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Boys, girls lacrosse may get spring start

During a Cloquet school board work session Monday, superintendent Michael Cary forecasted the arrival of lacrosse as a new varsity sport beginning in the spring.

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton has been tentatively accepted into the Hermantown-Proctor cooperative girls program, Cary reported, while the boys program would be operated for five years by the local youth program, the Northern Siege.

“For Title IX purposes we have to have equal numbers so it wouldn’t make sense to approve one and not the other,” Cary said, referencing the federal law that requires equal opportunities for boys and girls in publicly funded sports.

The board will vote on both programs at its 6 p.m. meeting Aug. 28.

The elected governing boards for all five schools will need to approve adding Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls to the Hermantown-Proctor pairing. The girls will be entering into a cooperative agreement because there has not been as many area girls as boys participating in the sport.

There was no vote taken during the work session, but board member Ken Scarbrough noted his objection, citing potentially high registration costs for boys and the district surrendering oversight to an outside non-profit association.

“I’m against it,” Scarbrough said. “You’ve got people paying $700 to participate in a sport seems pretty elitist. … If it’s a school sport, it’s a school sport. If we can afford it, we can afford it; if we can’t, we can’t.”

Cary offered the rationale for using the Northern Siege to help launch the program. “Our philosophy is we wanted the association to be able to prove they can sustain the program … through the youth level and beyond before we would get to a point where we would interject any district money into it,” Cary said.

Other board members throughout months of lacrosse updates have proven more amenable to the sport than Scarbrough.

Officials with the Siege said the $700 player registration figure that was referenced at the meeting was not accurate, and that in terms of being “elitist” the association has worked to scholarship families on a case-by-case basis.

“Since I’ve been involved with the Siege program I don’t recall us ever turning a kid away because of financial difficulties,” vice president Matt Yorston said.

Lacrosse originated with the Native Americans and is a traditional stick-and-ball game played on grass or turf, with the goal of using passing and teamwork to beat the other team’s defenses and goalie. The ball travels mostly through the air, with players using their sticks to throw and catch the ball from the pocket atop the sticks. Players can also advance toward the goal by running and carrying the ball with the stick. The game is fast-paced and there are 10 players to a side; the team with the highest score wins. Players wear helmets, and protective padding, as play can be physical and the ball travels at a high velocity.

The Siege currently operates lacrosse programs for groups ages 6 and under up to groups ages 14 and under. Officials estimated that the first varsity and junior varsity season will attract 30-34 boys “and hopefully grow more in following years when the youth players realize that there is an opportunity to play past youth levels,” said CEC boys coordinator Scott Cheslak.

The 990-N form the Northern Siege Lacrosse filed with the Internal Revenue Service shows gross receipts less than $50,000. When asked how it planned to support five years of getting the varsity program off the ground, officials said they were awaiting cost estimates regarding

coaches, officials fees and transportation.

“The majority of individual player costs will be offset by a massive fundraising/sponsorship efforts by players and parents to help insure that individual players will be charged the minimum amount possible in order to play the game of lacrosse,” Cheslak wrote in an email to the Pine Knot News.

The varsity program will supply uniforms and, possibly, helmets, while sticks, pads and other equipment will be the responsibility of the players.

Cary compared it to youth hockey, for which he recently registered a player for $1,450 — the rate for a season of 13-14-year-old bantam level play.

“I don’t think it’s that different in lacrosse,” Cary said. “If they’re participating, they’re used to paying that through the process.”

Cary said varsity lacrosse programs across the region are following the model of using the local youth associations to get their programs off the ground.

“If they can maintain that [for five years], that would be the timeframe we can open up conversation about more district involvement from a financial perspective,” Cary said. “It also gives us more time to wrap our heads around all costs, and see how it fits into the landscape of our other spring sports.”

Track and field, baseball, softball and boys tennis already make up the roster of spring sports.

Cheslak said the program will be run like any other varsity/junior varsity program. Since the boys program will be new, regional teams will be allowed extra games to add CEC onto their spring schedules, officials said, and won’t count against a 13-game limit. The spring season is 11 weeks long.

The Siege’s Cheslak said the association was “excited to be part of the rapidly growing Minnesota State High School League lacrosse program.”

“This milestone could not have happened without a bunch of young men that are passionate about lacrosse,” Cheslak said.

Issues with policy updates

Board member and former Cloquet superintendent Scarbrough bristled at a slew of new policy updates. The policy updates were the result of changing legislation aimed to start during the 2023-24 school year.

“It seems kind of crazy to me that we’ve got … policies where the state says, ‘We are making these changes, here, you guys adopt them,’” Scarbrough said. “Where are we as school board members given the opportunity to look at them?”

He cited two updates specifically to policies related to gender equity and “culturally sustaining” curriculum.

On policy 102, equal education opportunity, Scarbrough said that if it “allows biological males to participate in female sports, I am totally against that and would not vote to support that policy.”

The policy addition approved by the legislature does not drill down that far, only saying the district “shall provide equal opportunity for members of each sex and to members of all races and ethnicities to participate in its athletic program.”

“Our policy doesn’t specifically say anything about what you’re alluding to,” superintendent Cary said.

Scarbrough worried about how vagaries of the new policy would be interpreted.

Cary and a policy subcommittee were responsible for reviewing and making updates to roughly two dozen policies.

Other language that Scarbrough objected to was related to culturally sustaining curriculum, specifically a passage in policy 601 that refers to “Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities who have been and continue to be harmed and erased through the education system.”

“I don’t have a problem with the fact that some of our practices in the past as a nation or as an education [system] as a whole have been harmful to different groups of people, but it’s just the simple language that says ‘continue to be harmed and erased,’” he said. “It’s kind of like admitting here in Cloquet we’re harming and erasing kids since it’s our policy. I don’t like that wording in there.”

He said Cloquet public schools have a “great relationship,” with the local Indigenous community, and that when problems arise they’re worked through in a collegial way.

In the end, Cary was able to assuage concerns and Scarbrough joined the unanimous approval of the policies during the regular board meeting.