Archive | June, 2013

Case Studies in Conservatism

29 Jun

Much like “liberalism,” the word “conservatism” has come to mean any number of things, and most of the time is used as code for “things I agree with” or “things I disagree with,” depending on one’s political ideology. Here, I’m going to use an old definition of “conservatism” that is not always followed closely by self-described conservatives: essentially, a conservative believes that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and is skeptical of (but not always opposed to) government action. While I don’t always agree with their critiques, I do think they are important voices in government, which otherwise tends to attract devoted public servants who are excited to do good for their constituents, often to the point that they start throwing money about so freely that they run out of it, or regulate things to such an extent that law becomes unintelligible to most people (if not contradictory or unenforceable). Every political body needs at least one sober, perhaps cynical voice to, in the words of Bill Buckley, “stand athwart history yelling ‘stop.’” This is especially true in a city like Duluth, which does not have a shortage of well-intentioned people in government.

The problem with this conservatism is that people usually say a lot more than just “stop,” and their attempts to rationalize their opinions can make all the difference. Take the case of two local politicians who show the best and the worst sides of the conservative mindset.

At the Duluth City Council meeting this past Monday, I witnessed a clinic in compelling local government conservatism. Councilor Garry Krause voted against the grain on every contentious issue before the Council, and in several cases took the time to explain exactly why he voted the way he did not support added regulation or new development. Councilor Krause was concise, stated his principles, listed examples of negative ramifications of Council meddling, and had a knack for pithy lines that summed up his arguments. Though he disagreed with his colleagues, he remained congenial (in public, at least), and the other councilors often made an effort to respond to his critiques. They seemed to respect one another, and Krause showed a willingness to work with the other Councilors when they do find some common ground. His perspective seems to understand the world is a very complicated place, but he knows where he stands within it, and looks to carve out a niche that leaves his conscience comfortable at the end of the day. While his frequent partner in dissent, Councilor Jay Fosle, comes off as a loose cannon who picks his battles (and his words) haphazardly, Krause manages to be a man of conviction without putting on any airs of self-righteousness.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find people like the Member Art Johnston of the Duluth School Board. Like Krause, Johnston is a reasonably effective public speaker who can put together a solid sound bite. He is also not a dumb man, as evidenced by his encyclopedic knowledge of District bylaws and procedures, and by his careful consideration of issues on which his anti-Long Range Facilities Plan ideological framework does not have much to say. Even his greatest critics would never deny that he is true to his principles.

Yet Johnston is no Krause. He evinces self-righteousness and resentment par excellence. He is disruptive, holding up such routine processes as the approval of meeting minutes. He votes against practically everything before the Board even when those votes serve zero practical purpose, largely to keep up his ideological consistency. His relentless attacks have so alienated the rest of the Board that they only rarely acknowledge his presence, and simply work past him instead of working with him. Whatever his broader political views may be (and I have no idea what they are), his style is reminiscent of some Tea Party politicians: it is virulent, hard-line, and takes no prisoners. As I left the building after the meeting, I overheard him telling a companion, “I don’t know what’s wrong with those people. Actually, I do.” Whatever it was that he understood or did not understand about “those people” (a phrase that immediately sets off alarm bells in my head), his world is clearly one of rigid, Manichean distinctions.

The easy conclusion to this piece would be “Krause good, Johnston bad,” and to say the world needs more conservatives like the former, and fewer like the latter. Reality, unfortunately, is not that simple. Taking the time to develop a complex view of the world while also balancing that with a few core principles is not easy, and is not a trait found in many politicians, who are usually rewarded at the ballot box for taking firm stances. Voters don’t always appreciate nuance.

Furthermore, telling history to stop is a very difficult thing. Both Krause and Johnston hardly ever win. And when one never wins, it is easy to understand the allure of a Johnston, who at least makes the world well-aware of his presence. For all his faults, Johnston has a committed following, and a few of his supporters still come forward to thank him at the end of every meeting. Krause, on the other hand, has no fan club. As he himself noted at last week’s meeting, he is, effectively, the defender of the “mundane and boring.” And when one is not viciously screaming at the opposition, it is not hard for other committed conservatives to see one as too compliant, too much of a loyal opposition, leaving the principled conservative with very few allies. Thus the Garry Krauses of the world face a dilemma: do they sell their souls and join the Art Johnstons, going down screaming? Or do they stay true to basic standards of decorum and fight only the necessary battles, praying the voters will recognize their efforts? It is not too hard to see some immediate parallels between this debate and one of the key rifts in today’s Republican Party.

I’ve set up two ideal types here, and it’s worth noting that they didn’t emerge out of vacuums. At present, the Duluth City Council seems to be a fairly agreeable body, and while it makes its mistakes and may have a certain groupthink to it, it usually manages a constructive conversation. Within the confines of its mission and realistic standards, it is an effective body. The School Board, on the other hand, is still in the shadow of an extremely divisive school restructuring plan, and its culture remains poisoned by a near-existential war. It is easy to dismiss Johnston’s motives as sheer resentment, but his views had to be honed and hardened by something. It is the responsibility of the non-conservatives to understand his mindset, and not in a simplistic way that is just as black-and-white as Johnston’s worldview. The same is true at the national level: it is unfortunate that Washington can barely manage civil discourse anymore, but there are underlying cultural reasons for the breakdown in civility, and there is plenty of blame to be spread around on that front. No one is innocent.

Of Pets, Bike Trails, and Rentals: Duluth City Council Notes, 6/24/13

25 Jun

Two weeks after wrestling with synthetic marijuana and various urban blights, the Duluth City Council settled in for a more mundane session on Monday night. Spring overstayed its welcome in Duluth this year, and with summer finally on hand and no terribly weighty issues in front of them, the Councilors were in a sunny mood. They joked freely with one another, and sported their summery wardrobes; Councilor Hartman looked dapper in a light-colored suit, while Councilor Gardner broke out a turquoise top. Councilor Larson was the sharpest of the bunch in a bold vermilion sun dress, while Councilor Krause, loathe to be outshone by anyone, went with a pink polo shirt. Councilor Fosle wore black.

There was a decent crowd on hand in the council chamber, though I appeared to be the only attendee not speaking on any issue, or there in solidarity with a speaker. The opening remarks were fairly straightforward; Councilor Gardner gave an update on the Park Point Small Area Plan, which no longer includes a 9-story hotel along the spit of land sticking out into Lake Superior. Councilor Krug reminded the Council of an upcoming social with the School Board, and Councilor Julsrud asked the mayor’s office to look into possible city input in Minnesota Power’s 15-year plan. A resident of Central Hillside, “at the risk of sounding like the neighborhood grumpy curmudgeon,” urged the Council to enforce existing ordinances on firecrackers on the Hillside, as he would like to get some sleep during the month of July.

After again tabling the Pastoret Terrace plan they’d tabled two weeks ago, the Council moved on to its first issue of any contention, which was a proposal by Councilor Stauber to license pets owned in the city of Duluth, and fine owners who failed to spay or neuter their animals. Councilor Gardner applauded Councilor Stauber’s efforts, and was pleased to report that money from the fines would go straight to a local animal shelter. Councilors Julsrud, Krause, and Fosle all spoke in opposition to the measure. Councilor Julsrud wanted an exception for impounded animals, while Councilor Krause listed several cases in which the mandatory spaying or neutering of pets would be “imposing a value” on the citizens of Duluth. He also doubted that money from fines would be enough to improve the animal shelter. Councilor Fosle concurred, and said he would prefer a simple licensing system without the spaying or neutering stipulations.

The eternally peppy Councilor Hartman disagreed, saying that more licensing was necessary, and that any legislation that moved in that direction was a good thing. Councilor Krug, after lauding the value of community and the responsibilities and expectations that come with it, explained that the measure was not an imposition of values. Council President Boyle wrapped up the discussion by praising the licensing system, and the resolution passed, 6-3.

After unanimously approving a street repair project and a resolution supporting an effort to curb the spread of Asian water carp into the Great Lakes, the Council took up a contract for the construction of two mountain bike trails in Duluth. Mr. Eric Viken of Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS) plugged the measure, claiming it would help create the “largest urban mountain bike trail system in the country,” and pointed to the economic and public health benefits enjoyed by other communities that had made similar investments. Councilors Larson and Julsrud celebrated the measure, pointing to other sources of funding that would help with the project; Councilor Juslrud told a story of a friend who had broken an arm biking on an existing  trail recently, and said, laughing, that it was “a great way to break your arm!”

