"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Small towns jockey vs. the bigger ones

It has been a delight for me to post on Morris American Legion baseball this summer. I even shared 3-4 game reviews for the Hancock Legion team. It's nice to see Hancock having enough numbers to have a team.
Maybe someday there will be one school in Stevens County. Hancock has been holding its own nice up until now. Chokio-Alberta not so much. We'll see.
Considering the enormous size of the Morris Area school campus, it probably should be the county school. The commons areas, such as for the gyms and concert hall, are enormous. Morris has already absorbed Chokio-Alberta for athletics.
The small town programs always hold on with strong emotions behind them. You'll always find a nucleus of people who swear it'll be over their dead bodies that the small schools and their trappings will be absorbed. Eventually reality arrives and the grim decision comes. What I have found through personal observation, is that these nucleus's or nuclei of emotional people fade away from the forefront faster than you'd expect.
People who once asserted themselves so strongly, putting themselves forward as community spokesmen, really aren't. These people have of course had kids in school in very recent years. We have deferred too much to the people with emotions.
It wasn't necessary for those "cornfield schools" like Minnewaska Area and Lac qui Parle Valley to be built. Reportedly they would not be built today. They were a total sop to certain elements in the communities involved. Yes, those emotionally-invested elements that get way overrated.
You would be surprised how fast those elements will go quiet and just get on with life like everyone else.
I heard an amusing story once about how "Lac qui Parle Valley" got its name. It's a testament to the parochial-ness of these matters. The formation of Lac qui Parle Valley had all the elements of which I am speaking. There was even a report of a legislator's car being vandalized at a meeting to discuss consolidation ideas. I think Dawson-Boyd was on the cusp of joining but pulled out - a decision that D-B residents are now greatly relieved about.
It seemed there was pressure back then for small towns to let go of their schools as part of joining the "wave of the future," as if you were regressive or ignorant or something if you didn't. I think those who hesitated were the wise ones.
There is nothing like local service. The more local, the better. I learned that recently dealing with the Mediacom company. I learned the hard way that the best way to get service was to stop in and talk to the local person manning the local office. I cussed about having called that infernal phone number that appears on Mediacom invoices. There was a night and day difference. I even found there was a contradiction in policies, with the more generous and accommodative policies being offered by the local person. I came away thinking that the "boiler room" receptionists were probably working on commission.
Anyway, I think we can lay out an analogy with schools. The more local the better. It always works that way.
"Lac qui Parle" (sans "Valley") seemed a logical school name for the new, apparently trailblazing entity. There was one problem, as explained to me by a person with knowledge of the situation. "Lac qui Parle" had already been the name for the wrestling program that was based in Madison.
Sports! It always screws everything up. That's where so many cotton-pickin' emotions are invested. To call the new school "Lac qui Parle" might suggest, in some very subtle way, that Madison was somehow being given an advantage. Yes, this is stupid. So someone suggested that "Valley" be tacked onto the name. Now we have something totally new!
A friend of mine who's a Morris main street businessman, and who does business over there, said "There's no valley there." But the new name was coined. The new "cornfield school" got off the ground. I visited there maybe 3-4 times a year when my newspaper career was still going. The surroundings seemed desolate and maybe even a little foreboding, when you left at night. You could imagine coyotes howling.
A school should be part of a community where there are huge, synergistic infrastructure advantages. After the Lac qui Parle and Minnewaska schools got built, common sense and logic seemed to become activated.
I think it's a shame Glenwood doesn't have a high school at least on the edge of town. It certainly did in "the old days." My late father Ralph graduated from there in 1934.
The cornfield schools are not environmentally friendly. Everyone must go and come by motorized transportation.
How would Starbuck react? At the time the new school was planned, emotions did run strong, although I'll suggest again it's easy to overestimate the true clout of such people. I heard that when Minnewaska was finally announced as the new school, it had to be equal distances from Glenwood and Starbuck and not one inch closer to Glenwood.
What I'll suggest here is that in any community, there is a silent majority that will accept the new reality and just get on with life. Not only that, the agitated or emotional folks will shut up faster than you might think.
I remember a few folks who were once highly emotionally invested in certain Hancock school issues (wink, extracurricular emphasis), and I don't even know what has become of them now.
It's wise to cool it and not listen to the screamers so much. However, it's also wise not to always assume that "bigger is better." That the small schools simply must close.
We are now saying goodbye to the Cyrus school. I have been there many times and found the atmosphere very agreeable. It is a loss for the Morris area to have the Cyrus school close. It was ditto for C-A Spartan athletics to be gone with the wind.
Will Morris be more and more like an isolated oasis? This is a future we ought to fear.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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