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School budget woes could affect golf, hockey

Two Harbors sophomore Sean McCarthy tees off during practice this week at Lakeview National Golf Course. The Lake Superior School District is considering budget reductions, and one idea discussed during a recent meeting is cutting Two Harbors' golf program to help make up a nearly $600,000 deficit. (Photo courtesy Christine McCarthy)

Lake Superior School District is facing a nearly $600,000 deficit this year, so the administration is looking to save money anywhere it can. Among ideas have been cutting the golf program at Two Harbors High School and raising fees for hockey players.

LSSD estimates cutting golf for the 2018-19 school year could save the district an additional $9,000, including transportation costs, the coach's salary and Minnesota State High School League fees for the team, which has nine members on the 2018 squad.

Coach Mike Fitzpatrick, however, is concerned about the justification for potentially cutting the golf program, a move that was discussed during a workshop meeting May 1. He said golf is one of the cheapest sports to play because players purchase their own equipment, the team is small enough to travel in a district SUV instead of a bus, and the season is shorter than most other teams.

Lakeview National Golf Course, where the team practices each season, also waives the green fees for Two Harbors players, further reducing the cost to the school.

"What other sport provides all their own equipment?" Fitzpatrick said.

The golf team hasn't had enough players over the past few years to qualify for the state golf tournament as a team, but it has seen some solid individual success over the past few years with Hannah Johnson, a 2017 graduate, making the state tournament three times. Other former players have pursued careers in the golf industry.

Golf is also a lifelong sport, and cultivating new players creates a base of support for Lakeview, the municipal course in Two Harbors.

When he started coaching in the mid-1990s, Fitzpatrick said the team was supported by the sale of pull tabs. Transportation was provided by Sonju Two Harbors and Benna Ford, when it was still located in town. Fitzpatrick said he wonders if there is a way to seek alternative sources of funding.

Fitzpatrick is also concerned about the shortsightedness of the proposed cut. He has a couple of players he believes could be very good, and because golf doesn't require the physicality of other sports, younger players can make an impact right away. If golf isn't available, those students could leave the district and go to a school where it is offered.

"You just never know where those opportunities will come from when doing something so short term," Fitzpatrick said.

Hockey fees on the rise

Another suggested way to raise revenue for the district is to raise the fee for hockey from $175 per player — the current fee for all school activities — to $275.

The district estimates the increase in fees could increase revenue by as much as $5,800, but North Shore Storm boys coach Mike Guzzo is concerned the district's estimates may be high because some students might not come out next season due to the cost.

"If you lose a few marginal players — say you have 10 kids that aren't committed to playing — your $5,800 all of a sudden ends up being a little bit less," he said. "You lose 10 kids, it goes down to $4,800 and then you lose their $175, so you lose $1,700. All of a sudden your big move lowers that amount to maybe $3,000 from raising the fee and you put 10 kids out on the street."

Guzzo also suggested the increased fees could have some other unintended consequences, like pressure for playing time because families are spending nearly $300 for their children to play.

"They all paid to play, but by the same token, we're supposed to put a competitive high school team on the rink or the field," Guzzo said.

While $100 fee increase wouldn't put LSSD hockey players on par with the $500 fee in Duluth schools, it would be significantly more than other area programs like Hermantown and Proctor.

The Hermantown program, which has won nine consecutive Section 7A titles, charges $190 for students to play. Proctor's fee is $150.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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