Councilors Fosle and Krause led the opposition to the resolutions, and claimed it was a poor use of Parks and Rec money that would be better directed to community centers and youth programs. Councilor Fosle, who represents the western end of the city, said there are six community centers in his district that remain closed despite the passage of a Parks and Rec referendum in 2011, and Councilor Krause also spoke of the “promise of the referendum” going unfulfilled. One community center in his district was “leaking like a sieve,” while another “looks like it’s from 1922.” Of the public meetings that produced the trail plan, he said that “those who show up, win,” suggesting they are not truly reflective of public opinion. He went on to make a more philosophical plea, pointing to a mindset of “new things good, old things bad,” and said the “mundane and boring” things get neglected as the Council “keep[s] adding stuff and [doesn’t] take care of it.” Hence, he argued, the need to take a stand on the bike trails and vote ‘no’, lest the community centers lapse into further disrepair, doomed to be self-funded by parents or closed.

David Montgomery, the Chief Administrative Officer of the city, defended the trail plan with a vision of parks as spaces, with trails as connections between them; he explained it as an evolution from past models that focused on the community centers. Councilor Hartman peppily added survey numbers backing up this claim. Councilor Gardner said that, while the Councilors Fosle and Krause were right to some degree, lots of people showed up at the meetings on parks, and Councilor Julsrud said she was working on a plan for youth program funding. The resolution passed, 7-2.

A group of plumbers from a local union waited out these discussions to support their president, who spoke against a newly-introduced resolution that would, it seemed, make it easier for non-plumbers to do plumbing work. The union boss claimed such work by non-plumbers was potentially dangerous given the lack of credentials required, especially on projects involving businesses that might have hazardous gases on hand. The resolution will be taken up in future meetings.

The last measure to generate debate was a proposal by Councilor Fosle to amend the city’s rental licensing process. Three citizens, at least two of whom were landlords, spoke against the ordinance, claiming it only further complicated an already messy system. The measure aimed to make it easier for family members or otherwise romantically involved people to rent to one another, but the landlords found it unenforceable, and also thought it would be difficult to effectively deal with complaints about such properties with no landlord on hand. One landlord said it opened the door for distant parents to buy houses for their college-aged students to rent, which in the past had created many problem houses in neighborhoods. Another landlord took an unexplained shot at the “party initiating the amendment,” which left Councilor Fosle indignant. Council President Boyle said the new licensing measures adopted several years prior had led to a drastic reduction in complaints, and did not find it wise to mess with them at the present. The measure failed, 7-2, with Councilors Fosle and Krause again joining forces in a losing cause. The Council then concluded its meeting with further excitement by Councilor Krug for their upcoming social with the School Board.

Hounds Hockey History IV: Building a Powerhouse (1985-1993)

24 Jun

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Duluth East hockey history. For the first three parts (in reverse order), click here.

By 1985, the future of Duluth East hockey looked rather murky. There was plenty of talent coming through the program, but it had been ten years since the team made a State Tournament, and six since they’d made a region final. As the northern Metro suburbs grew and the old hockey powerhouses on the Iron Range dwindled, the benefits of the 1975 move to Region 2 grew less and less. The city of Duluth was also under demographic stress, as the collapse of Iron Range mining and Duluth-based manufacturing sapped the local economy. The trends for future hockey success in Duluth were not good. One program, however, showed decline was not inevitable: likely aided somewhat by the closure of Morgan Park High, Duluth Denfeld began its greatest run of hockey success. Behind goaltender Robb Stauber and an offensive scheme drawn up by an assistant coach named Mike Randolph, the Hunters made their first State Tournament in 1986, and went again in 88 and 89.

Over on the east side, the common perception at the time was that the Hounds were failing to live up to their potential. It was no surprise, then, that they began to cycle through coaches in search of someone who could stick. After Don Bourdeau’s retirement after 1984, the Hounds got two years each out of Bob Hill and Art Amundson, both former East players who had sons on the team around that time period. Though each got the Hounds to a section final, neither one stuck around. The 1985 Hounds lost a tight final to Anoka, while the 1987 squad was shellacked by Roseville, 9-1. The 1988 second-round playoff loss was especially glaring; even with Mr. Hockey finalist and future 15-year NHLer Sean Hill on the squad, East still lost to Denfeld in overtime. The refrain was all too familiar: high expectations, solid regular seasons, playoff failure. Neither Hill nor Amundson could break the pattern, and were both swiftly off the job.

And so the puck was passed to Mike Randolph, a 1970 graduate of Duluth Cathedral who’d gone on to be the last man cut from the 1976 Olympic squad before serving as an assistant coach at Denfeld and Minnesota-Duluth and a one year stint as the head coach at Cathedral. A disciple of former Cathedral coach Del Genereau, Randolph came to the program with a simple message: “I’ll give you the recipe.” If the team followed it, he insisted, they would be in the State Tournament within five years. Following in the footsteps of two of the state’s greatest coaches—Edina’s Willard Ikola and Bloomington Jefferson’s Tom Saterdalen—Randolph consolidated control over the youth hockey program on the east side of Duluth, ensuring young players would have knowledge of his systems before they arrived in high school. His offseason training programs also helped strengthen the pipeline and set the foundations for a top-flight community-based hockey program. He was a demanding coach, but the consensus around the program was that it needed someone to whip it into shape, and Randolph certainly seemed like the sort of man who could do just that.

Still, Randolph’s first season seemed more like a continuation of the previous few years than a break from the past. Once again, East put together a solid regular season, splitting their games with section frontrunners Denfeld and Cloquet and losing just two other games, albeit against a schedule that only included one Metro-area team. But it was only enough to earn the third seed in the Duluth bracket of Section 2, the Hounds lost to Derek Plante’s Cloquet squad 6-1 in the first round of the playoffs.

The 1990 Hounds looked to improve on the previous year’s showing, and with three excellent senior forwards and a very deep junior class, they had the makings of East’s best team in years. Randolph strengthened the schedule by adding state powers Edina, Anoka, and Bloomington Kennedy, against whom they went 2-1. They again struggled with Cloquet, losing both regular season meetings, and also tumbled against Silver Bay, Hibbing, and State Tourney runner-up Grand Rapids. But by playoff time they were the top seed in the Duluth bracket, and they marched through the first two rounds before colliding with Anoka in the semifinals. In a competitive game between two high-quality teams, Anoka prevailed, 4-3. East’s breakthrough would have to wait another year, and the expectations rose ever higher.

The defining features of the 1991 Hounds were their size and physicality. The defense, led by senior North Dakota recruit Kevin Rappana and junior Pat Ryan, was rugged and stout in front of junior goaltender Wade Salzman, who went on to play at Notre Dame. They did have one truly elite offensive player in Rusty Fitzgerald, a senior transfer from Silver Bay who was among the state’s top NHL draft prospects. However, injuries forced Fitzgerald to play defense for a chunk of the season and held him to a fairly sedate 25 points, and though there was some offensive talent around him in the likes of Derek Locker, Jeremy Jeanette, and sophomore Nik Patronas, the Hounds’ offense did not put up very big point totals. Five of their six losses were by one goal, and almost all of them of the low-scoring variety; try as they might, two wins in three games against Cloquet were the closest thing East had to signature victories. They went into the Region 2 playoffs as lukewarm favorites, and though they had a one-goal adventure against St. Cloud Tech in the quarterfinals, they rolled past Blaine to meet Cloquet once again in the section championship game. Over 1,000 fans had to be turned away from the sold-out DECC, and the game lived up to its billing and went to overtime, where Fitzgerald showed his mettle and scored the goal that sent East to St. Paul for the first time since 1975.

East’s opening-round opponent was one of the tournament favorites, a two-loss Richfield team led by future NHLer and 1991 Mr. Hockey Darby Hendrickson. The Hounds didn’t have the skill of the Spartans’ top unit, but they did have a punishing, physical game plan designed to batter their opponents into submission. Randolph later cracked that “they let us hit anything that moved,” but their clean, hard-hitting style won the Hounds plenty of support at the Civic Center. After playing to a 1-1 tie through two periods, East broke down the Spartans in the third, exploding for four goals en route to a 5-1 win. The Hounds had come into the Tournament as relative unknowns, but Randolph was happy to play the underdog role. “I wanna know if you guys know who Duluth East is right now,” he teased a postgame reporter.

