Is this the best era in Minnehaha sports history?
“Larry Suggs personally came into my office when he was in 5th grade and Larry said that Jalen and several of his friends who were good athletes are looking at coming to Minnehaha,” said athletic director Josh Thurow.
Thurow then asked the question, why not other private schools who were already athletic powerhouses at the time?
“He said, ‘we want the great academic piece as well’. That was Jalen’s dad who said that,” Thurow said. “And he’s never wavered from that, he felt Minnehaha was a better academic institution and that’s why they ended up coming.”
With such a busy athletic schedule junior Jalen Suggs has found a way to balance his athletics with his academics.
“I most definitely do think I still get a good balance.” said Suggs. “The teachers understand my schedule and how busy it is and are really helpful to make things manageable. But at the same time they don’t give me special treatment and keep me accountable. It was definitely the best decision I could’ve made for school.”
Another key to the basketball team’s success has been sophomore Chet Holmgren.
“I learned of Minnehaha from my childhood friends who decided to enroll the year prior to me,” said Holmgren. “I decided to come in 6th grade so I could go to a great academic school where I could be with my friends and play with my friends who I have always played with since I began playing basketball.”
After winning only three state titles from 1913 to 2010, Minnehaha has since piled up a total of 9 state titles in five different team sports. In addition, both teams and individuals have made regular appearances in state tournaments year around.
This raises the question: are we experiencing the greatest sports era in the history of Minnehaha Academy?
Many longtime school leaders would say yes to this question and they point out that the success can be measured in championships along with participation and continued academic success.
Accusations of recruiting
They also have to deal with new problems that come with the success, such as accusations of recruiting and heightening resentment that’s often aimed at private and/or religious schools.
“The expectations have risen in our athletics starting way back since 2010 when the girls’ basketball team won a state championship title. From there it really started to snowball when the boys’ started winning titles, track and field got one, and football gets one this year. Success breeds success is what they say and I think that’s really true,” said Thurow.
Following a third straight class AA state title the boys’ basketball team is moving up to class AAA for a new challenge. In addition the girls’ basketball team and SMB Wolfpack football team also won state titles. After winning several championships, many people have accused Minnehaha for recruiting athletes.
“We didn’t and don’t do that, and what we certainly never do, what I will never accept, is recruiting another high school student athlete from a different established high school. That never happens here, it won’t ever happen here,” Thurow exclaimed. “Anytime a kid comes for a visit at Minnehaha we will let them know the good news of Minnehaha and why this is a great place,”
Many accuse Minnehaha for recruiting without even knowing what high school recruiting looks like.
“You ask Jalen Suggs what is recruiting, well that’s what he’s going through with college coaches right now coming to his house or taking him out of class,” said Thurow.
Several college coaches and media stations have taken noticed of the success of Minnehaha athletics. Nearly everyday there is attention gaged towards the Division one athletes that the Minnehaha basketball and football programs have produced.
“It feels nonstop as far as coach visits especially, and rightfully so. We’ve got some really eligible top notch athletes,” said Thurow. “As far as media goes we are viewed as a great story because we are the small school that is producing top athletes over and over again. We are fortunate that way and we want to keep that going.”
Thurow attributes the athletic success not only to the athletes but to the coaches who help the athletes grow day by day.
“We’ve got really outstanding coaches across the board. Year in and year out I don’t feel the need to make any coaching changes, I just react to people retiring and moving on,” said Thurow. “I think our coaches are in the right place and we have people that can make average players good and good players great.”
Student participation in sports is high
Having only 330 students, Minnehaha has still been able to support 28 varsity sports; 88 percent of upper-school students were registered to participate in at least one sport. With all the athletics success that the school has achieved in the past few years many would think that Minnehaha is turning into an athletic powerhouse.
“We’re trending that way, which is great from my perspective,” said Thurow. “It’s better to be on the winning side than the losing side as long as you’re doing it the right way and I feel like we have done it the right way here.”
Despite all the success, the fan sections at sporting events have been primarily parents and families with fewer students. Thurow thinks that students are starting to take the athletic success for granted.
“I think we always have room to increase our attendance for all of our sports, it shouldn’t matter wins and losses,” said Thurow. “I think people are starting to take it for granted a little bit which is good and bad. I think we are going to be fully benefiting from moving back into our school where you can walk out of class at the end of the day, hangout, and go to a ball game.”
Athletes performing well academically
Generally the public’s perception of a school with such athletic success is that they are not as strong in other things like academics or arts.
“We have not surrendered the high ground from the type of kids that we accept at our school. Everybody has to be capable student and a good citizen, and we have great people here, from our top athletes all the way down, they’re great people,” said Thurow.
The school’s average GPA and ACT scores have remained relatively constant as athletic success has increased.
“I think we’ve always had well rounded students that have always been heavily involved in athletics,” said vice principal Mike DiNardo. “I keep track of average GPA and average ACT scores for college profiles and they haven’t changed significantly. Just because we’re having more athletic success I don’t think that is affecting our overall academic prowess”
After winning championships in basketball, baseball, and football Minnehaha sports have attracted the attention of the media.
“Any time you have athletic success your name gets into the news,” said DiNardo. “How well you’re doing academically doesn’t make the news. Now with social media and us having students getting scholarship offers, I think we are being known for athletics but when we talk to students in admissions meetings we are clear that athletics is just one thing we do.”