ST. PAUL (WCCO) — As the boys state hockey tournament skates into the Xcel Energy Center, it’s another showdown in St. Paul that some high school athletes are fighting to win.
Lawmakers are wondering if some students and their parents are going too far to gain a competitive edge.
There is nothing that brings together two Twin Cities suburbs like the sport this state is known for. But, at some of Minnesota’s top schools, there is often a scramble happening in secret to make it this far.
The stories are well-known in the crowd on one night — a kid from Colorado playing varsity on one team. Another family that bought a townhouse in the school district so their son could play.
They are moves people might know about but don’t usually make public.
It’s why even we were surprised when Aaron Johannes wanted to talk about what he did to make sure his son skated with a better team.
“Yeah people can have every right to think I’m nuts,” Johannes said.
When Hunter Johannes set his sights on playing Division One hockey, his dad didn’t think he’d get the chance if he stayed where they were in Spooner, Wisconsin.
“I loved playing hockey but I wanted to get better at it. It’s just not there in Wisconsin,” Hunter Johannes said.
“It’s like if you’re going to be an actor, you’re going to Hollywood. If you’re going to play hockey, you go to Minnesota,” Aaron Johnannes said.
So, at the beginning of this school year, Hunter enrolled at Eden Prairie High School as a freshman.
Hunter doesn’t play for the high school team. Instead, he tried out and made the Bantam double-A team. Taking a spot from another kid that had likely been in the district much longer.
“Unfortunately, there’s going to be some kid that gets bumped. That’s just a fact of life,” Aaron Johannes said.
But, Hunter never made the move to Minnesota with a parent. He lives with a family friend. It’s why Eden Prairie eventually sent the Johannes’s a $15,000 bill to cover the cost of their son’s education for the year.
While Hunter’s quest to play more competitive hockey drew some questions in the community since he’s playing for the association where he goes to school, it’s all within Minnesota Hockey rules.
But DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler is wondering just how many moves made in high school sports are not.
“If these issues are real I think we should take some action to make sure the playing field is level and the rules are enforced,” Rep. Winkler said.
The Democrat believes uneven enforcement might be in play — the temptation of building the best team possible too good for some schools to pass up.
It’s why he’s backing a bill this session that would make students ineligible for varsity competition for two years after a move. The current rules stand at one year.
Winkler also wants a task force to meet monthly on this issue, and to fine schools up to $10,000 if they’re found not following the rules.
“If you are not a resident of Minnesota you shouldn’t be using the Minnesota public school system to find an advantage in your athletic career,” Rep. Winkler said.
From divorce to joint custody, to court-ordered child protection cases, the Minnesota State High School League handbook already has more than six pages dedicated to student-athlete legibility. But, in some cases parents don’t go by the book forcing athletic directors to work as private detectives to figure out if these kids’ stories are true. Checking bills and making unannounced visits to people’s homes to see if they, in fact, really do live there. Still, the high school league doubts if doing anything more is necessary.
Craig Perry is the associate director of the Minnesota State High School League.
“If you look at the numbers and you look at the level of our members and board of directors at our member schools and look at these issues, you understand truly that it’s a rule that really works,” Perry said.
On average, there are about 3,000 transfer reports submitted by member schools to the MSHSL for review. On average, 60 percent of the transfers are from one Minnesota school to another. On average, 15 percent of the total transfers have a corresponding family residence change and the rest do not.
The MSHSL says it does not keep track of why the student has decided to transfer.
For Hunter, it’s worked out. He’s been able to skate on the No. 1-ranked Bantam team in the state. He’s also doubled his practice time and the number of games he’s played from what was offered in Wisconsin.
His dad believes it’s a step he had to take for his son. Willing to pay a private school tuition price to let his son play better hockey.
“Just want to give him the opportunity and to me, that’s priceless,” Aaron Johannes said.
Just two weeks ago, residency questions cost one girls hockey team its place in the section championship game. The Achiever Academy girls’ hockey team couldn’t compete after six players and their parents were found to not be following the residency rules.