East’s semifinal opponent, Burnsville, had also pulled a first-round upset when they took down defending state champion Roseau. The feisty, senior-laden Braves gave East a strong fight, and both goaltenders were on top of their game. It went to overtime, where Fitzgerald once again played the hero, and swatting home the game-winner to send East to the championship game.

The final pitted East against Hill-Murray. Though the Pioneers hadn’t had a dominant regular season, they too had caught fire at the right time, and had rolled through the first two rounds by a combined score of 18-4. The game was a classic match-up of speed against brute force, but it was the Pioneers who dictated the flow of play. For a time, it looked as if the Hounds could run with Hill, as they leapt out to early 2-0 and 3-1 leads. But the open style was not to East’s favor, and in time, Pioneer forwards such as Mike and Mark Strobel began to gash the tiring East defense. Hill took a 4-3 lead by the middle of the third period and closed out their 5-3 win with an empty-netter in the game’s final minute.

East’s loss to Hill-Murray was also the end of an era, as it was the final game of single-class hockey in Minnesota. In 1992, the MSHSL debuted an ill-fated two-year experiment in a tiered system, which separated the top 64 teams into Tier I at the start of the postseason, and left the rest in Tier II. Unsurprisingly, the Tier II competition to decide the 65th-best team in the state didn’t generate much interest. The MSHSL’s response kept the two divisions, but chose instead to divide the schools by enrollment, with Class A for the small schools and Class AA for the large schools, plus any small schools that voluntarily “opted up.”

As a result of the changes, East made its way back north to re-join its old Duluth-area and Iron Range rivals, first in Tier I of Section 7, and later in Section 7AA. The section boundaries continued to shift, however; by the middle of the decade, both Duluth Denfeld and Central, still shrinking along with the city of Duluth, dropped to Class A. Several of the old Iron Range powers also switched classes, and 7AA slowly began to extend southward, once again adding exurban Twin Cities communities.

During the two-tier experiment, Section 7’s Tier 1 belonged not to East or one of the Iron Range schools, but to Cloquet. The Jacks fielded such future D-I players as Jesse Bertogliat, Aaron Novak, Sergei Petrov, and future NHLer Rick Mrozik, along one of the greatest players to ever come out of Minnesota, Jamie Langenbrunner. While the 1992 Hounds finished the regular season with 11 straight wins and had some key holdovers from the previous year such as Salzman, Patronas, Ryan, and Fran Bussey, they were no match for the loaded Lumberjacks, who beat them 4-1 in the section semifinals.

In 1993, Randolph sought to reshape his Hounds with a youth movement. Patronas’s wings on the top line were a pair of freshmen, Dave Spehar and Chris Locker, while eighth grader Dylan Mills was one of the team’s top defensemen. The young Hounds showed no signs of inexperience, exploding out of the gate with nine straight wins. Of their five regular season losses, three were to Cloquet (by a total of four goals). But with a season split with Denfeld and a loss to Virginia on the season’s final day, the Hounds were saddled with the fifth seed in a deep Section 7, and had to travel to play Virginia in the first round. Spehar scored twice in the third period to give the Hounds a chance, but Virginia pulled away for a 5-3 win. East has not lost in the first round since. And while the youth movement didn’t produce immediate playoff success, the foundations of a powerhouse program were finally in place, and Spehar, Locker, and Mills would carry the Hounds into their greatest run of hockey glory.

Quotations come from recordings of State Tournament broadcasts on KMSP.

Next week: The Golden Age of East hockey.

Brotherhood

20 Jun

A quote from a 1992 interview of Mexican writer Octavio Paz by Sergio Marras, and the epigraph for a novel that is currently sitting on the blocks (translation mine):

If we think of that trio upon which the modern world was founded–liberty, equality, fraternity–we see that liberty tends to turn into tyranny over others; thus, it needs to have limits; and that equality is an impossible ideal that cannot come to be without the use of force, which implies despotism. The bridge between these two is fraternity, which is conspicuous in its absence.

For some of us, that absence is an inescapable void. Happy 15th, little bro.

Art Johnston vs. the World: Duluth School Board Notes, 6/18/13

19 Jun

For whatever reason, this very old post still generates a lot of traffic. My thoughts have evolved some since. For my more recent posts on ISD 709 affairs, check out the school board tag here.

In my continuing coverage of local politics, here is an account of a recent Duluth school board meeting.

First, some background information: in the face of declining enrollment, Duluth launched a huge school consolidation and reconstruction project, the Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP), colloquially known as the Red Plan, in 2007. Most people agreed something had to be done; the debate centered on how to implement the changes, and quickly spiraled into bedlam. The LRFP was highly controversial due to its large price tag and because it did not go to a referendum. (It is my understanding that the school board is by no means required to hold a referendum, but many citizens were so upset with the size of the measure that they thought it constituted an attack on the democratic process—and now, years later, there are still people who come to each school board meeting to berate its members.)

The school board pushed the measure through just in time for the economy to crash. Many of the shuttered schools remain unsold—buy yourself an old high school on Craigslist here!—and the district has failed to meet its enrollment projections. But far more significantly, anger over the LRFP has been a major factor in the failure of several school board levies. Class sizes have skyrocketed into the 40s, teachers have been axed, and a number of students have open-enrolled in neighboring districts. While the large class sizes are not okay, I do think the apocalyptic views of Duluth schools taken by some critics are over-the-top; the facilities are indeed excellent, the curriculum is still fairly strong, there are many great teachers and administrators who haven’t gone anywhere, and Duluth East, at least, still seems to send just as many (if not more) kids off to top-end colleges. But all is not rosy in ISD 709, and Tuesday night’s circus before the Board revealed a community still torn apart by a nearly-complete process that began six years ago.

It was a fairly full house for the meeting, which is held in what appears to have once been the cavernous cafeteria of Historic Old Central High School, a building that now houses the district’s administration and several alternative learning programs. (HOCHS is not to be confused with the Unhistoric Old Central High School, the one that is now for sale.) All seven school board members were on hand, along with Superintendent Bill Gronseth and the two non-voting student members, one from each high school. Seven of the ten people seated at the front of the room wore glasses, of which Member Westholm won the hotly contested award for the most professorially-perched spectacles.

In the audience, ten to fifteen of us had no obvious business before the Board; our number included school administrators, candidates for the Board in this fall’s elections, and the media. A handful of people who had been first incensed into action by the LRFP were on hand; whatever the merits of their initial critiques, their presence now seems to be little more than an exercise in self-righteousness, their shtick so exhausted that one must struggle to take them at all seriously. (At one point, I thought Silly Hat Lady had actually let a worthwhile suggestion slip into her endless bloviating, but when the topic in question came up in the Board’s discussion, it was clear they were already miles ahead of her.)

About twenty people dressed in red were there to support the clerical workers’ union, and their leader made an impassioned plea on behalf of the district’s overstretched secretaries. But the most visible and vocal crowd in the hall, their number somewhere around 25, was on hand to decry the decision not to retain Ms. Leea Power, a school principal.

Ms. Power had moved her family to Duluth the previous summer, and after a year working at the alternative high school had been appointed principal of Piedmont Elementary. Roughly a week later, the Board turned around and made a motion to terminate Ms. Power’s contract. The reasons, which went unsaid until after the Board voted to cut Ms. Power due to data privacy regulations, included issues of communication, leadership, time management, learning attitude, professionalism, and building trust. Her supporters, naturally, disagreed. But there was an added element that fueled the debate over Ms. Power: she is black.

Without going through the whole racial history of Duluth (a topic on which I am no expert, to be sure), it is safe to say that African-Americans face some unique issues in an otherwise very homogenous, white community. At one point, Member Johnston said the racial achievement gap in Duluth is one of the largest in the state of Minnesota, and that Minnesota’s gap is the largest nationwide. It is rare to find a black person in a prominent position in Duluth, and a number of audience members saw Ms. Power as a much-needed African-American in a position of authority. Of Ms. Power’s supporters, all but three or four were black, and their lead speaker, Ms. Sharon Witherspoon, quoted Martin Luther King several times. Member Cameron, the lone African-American on the Board, said she thought many of Ms. Power’s alleged shortcomings were correctable, given proper training.

