventh- and eight-graders taking varsity team spots.
"This policy limits opportunity and stifles competition," Paulson said Friday. He said the district "should be doing the opposite" and try to "increase opportunity for all eligible students."
Last month, a half dozen people, including Paulson, addressed the school board, asking for the rule to be changed. Last Monday, nearly the entire Coon Rapids girls cross-country team attended the school board meeting, making a plea on behalf of Bryna DelCastillo, 13, who is 30 seconds faster than anyone on the team, according to Coach Don Timm.
Paula Mohr, the mother of a senior swimmer at Anoka, also spoke in support of changing the district rule. So did Bryna's mother.
The school board elected not to discuss the issue at the meeting.
Coon Rapids High had to field seven members at last Thursday's meet and six spots had to go to high-schoolers. The final spot could only go to Bryna if high-school teammates declined. They did.
The team finished third. But for at least one spectator, what the Coon Rapids team accomplished can't be measured in wins or losses or minutes and seconds.
To Sue DelCastillo, everybody won. "She was able to run," DelCastillo said of her daughter. "What the team did for her is great."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419