A Minnesota state senator pushed back Friday against the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) after it said Waseca high school hockey players couldn't wear game jerseys that paid tribute to a local police officer shot in the line of duty.
"Let me give you some friendly advice. Reverse course," Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, wrote in a letter to the league's executive director, Erich Martens. "There is a time for following rules and guidelines, but this is a time for compassion."
The jerseys, donated by a Minnesota company, are emblazoned with "Waseca Police" and officer Arik Matson's badge number on the front. His last name is on the back of the players' jerseys. The girls and boys hockey teams had planned to wear the jerseys during their games and then auction them at the end of their season to raise money for Matson's family.
But when they learned this week that the jerseys violate the MSHSL's uniform rules and policies, the players relegated them to pregame warmups.
The move prompted many to take to social media, with critics and defenders of the league's rules facing off.
Waseca school officials are staying out of the fray, and on Friday they said they may have a new patch made to honor Matson that can be sewn onto game jerseys. The patch would be no bigger than 4 square inches, as required by the league, said Waseca Superintendent Tom Lee.
The company that provided the jerseys had good intentions, but it didn't know about the regulations regarding commemorative patches, Lee said.
Rules are rules, said Lee, who was also unaware of the MSHSL regulations pertaining to jerseys. "We have to adhere to them. It's important that we model for our students."
But sometimes, there are exceptions, said Jasinski, whose legislative district includes Waseca and who decided to send a note to the league on Friday after getting calls and e-mails as the jersey kerfuffle played out on social media.
The league's director called him almost immediately, he said.
"I get the rule issue," Jasinski said in a telephone interview. "I always believe there's an exemption to rules if there's a good cause. … To my belief, this doesn't diminish the integrity of the jersey. We need to be human. Some things are taken way too seriously."
For the small southern Minnesota community, the jerseys are a show of support for an officer who was shot in the head while responding to a call about a prowler earlier this month.
"This is a community that's very strong and very compassionate," Jasinski said.
Martens said he understands the outpouring of community support.
"We know that our officers, whether it be law enforcement or military, are important both on a societal level and personal level," he said Friday, adding that league officials are working with Waseca school leaders to find an appropriate way to honor Matson.
That works for those in Waseca, Lee said.
At first, the league's rejection of the jersey struck an emotional chord for most people, he said. But the anger has faded with talk of possibly designing a new, regulation-sized patch.
"We're trying to find that sweet spot in the middle," Lee said.