"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)

Friday, February 12, 2016

What kind of future for hockey here?

Here's an MBA hockey scene in Morris
A check with the local media shows hockey not to be doing well for us this winter. In the old days I'd have connections helping me understand the background. Today I'm just left to sort of wonder. Losses mount. Is it just an aberration? Is it a low point that will fade as a new wave of skaters comes along?
We were all bursting our buttons when the Lee Center first opened. I was amazed we were blessed with such a facility. It came along to displace the long-time system of modest outdoor hockey. I covered that previous system for a long time in the print media. I was an old high school acquaintance of a prime hockey supporter: Ron Sharstrom.
There were forces trying to resist the advancement of hockey. Could Morris sustain this along with our other sports? Would basketball suffer? Paul Watzke thought if any program would suffer, it might be wrestling. Herb Brooks came here and adamantly said we should have no fears of any type.
I wrote one of my rare editorials for the newspaper saying hockey deserved a positive look. Wally Behm came into my office and just said "hockey?" And then a pause, and then "hockey?" again. Wally could be kind of a glass-half-empty person.
I made a bus trip with the hockey kids of Morris to a Northstars game. I was armed with a camera, naturally, ready to record the event in a positive way. A school administrator or quasi-administrator, whatever he was, made a snide reference to that in a letter he wrote to the publisher (not for publication). OK, so I was already being an insurgent, in this case fanning the flames of enthusiasm for hockey, a sport which I had to admit I really didn't understand.
I had made efforts to appreciate the sport. When the Vikings season was over, I tried turning to the Northstars as a substitute.
"It's all luck when they score," I heard Jeff Arnold say. I had to nod in agreement.
The Vikings attracted my interest in an emotional sort of way through the 1970s - a typical attachment, one that I now regret. Ken Stabler (among others) broke our hearts in the Super Bowl. Today we learn Stabler had advanced signs of CTE (brain injury) when he died. Mike Webster of the Steelers helped beat us in another Super Bowl. His story is now among the most famous in terms of the pathetic health state of former pro football players.
I was bewildered as I tuned in to Northstars hockey and just couldn't see the appeal. None at all. We had the "Minnesota Fighting Saints" at the pro level too. The evening TV newscasters, out of the Twin Cities, took hockey so seriously. Hal Scott would lead with a story about the Fighting Saints and I'd want to nod off. Ralph Jon Fritz, he of the "Lutheran looks" as he was so famously (and appropriately) described once, droned on about the Northstars.
My high school classmate Ted Schmidt was tremendously enthusiastic about hockey. I came upon some rest room graffiti one day: "Jesus saves, Esposito scores on the rebound." We were charmed by Gump Worsley, the old-time goaltender who eschewed the facemask.
I watched hockey like it was a curiosity, not something I could wrap my arms around. I wonder if someday, our Lee Center in Morris will be little more than an extension of the fairgrounds. It sure serves the interests of the fair nicely. In Morris and many other communities, we put up with buildings on fairgrounds that have negligible use. It seems an oddity of our culture. Such buildings would greet you as you entered Glenwood. I found that a little depressing.
As a writer I immediately made shorthand reference to our hockey building as "Lee Center" without the full names of the benefactors. I got a little pushback at the newspaper internally on that. I'm not sure I like the name of the building. Purchasing the naming rights to a new building doesn't mean the building has to be named for you, it just means you have the right to name it. Such things, in my view, should be named for individuals who were iconic with their contributions to the community's welfare, particularly to the community's youth. I'm skeptical of having such things named for people simply because they had money. It's too naked a tribute to our ethos about money, how we tend to feel money greases everything. OK it probably does in our present day and age. I'm skeptical of worshiping at that altar too much.
So, whither our local hockey programs, boys and girls, who at present are losing a lot? My gut feeling is that this partnership of Morris and Benson has never been ideal. There has never been a natural sense of partnership between these two communities. More often there has been a sense of rivalry, and besides, the communities are separated by about 26 miles.
There was a time when Benson had its own very nice boys hockey program - I've seen the team pictures - and Morris Area too had its own orange and black squad. I was very disappointed to hear that the original system was going to give way to this perversion called "Morris Benson Area Storm." It was a Frankenstein-like creation.
"We wanted to be more competitive," Ron Sharstrom told me.
The Morris parents were split on whether this was the way to go, an informed source told me. It was about 50/50 with some parents feeling we still had enough players. Others went the Sharstrom route. I'd be disappointed if the main reason was to "be more competitive." There's an irony here: by staying separate, Morris actually had a good chance for a post-season win because we might get to play Benson!
Many people scanning the Willmar paper would have no clue what "MBA Storm" is. I associate those initials with "Master's (Degree) in Business Administration."
I wonder if hockey is in danger of being phased out in West Central Minnesota. Why? Stable as the MBA program was for a long time, maybe there's a dropoff in enthusiasm for something called "Morris Benson Area Storm." Is it true that the kids of one town can't start practicing until the kids of the other town arrive?
There are other considerations: Maybe kids are less inclined to want to play an intense contact sport. Why risk your health? It seems ludicrous. I was always an outlier, but I always felt the eight hours in school on a given day was enough. I will readily admit that I enjoyed simply watching TV when I got home from school. I can now be thankful that I never even tried to play football, to try to show how "tough" I was etc. What an outmoded way of thinking.
And maybe the new enlightenment, freeing boys from the shackles of having to show their masculinity in such sports, is causing the rosters to shrink for such sports. There is a danger here: communities that have invested much to develop their new artificial turf football stadiums are going to want to push their boys to keep playing football. There is a movement afoot to actually take football out of high schools and reorganize it as a club sport. It should happen right now. This would eliminate peer pressure as a factor getting boys to play football. 
Hockey can be pretty brutal too. I had not one ounce of interest in playing hockey. It seemed cold and painful to me.
If you think such sports promote some notion of masculinity, just read about Mike Webster's last years. We read about Joe Montana's litany of health issues. It goes on and on. I should have ceased all my positive online coverage of local football two or three years ago. Obviously it is hard letting go. At present I am ready to totally let go.
Hockey is odd because of all the fighting that happens. It's a culture totally beyond what I can comprehend. Maybe my attitudes are starting to filter into the minds of area young people. Maybe interest is dissipating. Maybe that's why we see the losses mount. Kids have better ways of spending their time like with all the electronic gadgets. They can gain an entire education from the Internet. Facebook is a safe pastime. (I'm not on it.)
Crashing into the boards with other hockey players? I just don't understand it. I think insurance companies would appreciate that kids back off from such reckless competition. Unless of course you can fork over prohibitive premium $ amounts.
Whither hockey in Morris? Right now it doesn't look too good.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota -bwilly73@yahoo.com

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