St. Louis Park High School leaders have agreed to resume athletic competition against New Prague as the latter takes meaningful steps toward changing its school district's culture.

Concerns raised in February about racist behavior directed toward St. Louis Park boys' hockey players led to the cancellation of sports competition against New Prague for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year — a dramatic decision that drew statewide attention.

Earlier this month, New Prague High School leaders released a "School Climate Update" slideshow outlining steps taken, work in progress and plans for "working with students, staff, parents, and community leaders for positive change."

Andy Ewald, activities director at St. Louis Park High School, said he and other school leaders reviewed the information and are "cautiously optimistic" about declaring game on. The two schools are members of the Metro West Conference.

"We're not holding our breath and thinking that it's just a matter of when it will happen again," Ewald said. "I really believe they have taken our concerns seriously."

Robbinsdale Cooper had also canceled New Prague games, citing racist taunting of the girls' basketball team, which includes athletes of color. New Prague school leaders said an investigation couldn't substantiate allegations that its fans made loud monkey noises during a Feb. 15 game at New Prague, about 45 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

Cooper has since departed the Metro West Conference, along with Bloomington Kennedy, for the Tri-Metro Conference. The move had been planned for several years, according to a Cooper spokesperson.

New Prague Superintendent Tim Dittberner said his district hopes to "turn a negative situation into a positive" through work outlined in the School Climate Update.

A 25-member task force consisting of students, staff, administration, school board, parents and community members held three 90-minute meetings from April to June. Three more meetings are being scheduled from September to November.

“We're not holding our breath and thinking that it's just a matter of when it will happen again. I really believe they have taken our concerns seriously.”
Andy Ewald, St. Louis Park athletic director

An Equity Summit was held in June for school district staff and administration, and a fall workshop is being planned with district equity coordinator Termaine Fulton, featuring a two-hour interactive presentation on equity and inclusion.

In addition, all high school athletic teams and groups will have a preseason discussion with Fulton, the activities director and coaching staffs in the area of equity and inclusion.

"This isn't just more talk," Dittberner said. "The true sign will be how people act and treat one another."

Ewald, who said the New Prague banner will return to the St. Louis Park High School gymnasium wall, hopes the work being done will "have an impact to change hearts and minds."

"We have to model what we expect of others," he said.