At-Large Candidate Responses

NO RESPONSES: Londel French or Tom Olsen

What are your personal experiences with amateur and youth diamond sports in Minneapolis, such as baseball or softball? (ie. As a player, parent, or fan)

Meg Forney – I coached girl’s soccer

Charles Rucker – Parent, Volunteer Coach, and Fan

Alicia D. Smith – I played softball my entire life and I coached in Mpls Parks for 4 years girls softball and tee ball for my sons.

Mary McKelvey – I played softball growing up, my kid played tee-ball and baseball at Armatage Park, and I have enjoyed Twins and Saints games as a fan.

Katherine Kelly – My experience is a parent of a youth baseball player. And assistant coach.

What type of relationship do you think the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) should have with traveling sports organizations like 612 Fastpitch softball and MYBA (baseball) that serve Minneapolis residents?

Meg Forney – I value our many partnerships. We are reliant on each and everyone of them. In my short two terms, we have grown our private partnership sports by diversifying them including bocce ball, clay tennis courts, Phillips aquatic center.

Charles Rucker – As a former athlete blessed to attend college through my athletic achievements and a volunteer coach with the Police Athletic League, we need traveling sports to help keep our kids focused and provide options and opportunities for them to become their best self even more so today.

I will work diligently with groups like yours and other within our community and other sports to round out our full programs for all kids in Minneapolis.

Alicia D. Smith – I think it’s important that we have great working relationship youth sports organizations as they are able to bring in different resources and access points that improve the experience of all participants.

Mary McKelvey – Parks are best positioned to offer programming for beginners in many sports, including ball sports, and be able to have fun with it through adulthood. However, as you know, some athletes love it enough to want to play at a more competitive level than can be offered by some city-only park board leagues. Communication about how to join a more competitive league should be available through recreation centers and through park coaches. Communication about reserving the fields should be accessible, perhaps through QR codes. While parks should get their leagues as priority, it would be nice to let traveling sports know what field times are available to reserve. I understand that some levels of play require bigger fields than are needed for park and rec leagues, so maybe not as many can fit into the park acreage as needed for traveling sports level.

Katherine Kelly – One that supports both our goals.

Even though the number of U.S. kids playing baseball and softball combined increased by nearly 3 million between 2013 and 2018, (Source: ESPN/MLB), the SW Parks Master Plan eliminates almost half of the ballfields in Southwest Minneapolis (17 of the 36 ballfields), eliminates two of the three baseball diamonds that SWHS baseball uses for their three teams, and moves SWHS softball from Pershing, where it’s convenient and better fields than Linden Hills. Please describe your position on our request that the Southwest Parks Master Plan be amended to provide better access to diamonds, including reinstating diamonds that are currently slated for elimination.

Meg Forney – The master planning was reflective of what the community asked for.

Charles Rucker – Now is the time to invest in our athletic and recreation infrastructure. This is a great opportunity to capture our kids and their programs imagination about what’s possible and invite our friends from across the region to play in Minneapolis. This investment would allow us to build great events and help raise critical fund and support so our families can reduce their costs and financial impact.

I will work hard with my colleagues on the park board, our schools, agencies and associations to amend master plans across the city to ensure that we are supporting the needs and best ideas possible to strengthen our youth sports programming.

Alicia D. Smith – This one is difficult for me as I don’t have the intimate knowledge of the specifics on this plan and would certainly need to do some research before I arrive at a position, what I will say is that common sense approach to access is needed and also an evaluation of how the community is utilizing the space is also needed in order to ensure that community is truly benefiting in a way that they have decided adds value to the area.

Mary McKelvey – I agree that there should be enough ball fields to serve high schools, park programs, and traveling team games and practices within our city. Baseball and softball are still wildly popular, and my neighbors’ kids are playing every day across our front yards, too. I also know that a big push in the planning process was to find a balance between open soccer fields and ball fields, as those are also popular sports. Perhaps I am looking at an old draft of the SW Service Area Master Plan, but I see 22 ball fields still planned in SW, with some upgraded for the first time to premier level from multi-purpose, which I would imagine serves the Southwest HS baseball and softball teams better in some ways. The biggest removal is the diamonds from Kenny Park. I don’t see a change in the number of Pershing fields, and I see a premiere one added to Linden Hills. Please let me know the details of your request so I can better know how to support it.

Katherine Kelly – I would need to look into this further as I do not understand why we would remove something the community needs. At this time I would amend and reinstate.

