High school soccer enthusiasts’ hopes for an independent state tournament are going unrealized.
A trifecta of obstacles proved too much for a group of parent organizers who represented public and private schools, both genders and both classes of soccer. One of those parents, Michael Gorman, notified coaches and other interested parties on Sunday that “it has become clear that we do not have a path forward for this tournament.”
Momentum stalled in the past 24 hours, said Gorman, a Breck School soccer parent, due to concerns expressed by varsity coaches, a lack of available fields and the withdrawal of event partners Twin Cities Soccer Leagues and the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association.
“Nobody knows better than you, the coaches, how passionately the players have thrown themselves into the season, appreciating every chance to take the field,” Gorman wrote in an e-mail. “We thought they (and you) deserved the chance for three more games and an official state tournament. We are sorry we cannot provide even an unofficial alternative.”
Gorman had two sons on the Mustangs' Class 1A, Section 5 championship team. But his interest began before the playoffs. He joined eight additional parents on a steering committee working on behalf of an even larger parent group.
Their work began Oct. 13, after the Minnesota State High School League denied a coaches’ proposal sent by Edina girls’ soccer coach Katie Aafedt. The coaches sought a reversal of the league’s Oct. 1 decision (by a 10-8 vote) to prohibit any sort of culminating event for all fall sports beyond the section playoffs. The league’s aim was mitigating the potential spread of COVID-19.
An e-mail reply from executive director Erich Martens to Aafedt read, in part, “At this time, our Board has made the decision to maintain a focus on a postseason that is based locally, concludes at the section level, and is in alignment with the recommendation of the Minnesota Department of Health to reduce the gathering of individuals, especially from a variety of communities.”
Aafedt balked. Section playoffs at the higher-seeded team’s field brought the Lakeville South boys to Rochester Century, Centennial to Duluth East and Moorhead to Maple Grove. On the girls’ side, Anoka played at Duluth East and Brained trekked to Maple Grove.
To top off soccer fans' frustration, Edina’s football team welcomed Bemidji to town on Friday.
“This tournament would have been held safely,” Gorman said. “We were in no way trying to diminish COVID.”
Soccer section playoffs ended Saturday, leaving 32 teams unable to advance to the Class 1A and 2A state tournaments and play down to four champions.
Varsity coaches, who would have been barred from a tournament played outside the MSHSL season, became more concerned over the weekend. They didn’t want to risk the eligibility of student-athletes playing outside of the season, Gorman said, adding that some coaches, “still wanted to put their energy into trying to change the high school league’s mind and schedule a state tournament at some other point during the school year.”
Meanwhile, the National Sports Center in Blaine rescinded its offer to be a host site without explanation, Gorman said, adding that the University of Northwestern in St. Paul was still onboard.
The final blow was the backing away of event partners Twin Cities Soccer Leagues and the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association.
“I think, initially, they thought there was universal support,” Gorman said. “But I think they started getting more pushback than expected and had to think through the ramifications. There’s a deep frustration in the soccer community that we couldn’t see our way clear to a 28-game tournament. I continue to be surprised by the energy people have against a state tournament continuing.”
Aafedt added, “It’s too bad because a lot of thought and planning had come from a place of really good intentions. To see it fall apart in the 11th hour was tough.”
Especially for players such as Orono senior midfielder Jamie Bazil, whose Spartans won the Class 1A, Section 6 title.
“It took a good hour today to get it through my head that there would be no state tournament,” said Bazil, whose mother, Susie, was involved in the process of creating an alternative state tournament. “For us seniors, it leaves unfinished business. It’s an unsettling way to go out. They took a moment we deserved out of our hands.”
The fight just might continue. Coaches and parents couldn’t move the needle. But players might.
“I’ve been texting and messaging captains on the other Class 1A teams that won their section,” Jamie Bazil said. “We might set up our own informal state tournament.”