Minnehaha Academy students typically have a jam-packed homecoming weekend: A pep fest, followed by a football game and semiformal dance.
But with their high school campus wrecked by a gas explosion, students and staff faced a predicament: How to have this year’s homecoming without a home?
The explosion that shattered the high school campus on Aug. 2 killed two, injured nine others, and sent the school reeling just weeks before fall opening. The upper school for grades nine through 12 is now in temporary lodgings at a former college campus in Mendota Heights.
Homecoming weekend 2017 shows the 350 Minnehaha Academy high schoolers have learned to adapt.
The kids pitched their pep rally and festival on Thursday in the school’s lower campus in Minneapolis. The dance will be on Saturday at their temporary home in Mendota Heights. Minnehaha doesn’t usually host the football game, since its field doesn’t have lights, so its team traveled to the Blake School (with which the school, along with St. Paul Academy, has a co-op team) for the annual game. The soccer team played at White Bear Lake High.
Only the Minnehaha girls’ tennis team was able to spend homecoming on the upper campus at the school’s tennis courts.
The damaged high school building won’t see the fanfare of future homecoming weekends. A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report found that the campus core “was so intensely shaken by the blast that it must be razed,” according to an update from school officials on Minnehaha Academy’s website.
The demolition will begin soon, the update said, and will last a few months. The surviving gym and fine arts quarters are without utility service, and officials are determining what will happen to those.
Despite the disaster, a booming band rendition of “Sweet Caroline” rang through Thursday’s pep fest, the homecoming court danced and the crowd of adolescents cheered as their peers played games.
“We’re still a community,” said sophomore Danyelle Robinson.
Thursday’s soccer game against White Bear Lake High School was a re-enactment of the state’s first high school soccer game played under lights 50 years ago, at White Bear Lake. The game even brought out Minnehaha’s coach for the original game, Guido Kauls.
Minnehaha Academy’s soccer field, named for Kauls, would have been a natural location. But it is at the upper campus, just across from the explosion site and isn’t being used, said school marketing director Rebekah Peterson.
Despite the disruption, the school aims to keep customs for students, especially matching this year’s seniors’ experiences with those of past classes, said Principal Jason Wenschlag.
“If we can do that and create a great year for them, their final year, then that’s a good thing for us,” he said.
And the traditions continued. Students talked about the semiformal dance Saturday. At Thursday’s events, many wore Minnehaha’s bright red. Kids belted the school song, calling out the letters “M-I-N-N-E-H-A-H-A.”
“A lot of our traditions are the same, and that helps it feel more normal,” said senior Emma Melling.
Only the tug-of-war didn’t go as planned. The freshman class beat the seniors, and then pummeled every other grade level.
The quick transition to Mendota Heights has been tough, said junior Lars Askegaard, but the new space includes personalized design touches. It still feels like Minnehaha.
“It’s a different homecoming, but it’s still a really cool celebration with the school,” he said.