ST. CLOUD, Minn. – St. Cloud State closed out Wednesday night with a celebration akin to winning a national championship.
The Huskies, ranked third in the nation among Division II baseball teams, swept No. 16 Minnesota Duluth thanks to a dramatic three-run home run by Judd Davis. The team surrounded home plate and mobbed Davis.
St. Cloud State hopes to close out its season with this same scene late this spring. The only problem is the Huskies have been banned from traveling to North Carolina, the host of the NCAA Division II World Series since 2009.
“It all kind of happened in the last day or two here,” St. Cloud State coach Pat Dolan said about the news that Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) presidents decided athletics-related travel is nonessential and would fall under its implemented travel ban to North Carolina. The directive was in support of Gov. Mark Dayton’s statement last month to prohibit state employees and agencies from travel to North Carolina in response to its law banning transgender people from using locker rooms and bathrooms designated for the gender with which they identify.
“You’re talking about 18- to 22-year-old ballplayers that have nothing to do with any of that other stuff, whether you believe in it or don’t believe in it,” Dolan added. “Whether it’s our guys or Duluth or Mankato, whatever guys get an opportunity to play in the World Series, you just hope you don’t take that opportunity away from young men that have worked hard since they were 5, 6 years old.”
Dayton’s order did not apply to MnSCU, but its leadership later implemented its own travel ban for MnSCU employees.
St. Cloud State improved to 36-6 with 3-2 and 5-4 victories, but early in the evening the on-field action was clouded by the political standoff.
“A lot of us saw it on social media,” St. Cloud State senior shortstop Kyle Lieser said. “It’s definitely something that is frustrating. I got a lot of texts and a couple phone calls about, ‘If it’s real, if it’s true.’ … It’s unfortunate at the time when you think about it that you might not get that chance and a lot of people might think, ‘What’s baseball got to do with that?’ ”
Dayton said Wednesday that “my information is that the presidents and the chancellor are reconsidering that issue, now. Like right now. So I’m going to withhold comment until they come to their clarity.”
Duluth, a member of the University of Minnesota system, is not affected by the ruling, but there is concern among parents that UMD might follow MnSCU’s example.
Both teams and their supporters were still trying to understand and digest the news that their dreams of winning a national championship had been, or could be, stripped from them.
“Why would you do that to the kids?” Lynn Gregory said. “It makes me sick. … They shouldn’t be penalized for something they didn’t do.”
Scott Austing had already left a message for his state representative, and Becka Hoffman e-mailed Dayton and encouraged her friends on Facebook to do the same.
John Wilkins, a former college and high school baseball coach from St. Michael who drove up for Wednesday’s game, believes the players “are being discriminated against, because they played all year to go to a national tournament and if they win [their regional tournament] and are able to go, they should be able to go.”
Several UMD parents were still trying to determine whether their team had been affected. Though there was relief that the Bulldogs weren’t banned from travel at the moment, they were in support of St. Cloud State in this off-field matter.
Paul Hellquist, a parent of a UMD player, argued that baseball games have no effect on anything going on in North Carolina. He said the players are being used as pawns.
UMD coaches and players declined to comment on the matter.
The Division II national championships have been played in Cary since 2009 and Minnesota State Mankato has been in that field four times — most recently in 2014.
St. Cloud State President Earl H. Potter said he doesn’t want this to become a distraction for the players and is hopeful MnSCU can settle on the right thing to do.
“I think a lot of questions remain,” he said, “and I don’t think the outcome is certain.”