On an away game trip to Providence Academy last season, the Minneapolis South football team’s school bus passed out of town west toward Plymouth, leaving behind Minneapolis Edison, Henry and North. All schools that South’s bus would have stopped at just two years ago for conference games.
As the bus exited the city, South coach Lenny Sedlock’s mind wandered to Minneapolis Washburn, a traditional South rival. The Millers were having another winning season, and he wondered if his team could upset Washburn if they played.
He and the Tigers never found out. The two teams’ paths, which had always met in decades of southside battles, never crossed under the new district schedule.
“All of a sudden it was done,” Sedlock said of the Minneapolis City Conference dissolving. “The tradition and competition that is lost through this whole thing is the sad part.”
He fears the kids he coaches now won’t receive the benefits he and many others experienced from playing football in the more than 100-year-old conference.
The move to district scheduling last season splintered conferences all over the state but none with the pedigree of the Minneapolis conference. Seven city schools — North, Southwest, Henry, Washburn, Roosevelt, South and Edison — had comprised the conference since 1983. Now they are spread across four subdistricts.
The same thing occurred in St. Paul, where six city schools are dispersed in the same four subdistricts. Those groupings are filled out with suburban and private schools.
As a result, while Minneapolis schools still see intra-city opponents in the regular season, gone are the days where every school played one another for citywide bragging rights.
No more Bell Trophy, which went to the conference champion. Gone is the year-end coaches’ banquet, which Sedlock has been a part of since the late 1980s. And the Twin City Champions game, between the champions of the city conferences in Minneapolis and St. Paul, is no more.
Rivalries run deep
A reality without city football rivalries is one senior Washburn receiver Savion Johnson didn’t anticipate while growing up watching Millers football.
“My brothers played here, and it was always fun to watch them play against the other city teams,” Johnson said. “It’s different now that things have changed because we don’t know much about the teams we are playing.”
Most of the athletes who comprised the Minneapolis conference went to elementary and middle schools together. They played on the same youth football teams. But when it came time to choose a high school, some friends ended up donning different team colors. Because of open enrollment, two boys could live in neighboring homes, but one could attend North and the other Henry.
North coach Charlie Adams fought hard against traditional city football rivalries ending, especially the storied North-Henry game. A 1999 graduate of North, Adams said he remembers 1998, when North beat the Patriots 74-0 — the largest margin of victory in conference history.
North has controlled the rivalry since 2000, winning 11 of the past 14 games. But every year, the players, the respective high schools and the community came out to fight for northside bragging rights.
Rivalry memories run generations deep inside Minneapolis football alumni. Fathers, mothers and cousins, many of whom graduated from either school, look forward to a new generation of the Henry-North rivalry.
But Patriots and Polars family members are anticipating a game that isn’t on the schedule, Adams said.
“People don’t even know who is playing who,” he said. “A lot of parents are shocked when I tell them that we don’t play Henry this year and that we probably won’t ever play them.”
Polars senior Jamire Jackson hasn’t played a football game against Henry since 2014. As a three-sport athlete, playing basketball and baseball, he still competes against the Patriots on the court and diamond, where the city conference structure remains intact. But he misses competing against old friends on the football field.
Rallying for each other
As the rivalry with Henry has faded, the hype among the student body for the Polars games isn’t the same, either.
“There used to be a lot of talking back and fourth throughout the schools and on Facebook,” junior Polars receiver Tayler Johnson said. “Now it’s like no one really talks [about our games] except the one against St. Paul Central.”
North vs. Central carries its own recent history. Last Friday North defeated the Minutemen 36-29 in Central’s 1,000th game in school history. In the past three years, the game has represented the best teams in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Before North’s resurgence, the Minutemen got used to playing Washburn in the Twin City Championship.
“All these kids talked year-round about that game,” said Scott Howell, Central’s coach for 16 years. “It was for bragging rights in the city for them. The kids looked forward to it because it was a big deal.”
Regardless of schedule, city coaches continue to prepare their players for whoever is in front of them. Just as coaches like Sedlock and Adams continue to support each other’s visions, city players now rally behind each other since they no longer chase the same conference title.
“We cheer for other teams more now since we don’t have to play [Minneapolis] schools as much,” Washburn senior D’Angelo Moore said. “When someone plays a bigger school, we want them to show what the inner city is capable of.”