The longest plea on Ms. Power’s behalf, however, came from the white man sitting at the far end of the dais, Member Art Johnston. Member Johnston, an older man whose hair style suggests he enjoys going for long walks along the lake before Board meetings, was one of the members elected immediately after the LFRP rancor, and his opinions on his colleagues seem to range from bitter frustration to outright contempt. In his three-plus years on the board, he has perfected the art of making a scene. He claimed the accusations against Ms. Power were full of “hearsay and contradictions,” produced a ream of letters supporting her, and ripped through a list of procedures he believed the district’s HR Department had violated. The HR Manager, Mr. Tim Sworsky, described his accusations as “appalling” in their ignorance of HR processes, and Member Johnston fired the charge right back at Mr. Sworsky. He predicted lawsuits, NAACP involvement, and called Superintendent Gronseth’s letter recommending Ms. Power’s dismissal “pretty pathetic.” He finished by saying the Board was “destroying this person’s educational career” and said the “looks in people’s eyes” as they debated the topic were “very concerning.”

One of those people with a troubled look behind his glasses was Member Kasper, who struggled to find the words to explain that he supported Ms. Power’s dismissal; though he did not do so lightly, he trusted the Superintendent’s judgment. Member Cameron, while not endorsing all of Member Johnston’s rhetoric, said the HR Department practices needed some work. No one else said a word. The Board voted to terminate Ms. Power’s contract, 5-2, with Members Johnston and Cameron providing the opposition. The ball is now in Ms. Power’s court: will she move on from Duluth, or will she pull a Mike Randolph and fight?

The Board went on to recognize a west side elementary school that improved its test scores markedly, and Member Johnston had fun slowing down the proceedings to point out any number of bylaws that were in danger of being violated. (While I certainly do not condone the violation of bylaws, the notion of choosing one’s battles seems to have no place in Member Johnston’s worldview. His obstructionism drowned out his most salient criticisms, and made one wonder if he has at this point simply resorted to disrupting as many things as he can.) There was a healthy, consensus-building discussion about possibly closing the high school campuses during lunch hours, in which the student Members played their largest role of the night; it was a rare moment of constructive engagement by everyone up on the dais, and the sort of dialogue one wished one heard more often at local board meetings.

The meeting concluded with the consideration of the budget for the upcoming year, and Member Johnston was once again at the top of his game. He harped on several change orders to a handful of ongoing LRFP projects, and insisted that any savings from the LRFP should be put directly back into classrooms, rather than paying off long-term debt created by the facilities plan. He noted that he has never voted to cut a single teacher, and claimed the Board could reduce class sizes “right now” if it wanted to.

Superintendent Gronseth was the only person to respond to Member Johnston’s charges, though he said he was “at a loss” over where to start, since he disagreed with Member Johnston on so many fronts. Many of the issues, he said, had been belabored to death, and he said the District was slowly moving in the right direction, particularly when given the impending repeal of many state-level mandates. All parts of the budget passed, 6-1, with Member Johnston being the lone ‘no’ vote. Member Johnston concluded the meeting by asking why Superintendent Gronseth had not responded to a past request for some sort of follow-up, and asked if he would like the state to weigh in on the issue. The Superintendent paused before quietly replying that his door is always open.

It would be easy to dismiss Member Johnston as a lunatic on the fringe, which is exactly what his colleagues seem to have done. But it was hard to fight the notion that, if not for Member Johnston, the Board would simply be a rubber stamp machine. Perhaps there is greater debate behind the curtains, but one wouldn’t know it from the meetings, and the other Members may not be aware of how opaque their processes can seem to the rest of the city. Whether justified or not, the LRFP process did damage the Board’s image, and the Board’s reaction appears to consist of ignoring this fact rather than doing anything about it. Half of the Members were basically mute throughout the controversial proceedings on Tuesday night, giving little indication of how they arrived at their votes. I understand their hands were tied somewhat by the Data Practices Act when discussing Ms. Power, and that many of Member Johnston’s complaints over LRFP money have likely been rehashed time and time again. But at this meeting, only a few people tried to defend their agenda. Member Seliga-Punyko rightly noted the long-term declines in district enrollment that long predate the LRFP, but it would be naïve to claim this is the sole reason for Duluth’s current bind. Superintendent Gronseth also made some effort to counter Member Johnston, but—with all due respect to the Superintendent, who was an assistant principal at East High when I was there, and about whom I have heard nothing but praise from observers other than Member Johnston—he needs to expand beyond his arsenal of education platitudes if he actually wants to convince anyone. The District needs a much stronger sales pitch, and needs to have the courage of its conviction to refute every little point Member Johnston makes. Otherwise, even those of us who are skeptical of a man who seems to be nursing a longtime grudge will wonder why the Board refuses to counter him, and whether he might be right about a thing or two.

Hounds Hockey History III: The Don Bourdeau Era (1968-1984)

18 Jun

This is the third post in a series on the history of Duluth East High School hockey. For the complete series (in reverse order), click here.

After the retirement of longtime coach Glenn Rolle, Duluth East hockey came under the leadership of Don Bourdeau. The Hounds only made one trip to State in his seventeen years at the helm, making for one of the driest spells in East hockey history. But if the Bourdeau Era was not a time of greatness, it was one of sustained quality. Under Bourdeau the Hounds won five of seven District 26 titles and the Duluth-area bracket of Region Two in the first five years of the new playoff setup that began in 1975.

East had a strong season in Bourdeau’s first year, beating six of the eight eventual State Tournament entrants and rolling past Cloquet for a district championship. Their run came to a crashing halt in the first round of regions, as Virginia eclipsed the Hounds, 4-3. It was a theme that would become all too familiar: despite those five district titles in Bourdeau’s first seven years and a run in which they lost only nine regular season games from 1970-72, East only escaped the first round of the playoffs once, in 1973. Curiously, that was one of the years in which they did not win the district, and even though they managed a narrow win over Virginia in the Region 7 quarterfinals, they dropped a competitive game with eventual State champion Hibbing in the semis. The quarterfinals always pitted the top four Duluth-area teams against the top four from the Iron Range, and the wins for the Duluth area teams were few and far between.

Despite the playoff frustrations, East had its share of talent in Bourdeau’s first few seasons, and averaged roughly one Division-I player per year. As had been the case under Rolle, Minnesota-Duluth was the most common destination, though East also had several players make their way to schools such as Brown, Hamilton, Colorado College, and Denver. The greatest of their number was 1969 graduate Mark Heaslip, a forward who starred at UMD before going on to become the first East NHLer.

East just missed out on a second future NHLer in the late 1960s, as they suffered one of the first defections to Canadian hockey. Butch Williams, the younger brother of U.S. hockey pioneer and Duluth Central graduate Tommy Williams, had been slated to go to East, but in an era when American NHLers were rare and exposure was hard to come by, he chose to play amateur hockey in Ontario instead. The Williamses would later become the first pair of American-born brothers to skate in the NHL. While the pursuit of alternate hockey development options was not a common occurrence at the time, Williams’s story shows that the present isn’t always so very different from the past.

The 1975 season brought major changes to the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL). For the first time, the league brought in private schools to compete against the publics in the playoffs. This meant Duluth Cathedral was added into the local playoff mix, though Cathedral was down some from its peak in the 1960s and never seriously threatened for a State Tournament berth until the creation of the two-class system. The biggest change, however, was in the playoff format, as the MSHSL scrapped the district playoffs and went to one giant bracket for each region. To balance the numbers, the Duluth schools left Region 7 and shifted south into Region 2. Region 2 was an awkward collection of the Duluth schools (but not neighbors like Proctor or Hermantown), Cloquet, the St. Cloud area schools, and eight suburban programs from the northern metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. On paper, this made the Hounds’ road to State easier, as they were rid of those troublesome Iron Range teams, though the section realignment also put the State Tournament back door to death. The Big Ten Conference, which had expanded to 11 teams with the inclusion of Superior, Wisconsin in the early 70s, was renamed the Lake Superior Conference.

East did indeed reap the benefits of the new region in their first year. At 11-9, the 1975 regular season was actually the Hounds’ worst under Bourdeau. (The yearbook suggests injuries played a big role in some of the losses down the stretch, including losses to Denfeld, Cloquet, and Grand Rapids.) Still, the team had plenty of talent, and beat state power Edina East. Forward Phil Verchota was one of the Hounds’ greatest skaters of all time, and went on to star at the University of Minnesota before playing on two U.S. Olympic teams, including the 1980 Miracle on Ice; he scored the game-tying goal in the gold medal-winning match in Lake Placid. Three sophomore D-I prospects supported Verchota: Jeff Mars (Michigan), John Slonim (Brown), and goaltender Walt Aufderheide (Denver). (In a fact that might surprise fans who now associate the Mars name with the Duluth Marshall’s home arena, four members of the Mars clan played for East in the 1970s, two of whom went on to play D-I.)