If elected, would you be willing to work with “Play Ball Minneapolis” to evaluate improvements in MPRB’s scheduling software and technology? For example, increasing visibility into field usage and ease of use for organizations that schedule games and practices at park facilities? Please explain your answer.

Meg Forney – I always encourage improvements of technology at MPRB.

Charles Rucker – Most definitely! In my conversations with my colleague Coach Mike Shelton who’s running for North Minneapolis seat, I understand how difficult it is at times to reserve space for practices, games, and events for our schools and community programs.

We must do a better job of coordinating our facilities in real time. I believe it starts with developing community associations and appointing community master schedulers. Second, the best idea is to assign specific facilities for traveling programs. However, we need to build more facilities as the population has grown.

Alicia D. Smith – If elected I certainly am open to working with Play Ball Minneapolis. I think it is extremely important to partner to improve the quality of programming but also the experience of our families and staff.

Mary McKelvey – Yes! I have gotten feedback that it is hard to know when outside groups can schedule. (see my comment on QR codes above) The Board passed a resolution this summer to adopt a 5 year software contract for registrations. I know it was for child care, and other activities. I plan to ask Recreation Superintendent Tyrize Cox to see if the software also includes ball sports scheduling and how it can adapt in the future to be easier to use for organizations that also want to schedule.

Katherine Kelly – If by this you mean the park board should be able to show the community what diamonds are free to use or are open for a fee to rent. Then yes, I believe someone should be able to create a computer program to do this correctly and be a simple program to use and schedule field times/ use.

Are you familiar with the current MOU (memorandum of understanding) and shared use agreements in relation to diamond sports and/or athletics in general between the MPRB and Minneapolis Public Schools? If so, can you comment on any improvements that could be evaluated and/or ongoing discussions that might take place to improve communication?

Meg Forney – Yes, I am aware of the MOU. Our working relationship with MPS and MPRB is moving forward to further our collaboration for the needs of our youth.

Charles Rucker – In speaking with coaches across the city I have a little background on the issue. I feel sorry for the outcomes to date for our kids. I believe at times fight the wrong battles within the city and miss the opportunity to engage our kids and families in real time.

I will work with my fellow school board members and their leadership to smooth out the processes to ensure that our programs are coordinated to ensure that no kids I left because of lack of field or facilities space.

Alicia D. Smith – I am not familiar with the details, I simply know there is an MOU. I must look further into this to give useful feedback.

Mary McKelvey – Yes, and I think regular communication between MPS and MPRB is really important. I attended and spoke at the joint meeting of the school board and park board regarding the MOU this summer, and I’d like to see frequent collaboration and joint communications. I especially want clarity between the two entities as to who will champion middle school programming. Right now, there is a drop off in intro to intermediate level programming for middle schoolers, with the only option being to join a high school team with your own transportation. Too many kids decide at age 12 they are not athletic or don’t have something that includes them in a park.

Katherine Kelly – I am not familiar with the MOU

Anecdotally, stories of players who live in Minneapolis but play in programs in surrounding suburbs like St. Louis Park, Edina, Richfield Robbinsdale and St. Anthony are commonplace in youth sports. What should MPRB do, if anything, to address the flight of youth players to other cities?

Meg Forney – Our park system is addressing the needs of more and more diverse users.

Charles Rucker – As a 25-year volunteer with PAL, I know firsthand that many of our kids have left the city to participate with suburban programs. My kids actually left the city to pursue their athletic endeavors in Robbinsdale.

We can no longer accept this for our communities. In fact, this is how we will work to rebuild our communities by building around are parks in a programs. We must come together for the benefit of this great city. I believe we can come together and a short amount of time to turn the tide and build a first-rate program for everybody.

We will start by making sure that we have great programs, great coaches, great support, great facilities that are preparing our young people for the great opportunities the four of them.

Alicia D. Smith – We must improve the quality of our programming, coaching, access and facilities. Kids are leaving because the competition and exposure so we must do our part to improve in some of the areas first.

Mary McKelvey – MPRB should examine the reasons why people are leaving. I would imagine a large part of it has to do with fewer resources to recruit and train volunteer coaches who have experience in organizing a team and playing the sport themselves, as well as a registration system that is not very user-friendly. I will examine both of those areas.

Katherine Kelly – This happened in sports when I was young. I think it will happen in the future. Yet, if we want to address this issue we need to see what makes them travel out of town and see if we can offer those same experiences at MPRB.