New football co-op battles on

The SMB Wolfpack football team, a combination of six private schools, overcomes adversity on its way to six consecutive wins; cohesion now strong on field, still builds in grandstand

On Sept. 11, 2015, students from seven metro high schools filed into the stands of Blake’s Aamoth Stadium in Hopkins to watch a single football game.

One of the competing teams, New Life Academy, was backed only by its student body. Their opponent, the newly created SMB Wolfpack, had supporters from six private schools – St. Paul Academy, Minnehaha Academy, The Blake School, Hope Academy, Great River School and Mounds Park Academy.

The Wolfpack was entering its fourth game of the season undefeated and came ready to face New Life Academy. Its fans, all sporting USA apparel to commemorate the victims of 9/11, hoped to cheer the team onto its second home win.

Behind four rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns and a grandstand full of screaming fans, the Wolfpack glided to victory, 43-0.

However, the unity among the fans and the fluency on the field hasn’t come as easily as it may appear – many obstacles have presented themselves in the Wolfpack’s winning of four straight games.

With the joining of the schools, a tradition of rivalries was forced to be put aside, and  players who had been opponents for years were expected to play alongside one another.

“When we found out that the co-op was a possibility of happening, I was really upset about it,” said Minnehaha senior captain Ted Hite.

Hite had played his entire middle and high school career against Blake and SPA, so the idea of playing with longtime foes seemed to take away from the excitement of starting a new season.

The feeling of unease was reciprocal, and was expressed by the other teams set to be apart of  the co-op.

“I was nervous because I wasn’t sure how well we’d all get along together,” said Blake captain Armaan Gori.

The Wolfpack took the field in the summer, and through a series of long, hot practices, began to form the relationships typically seen in a functioning team.

“Initially, I was feeling a little hostile toward the new guys,” said Hite, “but as the summer went on, I got more and more accustomed to them.”

In August, they took a bonding trip up to Lake Beauty. “The day that we came back,” said Hite, “there was a noticeable difference in the camaraderie between the team.”

By the time of the first game on Aug. 22, the team felt as if it had worked through most all of its challenges, both socially and logistically.

“Players from each of the schools had really bonded into the Wolfpack identity,” said head coach Collin Quinn. “We had a great summer camp, and the trip was a key part of that.

“Our first game,” continued Quinn, “we thought we were well prepared and that we had a good chance coming out.”

Due to a weather delay and a subsequent forfeit, the Wolfpack had to play only one quarter for their first victory, 7-0. The next three wins came by much larger margins: 35, 31 and 43 points.

“It has gone better than I could have ever expected,” added Gori. “I really like a lot of these guys.”

The Wolfpack’s early success was the result of countless hours perfecting their game and getting to know each other in the summer. However, their fans weren’t able to do the same and, on opening day, students from all six schools were thrown together in one large student section.

At Aamoth Stadium, Blake’s home field, a large grandstand overlooks the playing field and its first row is roughly 10 feet above ground level.

Because of this, seniors traditionally stand against the railing, with underclassmen supporting from the bleachers behind.

“When I first walked in, I didn’t see anybody I knew,” said Minnehaha senior Luke Frazier. “So I turned my attention up to the stands, and that’s where [the Minnehaha students] all were.”

With the Blake seniors in the front, the supposed delegation of the other schools’ seniors to the bleachers puzzled Frazier and others who hoped to spend their final year in high school leading the student section.

“The first game was awkward in the student section,” explained Minnehaha senior Saakje Hoekstra, “because we’re all from different schools, and nobody really knew each other.”

Hoekstra and Frazier both agree, however, that this first-game dilemma was the result of miscommunication on both sides.

“There wasn’t much cohesion at all, but it’s a two way street; you have to reach out to other people,” said Frazier. “Granted, the students don’t come to practice every day so it’s a lot different than what it is for the players.”

“As more games go on,” said Hoekstra, “we have to focus more on branching out and then we’ll get up there, too.”

In providing the home field of the co-op, Blake seniors who have gone to games at Aamoth for years are simply following their predecessors, but the leadership privileges are now forcedly communal.

“There was obviously a little tension just because the history of rivalry,” said Blake senior Johnny Ferguson. Because of the unfamiliarity, Ferguson noted, it was tough to immediately become close with the other students.

On the night of Sept. 11, however, seniors from all three schools found themselves in the front row and, as Hoekstra predicted, the result of branching out was what felt like more of a community – a larger body of seniors cheering for one, unified team.

“The fan experience is much more fun,” said Ferguson. “We never filled Aamoth before, and now the atmosphere is rowdy. There’s no room to stand, and we have a budding, powerhouse team.”

Although the Wolfpack players solved differences earlier, their fans aren’t far behind; as the division between the co-oping schools continues to diminish, the team relies on student support to drive its success.

“Having such a large student section is a huge bonus,” said Hite. “When you look up in the stands and see the fans with their spirit wear, cheering and getting loud, it’s totally awesome.”

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About Kenny Kiratli

Kenny Kiratli ('17) attends Northwestern University.

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