East avenged several of their regular season losses in the playoffs, defeating Denfeld in the quarterfinals and slipping past Cloquet 2-1 in the final to make their only State appearance under Bourdeau. It was the first meeting in what would become the Hounds’ biggest playoff rivalry; while teams have risen and fallen to fight the perennially-contending Hounds, no team has been as consistent a challenger as Cloquet. As of this writing, East holds an 11-9 playoff edge over the rival Jacks.

The Hounds faced a Hill-Murray team making its MSHSL Tournament debut in the quarterfinals, though the Pioneers had won the State Independent Tournament two times in the previous five years. Hill struck twice in the opening period, and though East closed to within one on a goal by Mars and piled on the shots in the third, they could not get another one past star goaltender Steve Janaszak. An empty-netter cinched a 3-1 Hill win, and East was relegated to the consolation bracket, where the Hounds powered past Henry Sibley in their first game and beat Hopkins Lindbergh in overtime to win the fifth-place trophy.

East would build on its dominance over the Duluth area from 1975-1979, winning the northern bracket of Region 2 to earn a trip to the region final every year. The 1976 region championship was the first of three consecutive finals between Duluth East and Mounds View, and pitted the Hounds against 1980 Olympics star Rob McLanahan. The Mustangs won, 3-1. The 1977 Hounds went 17-3 in the regular season, but despite a deep senior class and a less talented Mounds View edition, they still couldn’t get past the Mustangs. A weaker 1978 team also managed to go on a decent run toward the end of the season, but Mounds View prevailed in the final again, 8-4.

When Mounds View’s success dried up after 1978, the team that rose to fill the power vacuum was not Duluth East, but instead an Irondale team that included future NHLer Scott Bjugstad. The Hounds caught fire in the playoffs in 1979 and beat three Duluth-area teams they had lost to during the regular season, but they were no match for a deep and powerful Irondale squad and went down, 9-2. Despite an uptick in college hockey talent in the early 80s, East would not make another section final until 1985. Irondale would follow in Mounds View’s footsteps and win three consecutive Region 2 titles.

The 1980s were a frustrating decade for East hockey; despite a stream of talented players, the team only won the Duluth bracket of Region Two twice in the decade. East’s struggles were due in part to the rise of several local rivals. Over the first half of the decade the culprit was Cloquet; long a local whipping boy, the paper mill town west of Duluth finally rose to prominence under head coach Bill Kennedy. The Lumberjacks made the 1982 State Tournament with squad featuring five future NHL draft picks, the greatest of them all being forward Corey Millen. It was the first Tourney berth for a Duluth-area team other than East since Central’s trip in 1954, though an injury to Millen wrecked the Jacks’ chances at a title. Cloquet eliminated East from the playoffs in 1981, 1983, and 1984. The other thorn in East’s side was Duluth Denfeld, which enjoyed its most successful decade in hockey in the 1980s. The Hunters eliminated the Hounds in 1980 and 1982.

With Cloquet on the downswing and an East talent bubble including future University of Denver standout Scott Mathias and a deep junior class, 1984 seemed like a possible changing of the guard in Duluth-area hockey. Four of the Hounds’ six losses that season were forfeits due to a Duluth teachers’ strike, and they went into the playoffs on a five-game winning streak. But the Bourdeau Era came to a halt in a 4-3 loss to Cloquet, making for an unhappy end to a seventeen-year career. Bourdeau’s 275-112-10 record at East is obviously an impressive mark, but he was never able to couple his success against Duluth-area teams with any sort of sustained playoff achievement.

Next week: The brief tenures of coaches Hill and Amundson, followed by an account of the early years under Mike Randolph.

Hounds Hockey History II: The Glenn Rolle Era (1954-1967)

12 Jun

This is the second post in a series on the history of Duluth East hockey. See Part One  (the introduction) here.

Duluth East’s rise into hockey relevance began in the 1953-54 season, when the Hounds went 9-2 in the regular season and swept to the District 26 championship, the first banner won in a major team sport by the new high school. The arrival of two new faces to the program made the shift happen. The first was Glenn Rolle, a teacher at East who would coach the Hounds for the next fourteen seasons. Rolle’s Greyhounds won (approximately) 232 games while losing 81, and made four trips to the State Tournament, including a state championship in 1960.

The second man was Robert Fryberger. While Fryberger is probably best remembered (and perhaps cursed, in some circles) for having a frigid Duluth arena named after him, his legacy extends far beyond that one sheet of ice. A Duluth native and Dartmouth hockey alumnus, Fryberger coached his sons’ PeeWee team to a national championship in the early 1950s. In 1954 twins Bob and Jerry Fryberger made the East team, and their father donated an outdoor rink to the program, giving the Hounds their home for the season. While the records may not be complete, the Frybergers are the first Hounds I can find who went on to college hockey; both went to Middlebury in the late 50s and early 60s, where they played on a line with their younger brother, Dates. With the Fryberger Line carrying the load, Middlebury put together a dominant team in 1961, and Dates’s 56-goal season remains among the highest totals by any NCAA skater ever. He later played on the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team, becoming the first of three East hockey Olympians. Community-based programs are often built on the backs of fathers and sons and brothers sharing their love of the game with one another and roping in their friends, and the Frybergers were East’s first great hockey family. For their services to Duluth hockey, Robert and his wife LaVerne are two of the four people enshrined in the center ice mural at the Hounds’ current home rink, the Heritage Center.

The Hounds’ 1954 season came to a crashing halt in the Region 7 quarterfinals in a 6-2 loss to 1950s powerhouse Eveleth. Shortly thereafter they suffered the further indignity of watching the team they’d beaten for the District 26 crown, Duluth Central, become the city’s first State Tournament entrant. But the foundation was in place, and under Coach Rolle’s steady hand, the results grew steadily better. In 1955 they knocked off an Iron Range team (Greenway) to advance to the region semifinals for the first time, and in ’56 and ’57 they repeated the feat, coupling the regional success with two more district titles.

In 1958, East broke through to its first State Tournament berth. The honor was rather anticlimactic, as the Hounds lost the Region 7 final to International Falls by an ugly 8-1 score.  But between 1948 and 1964, the MSHSL filled out the tournament field by awarding the Region 3 championship to the loser of the Region 7 and Region 8 title game on a rotating basis. The even years belonged to Section 7, and thus East’s quarterfinal victory over Virginia and semifinal win over Duluth Denfeld were enough to lock up a State berth. The so-called “back door” through Region 3 was one of many unusual playoff methods used in this early age of high school hockey; Regions 4 (St. Paul schools) and 5 (Minneapolis schools) also had their own back door until 1959, and it expanded into a four-game playoff including the runners-up from Regions 2 and 6 from 1960-1968. Even more strangely, some regions experimented with any number of systems of byes and automatic berths, and the 1946 Section 5 coaches decided they’d rather vote for a team than hold a playoff. The ’58 Hounds were hardly alone in making the Tournament via a curious path.

East’s first stint at State didn’t produce much in the way of happy memories, either. After a scoreless first period, St. Louis Park erupted for four second period goals and buried the Hounds, 5-1. Their consolation round experience was no better, as St. Paul Murray rolled to a 3-0 win. It was a stumbling but necessary first step.

The 1959 season proffered mixed results for the Hounds; their twelve losses were the most in the Rolle era, but they also beat state power Eveleth for the first time, and coupled a pair of solid senior UMD-bound defensemen, Ed Sutton and Jerry Udesen, with a sophomore core that would carry the team for the next several years. East played and beat Baudette 6-2 in a game at Williams Arena before a University of Minnesota game in a sort of forerunner to the contemporary Hockey Day in Minnesota. The season came apart in Districts, when they lost a tight game with Duluth Central in the semifinals and were then inexplicably blown out by Duluth Morgan Park 8-1, not long after beating that same team 8-0. This left the Hounds with a first-round Regional game against International Falls, which promptly whipped them, 10-3.

