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Minneapolis girls' high school soccer players from Patrick Henry (white) and Southwest (purple) blended their teams to play a recent scrimmage, action taken to turn what would have been a lopsided Southwest victory into a mutually beneficial soccer experience. Other Minneapolis teams have started doing likewise this fall. Photo: Per Breiehagen
If they can’t beat you, join them.
This flipped axiom is guiding soccer teams in the Minneapolis City Conference this fall. A new approach, blending players from two otherwise unmatched teams and playing a scrimmage, started Sept. 15 when the Henry girls' team agreed to forfeit to Southwest. Better a “friendly” than another lopsided victory for a “have” school against a “have-not.”
The intent goes well beyond the scoreboard. Changes and restrictions brought by COVID-19 meant some programs lost more players from already small rosters. And tougher conversations since the killing of George Floyd gave coaches a larger reality to consider.
“There’s just an overall awareness of the competitive inequities in society as a whole,” said Sean Baker, Southwest girls’ soccer coach. “Especially post-George Floyd. We’re trying to respect the humanity of all kids despite the resources of their families and school communities.”
Word got out and the new format spread. On Sept. 22, the Edison girls’ soccer team forfeited against Washburn in favor of a blended scrimmage. Two nights later, both the Henry boys’ and girls’ programs took forfeited losses against their Washburn counterparts and joined forces instead.
“It’s about both an appreciation for soccer and for Minneapolis,” said Cheryl Peterson, Washburn girls’ co-head coach. “In Minneapolis, our kids do understand the bigger picture of racial injustice and inequality. This is a great way for us to live a small part of it.”
Aaron Percy, coach of the Millers boys’ program, added, “It’s about what we want our character to be. This is better than a result in the standings.”
The scrimmage idea, used in selected matchups, emerged from what Baker called “threads of conversations that came together.” He lauded Dave Wicker, the conference’s assistant activities director, and Robert Hollway, Southwest activities director, for their support.
“I think these scrimmages can be examples of future progress for the conference in all sports, a way to evolve,” Baker said.
Sounds good to longtime Henry girls’ soccer coach Craig Teiken. The scrimmage format was an improvement over past attempts at more even play, such as pitting his varsity players against a stronger program’s junior varsity.For years, going head-to-head with stronger varsity teams was not feasible.
“We’ve had games in the conference where we’re down 10-0 at halftime and the other team just passes the ball the whole second half,” Teiken said. “It was a waste of everyone’s time.”
Teiken said the Patriots dress just 11 players this season, down from 15 a year ago due to COVID-19 concerns.
Scrimmaging Southwest, he said, “gave our girls the chance to play with better players in a legit soccer game. They got to see the structure and hear the communication you need. It’s tough because they still know they forfeited a game. But this was better than being demoralized.”