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Continued: Booster spending alters high school athletic competition

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 27, 2013 - 8:02 AM

A first-class upgrade

Terrence Fogarty graduated from St. Paul Johnson in 1978 and, at the school’s ice arena, a painting by him celebrating Johnson’s high school hockey tradition hangs on the wall. A photo of Lou Cotroneo, the old-time Johnson hockey coach, hangs nearby.

Fogarty has forged a career as a Minnesota version of Norman Rockwell, doing sports paintings for the Minnesota Wild, the Minnesota Twins and others.

Last year, he was hired to do another painting — not for Johnson, but for Edina High School. The prints have been selling for $225 to help pay for the $3.2 million addition to the city’s Braemar Ice Arena. Twenty-five canvas paintings, which feature an Edina hockey team being lectured by among others Willard Ikola, the school’s legendary coach, sold for $1,500 each.

Braemar is the newly remodeled home of Edina’s boys’ hockey team, a perennial hockey powerhouse. The addition includes a sporting goods store, a hockey training center and locker rooms with large flat-screen TVs, couches and plug-ins for players’ iPods. Twin Cities Orthopedics also outfitted two trainers’ rooms as “their show of support for the project,” said Susie Miller, Braemar’s general manager.

The campaign to raise $800,000 privately for the project was called the “Drive for the Hive,” because the high school team is known as the Hornets. City officials said prominent benefactor Eric Anderson, a top executive with San Francisco-based City Center Realty Partners, an urban development firm, volunteered to be the project’s construction manager, likely saving the city thousands in costs.

Longtime Minnesota hockey icon Lou Nanne, whose son helped lead the fundraising drive, bristled at any suggestion that Edina was separating itself further from other schools. “It’s an embarrassment it wasn’t fixed before this,” Nanne said of the ice arena. “It has nothing to do with competitive edge. [You] don’t go and play [for a school] because the team’s got a nice locker room.”

Miller said the Edina Hockey Association is helping pay for the project by charging its 1,300 youth skaters a $20 annual fee.

The expansion is one sign of the financial muscle behind high school sports in Edina. Corporate support is another. Microsoft, Cambria, Davanni’s and Whole Foods are among the companies that have purchased “Gold” advertising packages from the Edina Athletic Booster Club, entitling them to among other things digital scoreboard ads, stadium banners and 30 passes to Edina home games.

The booster club recently contributed $7,500 for a new pole vault pit mat, even though club president Kathleen Good acknowledged that relatively few students pole vault. Meanwhile, at Ooh La La, a custom rhinestone apparel boutique in Excelsior, a black T-shirt with “Edina Hornets” in green rhinestones sells for $24.

Fogarty, the artist, said he feels for his alma mater, tucked into the gritty neighborhoods of St. Paul’s East Side, but he added that the financial gap between Edina and Johnson is just the way high school sports are evolving.

“It’s becoming a more affluent sport,” Fogarty said of prep hockey. “It’s not the kids going down to the pond and skating on Saturdays.”

But skating on the pond on Saturdays — or at least the idyllic image of it — still sells.

In the left-hand corner of Fogarty’s painting for Edina there is this scene: a young girl and boy, wearing Edina-green jerseys and stocking caps, lacing up their skates on a neighborhood pond.

“We make over $100 on each print,” said Beth Williamson, who is helping with the fundraiser and whose father-in-law, Murray Williamson, coached both the 1968 and 1972 U.S. Olympic hockey teams.

Hurting for money

The game — and the halftime promotion — were tough to watch for Mike Streff and about 20 others who sat bundled in the visitors’ stands at Maple Grove High School’s football stadium for a matchup late last fall.

Streff was the outgoing president of the Coon Rapids Sideliners, the high school’s booster club. By halftime, Coon Rapids was trailing 20-0.

Under a bright moon, the Sideliners also watched as Maple Grove gave away a flat-screen TV during a halftime promotion.

“The numbers are down, the parents are down,” Pam Duckert, a Sideliner member, said of booster support for the team. Eight years ago, she said, “These stands would have been completely full of people.”

Coon Rapids last won a state football title in 1983. Two weeks before the Maple Grove game — which the team eventually lost, 39-14 — the Sideliners had $8,225.34 in the bank.

Tom Lovik, who had a ninth-grader playing for Coon Rapids last fall, remembered the game against Minnetonka, which Coon Rapids also lost, 49-14. While Coon Rapids and other schools are “scratching to get kids out,” he said, Minnetonka “will have 100 kids on the sidelines, or more.”

A few weeks after the Maple Grove game, the Sideliners gathered to recap the season and tried to keep the session from turning into a wake. In a nearby conference room, an antiques show had 10 times the turnout. One Sideliner urged the group to keep the end-of-the-year team banquet as upbeat as possible — “the boys had a rough year,” she explained.

Making a long season even longer, the Sideliners received news at the meeting that the new end-zone camera, bought to enable the coaches to film football games, had been toppled by the wind at the Maple Grove game and shattered.

As one parent tried to move on by describing the new helmets that Andover’s football team had purchased, Colleen Roloff, another parent, blurted out: “They have more money than we do — everyone has more money than we do.”

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