The 1960 team was built around five future UMD players: juniors Dave Stepnes, Bill Savolainen, Bill McGiffert, and Dick Fisher; and sophomore Bob Hill, a future East coach. While the Fryberger brothers (Middlebury) and Tom Wheeler (Hamilton) traveled east to play their college hockey, East High effectively served as a pipeline for the University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey team during the Rolle era. Between 1956 and 1967, no less than 17 Hounds went on to suit up for the Bulldogs. Jim Ross, Mike Hoene, and Bill Sivertson also appeared to play prominent roles on the 1960 squad, and while the team did not boast any future household names in Minnesota hockey, their depth appears to have been as good as any team’s in that era.

The team went 17-3 in the regular season, splitting two meetings with Eveleth and avenging a loss to Central in their drive through District 26. They collided with Eveleth for a third time in the Region 7 championship game, and while they lost, 5-4, the close score made them a much more worthy back door State Tournament entrant than they had been two years prior. In their State quarterfinal, the Hounds faced Minneapolis Washburn in a battle of back door teams, and fell into a 3-1 hole in the third. The team then rallied for four goals in a five-minute span late in the period, including two by Ross. East had its first State Tournament win, and the first round offered additional good news: Eveleth had also lost, and would lose again in the consolation round to Edina, which was making the first of its 19 trips to State under coach Willard Ikola.

The Hounds faced another familiar Minnesota hockey name in their semifinal, in which future University of Minnesota coach Doug Woog had a goal and an assist for South St. Paul. But East overwhelmed the Packers with three goals in both the second and third periods en route to a 6-2 win, with Sivertson logging a hat trick in the process. The state title game matched East against St. Paul Washington, and Sivertson continued his torrid scoring pace with a goal four and a half minutes in. McGiffert struck a minute later for a 2-0 lead, and though the Presidents scored early in the second, a Mike Hoene goal in the third iced away Duluth East’s first state championship.

The 1961 Hounds returned with most of their title-winning core intact, and loaded up their schedule in anticipation of another championship run. They played Eveleth and South St. Paul twice each, and also took on two Minneapolis teams, White Bear Lake, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth Freshman Team in addition to their usual slate of Duluth and Iron Range area high schools. They finished 16-4 in the regular season and marched through Districts and the even the Region, until they met International Falls in the final.

The region championship in Eveleth was a clash of Minnesota hockey titans, with the Falls ranked #1 and East at #2. With no back door open to Region 7 that year, it was do or die for the Hounds’ four D-I seniors and a star-studded Falls roster that included such Minnesota hockey greats as Mike “Lefty” Curran and Keith “Huffer” Christiansen. The game was a thriller, and East pulled out a 3-2 win for its first proper Region 7 title and third Tourney berth in four years. The most memorable part of the game, however, may have taken place after the final buzzer sounded. Frustrated Falls star Jim Amidon whacked East’s Mike Hoene in the head with his stick, prompting a small fight on the ice. The players didn’t drag out the action, but the fans at the sold-out Hippodrome had other ideas. In perhaps the most epic high school hockey fight ever, 30-40 fans leapt on to the ice and did battle with one another, with some fans even going after the East players. A furious Coach Rolle declared he’d never schedule the Broncos again, and the Falls’ famed coach, Jim Ross, ordered each of his players to go over to the East locker room and apologize afterwards.

With the Falls out of the way, East entered the Tourney as favorites to repeat. In the first round, East battled a strong St. Paul Johnson team into overtime, and in the end, Sivertson broke the scoreless draw to send East back to the semifinals. There, the Hounds suffered their first State Tournament upset. The culprit in this case was South St. Paul goalie Gary McAlpine; despite a 37-18 edge in shots, East fell, 2-1. They bounced back the next day with another low-scoring victory, this time edging North St. Paul 2-1 in overtime. The offensive power outage at State seems to have done the Hounds in, though they bid farewell to their deep senior class knowing they’d made East a presence on the state hockey scene.

The 1962 and 1963 seasons stalled out in the regional semifinals in one-goal losses to Greenway and International Falls. The mid-60s were the Falls’ time to shine, as they put together one of the state’s greatest dynasties, winning titles in 1962, and 1964 through 1966, and losing the 1963 championship in overtime to St. Paul Johnson.

The greatest threat to the Falls’ dominance in northeastern Minnesota, however, came from Duluth East. In 1964, East reloaded with another core of four UMD-bound players (Tom Ahrens, John McKay, Dave Maertz, and Ben Wolfe) plus future Hamilton standout Tom Wheeler. The result was the Hounds’ best regular season to date, as they lost only one game, though I could not find a game-by-game schedule. East and the Falls again collided in the Region 7 title game, and once again, East prevailed by a 3-2 score. As luck would have it, the Falls entered the Tournament through the Region 3 back door, and the teams met again in the State quarterfinals. This time around, it was the Falls’ turn to eke out a one-goal win, despite a 25-20 East edge in shots on goal. East thus became the last team to beat and the first team to lose to the Broncos as they began their record-setting 59-game winning streak, a mark that still stands today. They went undefeated through the next two seasons until they finally fell in a November 1966 game against Duluth Cathedral.

East lost 3-0 to Roseau in the consolation round, and went home without any hardware. The 1964 section title was East’s last trip to State under Rolle, and closed out what we might call the Bronze Age of Duluth East hockey: a seven-year stretch of four Tourney berths complete with a third place finish and a title. And though it would be another eleven years before East made its way back to St. Paul, they still had plenty of entertaining moments in the ensuing years.

East and the Falls met yet again in the 1965 final, though this time the Falls forsook the drama and creamed the Hounds, 8-1. A playoff format change gave East a second chance at the Tournament; instead of automatically handing out the Region 3 back door berth, the MSHSL debuted a one-game playoff between the runners-up in Region 7 and Region 8. East took on Thief River Falls for the right to advance but came up short, 2-1.

The 1966 team had another strong regular season, including a series split with third place State finisher South St. Paul and a one-goal loss to runner-up Roseau. The Hounds marched to yet another District 26 title and won their regional quarterfinal against Virginia, but rising power Greenway proved too much to handle in the semifinals. The Raiders would go on to finish fifth at the 66 Tourney before winning back-to-back titles in 1967 and 1968.

By the late 1960s, East was not only struggling to match Region 7’s finest; they were no longer the best team in the city of Duluth. The team that supplanted them was not a threat in the playoffs, however; it was Duluth Cathedral, which participated in the private school tournament until 1975. Cathedral won five straight Catholic school titles under coach Del Genereau from 1965-1969 and featured such stars as NHLer Phil Hoene and Steve “Pokey” Trachsel. East did not beat Cathedral during that stretch, and was on the wrong end of perhaps the most famous Duluth high school game that decade. In the final game of a 1966-67 season sold-out high school tripleheader at the newly minted Duluth Arena (later known as the DECC), East was tied 3-3 with Cathedral in the second when Hoene scored a natural hat trick in all of 27 seconds. As frustrating as those games must have been for Hounds fans, those Cathedral teams were deeply intertwined with East’s future: they included current Hounds head coach Mike Randolph and his longtime assistant, Larry Trachsel.

Cathedral losses aside, the 1967 season was a strong one for the Hounds, as they beat state powers International Falls and Roseau and sailed through the District 26 playoffs to an easy title. The team’s five regular season losses in Coach Rolle’s final year were all narrow defeats against top-end teams, and the Hounds appeared primed for another deep playoff run. But the tables turned in the first round of the region playoffs, and Rolle’s tenure concluded, rather fittingly, with a 5-0 loss to his longtime nemesis, International Falls. Rolle is, at last report, still alive and living in Duluth, and looked quite sharp several years ago when he took part in a ceremony at the Heritage Center honoring the 1960 State champions.

Next week: East under coach Don Bourdeau (1968-1984).

The City of Duluth vs. Urban Blights: City Council Meeting Notes, 6/10/13

12 Jun

At various times on this blog, I’ve emphasized the importance of only worrying about the things one can control; that is, focusing on the most immediate issues around our lives rather than obsessing over what’s going on at the national or international level. Seeking to practice what I preach, I went to the Duluth City Council meeting last night. (I hasten to note here that care for the local need not necessarily involve formal political structures; it is simply one of many options, and a somewhat entertaining one in a city such as Duluth, which is large enough to have some “big city problems,” but small enough that there are few degrees of separation between anyone in town.) What follows is an account of the June 11, 2013 Duluth City Council Meeting.

