Mualigbe Keita’s message was clear. Prairie Seeds Academy will move forward no matter how hard outsiders try to bring it down, he said. ¶ “United,” added Keita, a senior soccer player speaking in the distinctive accent of his native Guinea, on the African continent. “We are family here.”
Prairie Seeds, entering its sixth year of competition, is a boys’ soccer family like no other.
The program has been marred by accusations of fielding ineligible players and last fall was at the center of an unprecedented disqualification from the 2012 state tournament. The school’s administration says it is tired of fighting the system and is doing all it can to strip away any negativity attached to its name.
Charged with leading this task is 23-year-old Jason Obarski, a former Apple Valley all-state soccer and all-state football player. Obarski was hired in July after Youssef Darbaki, who remains as the team’s coach, was stripped of those duties.
Changing Prairie Seeds from within won’t be as hard as transforming the outside perception, Obarski said. The Lycans’ troubles getting games scheduled are worse than ever. Obarski made 50 requests for games this season that were either denied or ignored.
“I’m catching everyone up to speed with what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said. “The school is very young. It’s a new process. And there are a lot of rules in the state high school league handbook.”
Success, then eligibility scrutiny
Scheduling games has been a challenge for Prairie Seeds since it went 22-0 in its first season in 2008. Blowout victories against Minnetonka, Coon Rapids and Anoka kept teams from scheduling similar fates.
The Lycans’ team consists mostly of athletes born in foreign countries who moved here with families or are growing up as first-generation Americans. They have brought cultural soccer traditions to the program and their unique talent has meant immediate success for the publicly funded Brooklyn Park charter school. Prairie Seeds won the 2010 Class 1A title and has qualified for state three times.
But with that success, the school also has come under repeated scrutiny in the soccer community, primarily about whether it followed Minnesota State High School League rules regarding player eligibility.
Those battles came to a head last October, after a fight broke out in the final seconds of Prairie Seeds’ victory over Totino-Grace in the section final. A probe of the fight brought to light an ineligible player and prompted the league to disqualify the Lycans from the state tournament in what MSHSL executive director David Stead called an “unprecedented” move.
The battle didn’t stop there. Prairie Seeds appealed the league’s ruling in court, where a judge upheld the action only hours before the team otherwise would have played in the tournament.
Prairie Seeds eventually withdrew its legal action. Totino-Grace pursued legal action against Prairie Seeds players for actions stemming from the fight. The MSHSL also scrutinized players from both teams in a video of the fight, issuing no penalty to some and up to four weeks’ suspensions for others.
In the months that have passed, Prairie Seeds Principal Choua Yang made steps to make amends with Stead and his staff. Her biggest gesture of compliance was to hire Obarski with the blessing of the high school league.
“We’re doing it the right way now and the school is on board for our new beginning,” Obarski said.
Doing what’s best for kids