City lacks 'feel' of tournament
Eagan coach: We dreaded going down there
By Troy Young
Eagan coach Kathy Gillen says she'll never forget her trips to Rochester for Section One volleyball tournaments.
She's one coach of allegedly many -- according to the Minnesota State High School Volleyball Coaches Association -- who hope the State High School League board reconsiders its decision to have the state volleyball tournaments in Rochester.
"We won our first region down there in 1996," Gillen said. "The girls were celebrating and taking pictures with their trophies. While they were doing that, we were being shooed out the door. That's not a way to treat kids who, since they've been in fourth-grade, wanted to be in the big show. And this is what it comes to?
"This will set girls volleyball back."
Gillen said she found many faults with Mayo Civic Center.
"We dreaded going down there," she said. "You don't get any fans. The balls roll forever, they go into the bleachers, they go all over. Our locker room was put in some back hallway in a room with nothing but hooks. We had no bathrooms, nothing that gave us the feel of a big game."
Gillen's Wildcats have competed in six straight state tournaments -- two at St. Paul Civic Center, two at the University of Minnesota and two at Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis. When Eagan was in Section 1, she coached her team at postseason tournaments in Rochester for six years.
"I can't even describe the difference between the Rochester Civic Center and the other three venues," she said. "We've played our last three region finals in (Twin Cities) high schools, and I loved them. I'm not picky about where we play, I just don't want to play in Rochester."
Twin Cities coaches aren't the only ones puzzled by the board's decision to move the tournament to Rochester. Stewartville coach John Dzubay, whose Tigers have been in the state tournament in 15 of the past 16 years, says having the tournament in Rochester will be a letdown for players.
"It's nothing against Rochester," Dzubay said. "But I'm not really excited about having it down here. To me, it's not going to sound like a state tournament when you have it here. What really upsets me is Rochester is doing it for nothing, so the board said, 'Let's do it here.'"
According to many officials, the high school league made it clear a year ago that money would play a major role in choosing tournament sites.
Howard Voigt, league information director, said Xcel Energy Center planned to charge the league $42,000 each year for the state volleyball tournament. Target Center would have charged $73,000 annually. Rochester offered to host all five years of the tournament for free.
"Someone wanted the tournament in Rochester because it offered it for nothing," said Apple Valley coach Walt Weaver, who thinks the decision was made too quickly.
"I think they made the decision in haste without all the information needed," Weaver said. "I think the reason the board of directors may reconsider their decision is because they've heard from a lot of people. They realized they reacted way too quickly."
Facing criticism is nothing new for the league.
Some girls hockey coaches are upset with the recent decision to move the state tournament from the state fairgrounds in Falcon Heights to St. Cloud. Some golf coaches still oppose the Class A boys and girls teams playing the state tournament at Izaty's in Onamia, Minn., 90 miles north of the Twin Cities.
In fact, an initial negative response from the volleyball coaches association responding to the move to Rochester could almost have been expected, some say.
"The thing that makes coaches very good at what they're doing is they focus on their sports," said Gary Addington, Rochester supervisor of athletics. "What makes coaches good is their passion and narrow-mindedness on their sports. What they don't often realize is the Minnesota State High School League looks at a bigger picture than what the coaches might look at."
The criticism doesn't surprise Mayo Civic Center manager Donna Drews, either.
"Having come from the background that I came from -- my father was a coach for 35 years, my brother is a coach now -- I understand," Drews said. "When changes like this take place, it sometimes takes a while for the message to filter to various participants or those who have a vested interest."
Maggie Lambert, a girls association representative on the board of directors, is working with the volleyball coaches association to help conduct a coaches opinion poll. If a strong majority opposes the move, she expects the board will discuss the issue at its next meeting June 10. But that doesn't automatically mean they'll reverse their decision.
Factors other than players and coaches' interests must be considered, she said.
"The one thing that everybody needs to remember is that the ultimate decision belongs to the board," said Lambert, a physical education teacher in Winona. "They're responsible for the financial welfare of the league. They need to respond to many different concerns."