The meeting took place in the council chamber on the third floor of city hall, a rectangular room with a spectacular view of the Duluth harbor that allows bored Councilors and writers to gaze out at the huge ships when they so choose. Attendance was limited primarily to citizens with immediate business before the council, though a local blogger who is running for the Council this fall was bouncing around the room and snapping pictures as if he already owned the place, and there were a handful of residents there to cheer the council on in its ongoing battle with a man named Jim Carlson. (I will refrain from making further comments about the blogger so as to keep my own blog from sinking to his level.)

The first item on the agenda revolved around Duluth’s biggest ongoing controversy, the sale of synthetic marijuana at a downtown head shop called the Last Place on Earth (LPOE). The city has been at war with Mr. Carlson, the shop’s owner, for years now, and the litany of complaints against LPOE grows ever longer. A representative from a local hospital described the situation as a “public health crisis,” and one councilor described the effects of the bath salts and other marijuana substitutes as “worse than cocaine.” Customers come from far and wide to purchase LPOE’s product, leading to loitering and vagrancy on the block in front of LPOE, an area of downtown that has otherwise been somewhat gentrified in recent years. The Chamber of Commerce has rallied behind the effort to thwart LPOE, citing serious losses for local businesses. Councilor Larson and Council President Boyle (who have experience in these matters) noted the added difficulties of getting marijuana substitute users back on their feet, and the widespread social consequences of drug use.

On Monday night, the Council took up a resolution that would regulate the sale of synthetic marijuana in the city of Duluth. Mr. Carlson came to share his thoughts, and took the stand rocking a green ensemble and a ragged grey beard one might expect to find on a Cuban revolutionary after several months fighting in the jungles. The image befits Mr. Carlson, a man who has pretensions of rebellion—he was on the ballot in several states in last year’s presidential election as the candidate of the Grassroots Party—but in the end seems to be in it only for himself, a man who believes that legality determines morality. Alas, Mr. Carlson lacked the charisma of a Castro or a Guevara, and limited his remarks to a few familiar points: he insisted this new measure constituted an endorsement of his business, and that the city would have to stop charging him for the extra police officers assigned to his block and return various seized assets.

The Councilors then took turns railing against Mr. Carlson and his business. Councilor Krug made it quite clear the measure was no endorsement of synthetic marijuana, but simply a stopgap bureaucratic measure to be used until state or federal law bans it. The intensity of the rhetoric varied; Councilor Fosle said his problem was with the product, not the business itself, and that he had only decided to support the measure after a National Geographic special he’d watched the night before said regulation was an effective tactic, while Councilor Julsrud said she would not rest until the business no longer exists. The lone vote against the measure came from Councilor Stauber, the longest-tenured Councilor and, as one of its more conservative members, a frequent voice in the wilderness. Councilor Stauber’s objection was, it seemed, a pertinent one: he worried that past efforts to control LPOE had simply increased Mr. Carlson’s celebrity, and that the measure might lead to even more litigation. A number of the councilors spoke past his objections as they piled on to Mr. Carlson, though Councilors Krause and Hartman argued the stakes of the problem were great enough to justify any ensuing legal battles, and Councilor Hartman said he doubted Mr. Carlson’s celebrity could grow any bigger than it already is. The measure passed, 8-1, and the Council moved on to other matters.

The second big issue on the agenda involved a pair of projects that seek to turn unused buildings into low-income housing that required Council support to qualify for grant funding. One, a repurposed Lincoln Park Middle School, was a shoo-in; the more controversial agenda item asked to council to elevate a second project at the site of the former Kozy Bar to equal status with the Lincoln Park project. The Kozy was a notorious Duluth establishment that perhaps once rivaled LPOE (just a block away) as the site most often visited by police in the city. It burned in a fire several years ago—a fire that was “quite honestly a relief,” according to Councilor Julsrud—and the shell of the Pastoret Terrace building it occupied, which was designed by a famed local architect, has been empty ever since.

Councilor Gardner, another longtime member and one of its most vigorous (and long-winded), read a letter from local historian Tony Dierckins that explained the need to save the Pastoret Terrace building, particularly since it might not be able to withstand another winter without some construction. Several Councilors noted the serious need for low income housing in Duluth, though Councilor Fosle had a rather murky counterargument to this claim involving U-Haul usage patterns.

However, as the debate unfolded, it became clear the Council had its doubts about the Pastoret Terrace project. Councilor Krause summed them up well, pointing to the very high density of the apartments coupled with poor ratio of resources (ie. food and support services) to institutions of vice in the area (LPOE, the Fon Du Luth Casino, a bar on the block) that might just lead to more of the same problems that led the Kozy to be Ground Zero for Duluth’s urban blight. Councilor Gardner countered that this is how downtown living is, and that there would be adequate support for residents who required it. The developer, a Mr. Conlan, reminded the council that these grants were not public money, asked where else “these people” were going to live if not downtown. Councilor Larson strongly objected to this language, while a representative of Mayor Don Ness’s administration offered similar sentiments, and suggested mixed-use housing would be more appropriate.

Several councilors also had serious issues with the owner of the property, Eric Ringsred, who, as Councilor Fosle reminded the chamber seven or eight times, once claimed the City Council (along with several other prominent Duluth institutions) was culpable for the suicide of Jim Grandishar, a business partner of Mr. Ringsred’s who once sought to convert a historic Duluth theater into a strip club. Councilor Fosle made it fairly clear he would not associate himself with anything involving Mr. Ringsred, despite Mr. Conlan’s best efforts to point out that his ownership stake and lack of any other involvement in the project did not render him much of an obstacle. (If Councilor Stauber is the Council’s voice in the wilderness, then Councilor Fosle is its loose cannon. A well-built man with a contemplative goatee, he displayed an incredible talent for oscillating between sharp insights and tone-deaf head-scratchers throughout the evening.)

In the end, the Council voted 6-3 against elevating the priority of the Pastoret Terrace project, with Councilors Gardner, Hartman, and Stauber providing the dissent. They then discussed the ultimate fate of the Pastoret Terrace project before ultimately deciding to table it. This vote also came down to a 6-3 margin, though Councilor Julsrud made her inner conflict quite clear; the ‘no’ votes came from Councilors Krause, Krug, and Fosle.

The only other item that inspired much debate was an amendment to a disbursement of some $80,000 in parks and rec grant funds proposed by Councilors Gardner and Krause, who suggested that money for informational kiosks along the lakefront Lakewalk path should come out of the tourism budget instead of park money. While the Councilors seemed to agree this was a sensible idea, Chief Administrative Officer Montgomery argued was more important to respect the existing vetting process, and Councilor Fosle, in one of his insightful moments, noted the danger of setting a precedent for the selective addition and subtraction of projects from omnibus funding measures. The amendment failed, 7-2.

The meeting concluded with a celebration of a new set of picnic tables in front of the library, a call to help set a new playground in Lester Park on Saturday, and plans for a City Council-School Board social at which the Councilors were told that their attendance had better be superior to that of the School Board members. And while the fate of a couple of blighted blocks in Downtown Duluth wasn’t all that much clearer, there were, at least, some signs of movement.

Philosophers Arguing Over How to Be Good at Things, Plus Some Completely Unrelated Stuff About Genetics and Ethics

10 Jun

Here’s eclectic post of stuff to read that will allow for some enlightened procrastination from whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing right now.

First, a piece from the philosophy blog over at the New York Times in which the author, Barbara Gail Montero, pushes back against the idea that star athletes or other people at the top of their fields act on instinct when performing at their peak. It’s not uncommon to hear a commentator say someone is “thinking too much” when they fail, and most of us can probably relate in some way or another. She frames her argument against that of the book I just finished the other week (and wrote about in my post about David Foster Wallace and the trouble with relying on one’s will to find happiness), All Things Shining, which Montero effectively summarizes as “a paean to the idea that exemplary performance happens to, rather than is done by, an individual.”

On a certain level, I agree with the argument of All Things Shining; I sure don’t consider myself an expert or star in any real field, but I do write a lot, and while there are some blissful moments when the writing comes naturally, this is not the status quo. Moreover, trying to consciously force myself into that state hardly ever works. Instead, it arises out of certain moods that I simply have to seize hold of when they come my way. It seems almost stupidly simple. It just happens.

But, as Montero notes, simply following the moods isn’t going to make one a star writer or hockey player or whatever else one might aspire to be. I can certainly relate to the ballet dancer Montero mentions who cannot watch herself dance; I absolutely hate reading my own writing because I know it can always be better, and I don’t think that will ever change. According to Montero (and Plato), I shouldn’t want it to: that belief that it can be better is what pushes me to keep writing. To stick with something even when it seems perpetually imperfect takes a real commitment, and that isn’t something one can find simply by riding moods as they come along. But, in deference to the authors of All Things Shining (Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly), it isn’t a matter of mere willpower, either. It is something far more deeply ingrained; something that one must fall in love with, and be perfectly willing to suffer through because it is inseparable from one’s being.

In the end, I think Montero and Dreyfus and Kelly agree more than they disagree. Montero talks of the relentless desire to improve, while Dreyfus and Kelly discuss the attitude of craftsmen honing their skills in a way that makes them one with their project. The two notions are almost certainly interrelated, and come together in people performing at the height of their abilities. These people lose themselves in their task so fully that they know no other option, and from there can blend the receptivity to moods of All Things Shining with an expert’s intuition. It is, to return to the theme of this blog, always a cycle.

***

Next, we make a foray into biology with an article from Discover magazine that discusses how traumatic and/or life-changing incidents can also alter DNA. The biology alone is fascinating, but the part that absorbs me involves the ethical implications of the final line:

If … a pill could free the genes within your brain of the epigenetic detritus left by all the wars, the rapes, the abandonments and cheated childhoods of your ancestors, would you take it?

My gut response to this is an immediate ‘no.’ I am leery of any medical effort to wipe away our imperfections via genetic engineering. Looking at the traits I’ve most likely inherited from my parents and their parents and so on, it is hard to label them as ‘good’ and ‘bad;’ they just are, and I think many of our defining traits can wind up being both our biggest strengths and our biggest weaknesses, depending on the situation, or how far we take them. A high-strung, paranoid person can be extraordinarily successful if she channels that intensity into a productive field, while a person who grows up without any exposure to stress will probably be pretty useless when a crisis strikes. I am no biologist, but I suspect that labeling genes as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ would seriously impoverish our understanding of them, and might have unfathomable consequences.

For example, my childhood involved the death of a close family member; it was the sort of trauma that most children don’t have to deal with. I would hazard to guess it was enough to alter a methyl group or two, and that little variation could be something I pass on to my own children. Naturally, I wish the death hadn’t happened. But it also is such an important part of my life that I can’t conceive of my life without that event. It led to pain and anguish, yes, and it’s hard to know just how far that sort of effect reaches. (It’s probably fruitless to even guess.) What is clear, however, is that it also led to growth—not necessarily good or bad, but significant to the extent that I’m stuck with it. Wiping that away with a pill would fundamentally alter who I am, and that prospect unsettles me deeply.

On the other hand, I do recognize that, in many, many ways, I have been extraordinarily lucky in life. I had a strong support network that many people do not have, and I can think of many traumas that are probably more deeply scarring than what I went through. Some people are fundamentally broken by grief or other pathologies they cannot escape, and a lecture from me about the cycle of highs and lows in life isn’t going to do them a bit of good. Is it possible to draw a line between the traumas and stresses that alter human livelihood, and those that don’t? To separate out the stress caused by a death in the family while holding on to the insights that come out of a cycle of grief? Those questions will need answers before this research can have any practical medical application. Humans being humans, we’re probably going to open up this Pandora’s Box no matter what; the question is one of how we go about opening it.

Alright, enough philosophy and ethics for one day—it’s time to cycle back out of the intellectual world, and into the world immediately at hand. I’m off to embroil myself in local politics, and then to do some more hockey history work.

Hounds Hockey History I: Introduction

7 Jun

Lest my hockey-writing development lapse while other hockey writers work hard on their craft in summer training programs, I’ve decided to launch a series on the history of Duluth East high school hockey. I will still have non-hockey content; this will just be a weekly feature. This project is quite some time in the making, and there are still a number of holes in the record books (especially in the early years) that I still hope and plan to fill. Research for this project draws from a variety of sources, including:

-My own memory, for roughly the past ten years.

-The Duluth-News Tribune online archives, which date to 1995.

-Several other stray articles written in the past 10-15 years, most prominently a series of columns by former Star Tribune writer and Duluthian John Gilbert.

-Video of East section finals and State Tournaments since 1991. (Yes, I own just about all of them; no, I am not making copies; I have given some thought to getting them onto Youtube, though that is not a priority right now.)

-Archives of historical data provided by Lee at MinnHock, the Hill-Murray website, and the 2000 book Let’s Play Hockey Presents a Complete History of the Minnesota Boys and Girls High School Hockey Tournament, 1945-2000.

-Duluth East yearbooks, though I was unable to get my hands on copies from 1951, 1962, 1963, and 1964.

Since I have no memory of most seasons and am constructing this history backwards, there are bound to be plenty of holes, assumptions, and selective readings of history. That’s the only way to make this work. I welcome any information that might fill in some of the gaps, and different perspectives that I might not be aware of. That said, the purpose of this project isn’t a data dump, but an attempt to build my own narrative through 64 years of hockey history. At this point I’m envisioning a series of nine parts or so, with most of the emphasis on the past twenty years, which offer the most source material, the juiciest storylines, and probably the greatest reader interest, too. I’ll devote the remainder of this post to the origins of East hockey.

One quick note: rather than write out every season as two years (e.g. “2012-2013”), I abbreviate it by using simply the half of the season in which the playoffs are held. That is, if I say talk about the Hounds’ achievements in 2013, I’m talking about the 2012-2013 season, not 2013-2014, or the calendar year of 2013.

The story of one of Minnesota’s most prominent high school hockey programs begins some five years after the birth of the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament in 1945. With the city’s population on the upswing, Duluth East Junior High became a high school in the fall of 1949, and put together a hockey team in its first year. Teacher Frank Hart took the helm as the head coach, and his team’s first game was against Floodwood, a tiny town west of Duluth that no longer fields a hockey team. The Hounds won, 6-0, and followed that up with a 9-3 win over Duluth Cathedral (now Marshall) and a 19-1 win over Hermantown. (Some fans might be surprised to learn that Hermantown, now a State Tournament regular, was a complete doormat until the late 1990s.) They wound up with a 7-1 record at the end of their regular season, though they appear not to have participated in the playoffs. The sole loss was an 8-1 pasting at the hands of Duluth Denfeld.

The Hounds’ most common opponents in those early days were the teams that went on to become members of the now-defunct Big Ten Conference of northeastern Minnesota. If these Proctor baseball historians are to be believed, the conference officially formed in 1959 as the Big Nine, and eventually evolved into the still-existing Lake Superior Conference. Members appear to include the four Duluth public high schools (East, Central, Denfeld, and Morgan Park); the city’s western neighbors of Cloquet, Proctor, and Hermantown (eventually—I think they were the team that turned the Big Nine into the Big Ten in 1963); and two towns on the north shore of Lake Superior, Silver Bay and Two Harbors. Duluth Cathedral also appears to have been a conference member; however, as a private school, they had their own playoffs prior to 1975. Otherwise, the conference seemed to line up with District 26, which fed its top four finishers in its district tournament into Region 7. In the eight-team Region 7 Tournament, the Duluth-area schools competed against (and were often slaughtered by) teams from the Iron Range and the far reaches of northeastern Minnesota in search of a State Tournament berth.

Records are spotty for the next few years, and East lurched through a couple of middling seasons. All I have for 1951 is a 4-6-1 record, and the 1952 yearbook suggests the listed 4-2 regular season record is incomplete. The Hounds did make their first regional tournament in that year, and promptly lost to eventual state champion Hibbing in the first round. From 1952 on I have rosters for every season but 1963 and 1965, but with these early teams, it’s hard to find much evidence of post-high school careers, unless the player in question is particularly famous or a certain college has its own database. At any rate, the 3-4 result under coach Alvin Ness in 1953 was the last losing season on record, meaning the Hounds wrapped up their 60th consecutive winning season in 2013. While the results of those first few seasons weren’t awful, there wasn’t much to suggest the Hounds could become a state powerhouse, either. First, two key people would need to leave their mark on the program.

Up next week: a post on East’s fourteen years under coach Glenn Rolle, who guided the Hounds to their first brush with glory.