District 2 – Candidate Responses

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)

Becka Thompson – This did not exist as far as I know in Minneapolis when I was a child but I was a big time softball player when I was younger. I have not had much experience as an adult.

Mike Shelton – Parent, Player, Coach, organization director – Heritage Youth Sports Foundation and Fan

Eric Moran – I’ve been a long fan of diamond sports throughout my life. I grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs, and played through the city league until middle school. As an adult I’ve traveled to nationally and internationally to see both pro and amateur baseball, and watched many friends play in city softball and kickball leagues. As a parent my child likes to play catch and t-ball in our backyard, from time to time.

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?

Becka Thompson – I struggle with this. I believe that MPRB needs to add outside orgs onto their fields. I think it is imperative that we have these kinds of partnerships so that our residents, specifically children, can stay in the city to have higher level coaching and opportunities. That said I also think that it is important that we partner with the parks programs already available and that outside organizations pay a proper rate to be able to use the fields and connect with the families. I 100% support the efforts and think it can do amazing things for the city but the devil is in the details, as they say. I would LOVE a chance to speak on this further. I was involved in a lot of traveling fastpitch while living in southern California.

Mike Shelton –  As the Director of Heritage Youth Sports Foundation and current associate basketball coach at North High School, I look forward to establishing and improving the relationship with all youth traveling programming sports programs. This is one of the major reasons why I decided to run, to develop a system and provide more opportunities for all of our kids and programs across Minneapolis. I believe this is how we build and strengthen communities.

I believe the park should embrace traveling sports as a natural progression for its fundamental commitment towards development for all youth regardless of their skill-set. This will also support enrollment with our community schools and provide a sense of pride within the community.

We are losing way too many young people to our suburban neighbors because we do not have high-quality high-impact programs that coordinate our communities and compete against other metro and regional partners.

I believe this is in the best interests of our entire city. I look forward to building it with all of our sporting and activities partners.

Eric Moran – As a commissioner I would like to see more involvement with larger organizations like this, but understanding that as the park board we don’t have an organized youth league. Establishing a city league would require a lot of work with Minneapolis Public Schools to understand how much interest there is, and planning for where games can be held. There is a big need for transportation as well, in just a city league. Beyond the city league a lot of logistical planning would need to occur to organize a traveling team. This could be a potential joint effort between the MPRB and MPS in the long run, when a league has been established.

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.

Becka Thompson – I think we absolutely need to keep our diamonds. These kinds of organized sports are so wildly important to our community. I would support keeping the fields. I am absolutely astonished that this is even considered. I appreciate you making me aware of this.

Mike Shelton –  I witnessed the north area master plan process. As the master planning process has provided a great foundation to start the critical coordination and development of our recreational infrastructure, I believe we can improve plan as additional infrastructure dollars will be allocated to our community and new community development will influence our needs.

Therefore, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that we do the proper review and update the plan to ensure we have a complete in partnership with our entire community and provide the best programs for our young people, their families and our volunteers.

Eric Moran – A lot of the parks within the MPRB spaces have a number of features that were implemented but not kept up with current park needs. A lot of the parks do have limited space for future features, like Linden Hills, and while diamond sports are no longer as popular as they used to be, we need to adjust the features in these parks. I do support the SW Parks redesigns, as they do include improvements to the diamonds. Having a number of higher quality spaces for diamond sports is an improvement to park lands, and allows for better space spectators as well. Additionally I would like to see vendors brought into these plans, either food trucks or more permanent vendors, giving both players and spectators a reason to stay at the park.

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.

Becka Thompson – Absolutely. My ex-husband was a coaching director with Minneapolis United Soccer Club. I knew the ins and outs of that organization and how they loosely partnered with MPRB. As a former parks employee I always questioned the rather capricious ways that MU would use fields without paying certain fees and taking it over from other fee paying orgs but I loved that they brought that kind of excitement to all the area parks. That said I think it is so important to have the park space being USED. I would support using whatever means we can have to maintain parks autonomy and their financial durability while also encouraging citizens to use the fields. As I said (and if you read my opening page on my website), I am a HUGE baseball fan and have had this in my background my entire life. If this existed as a child I would have loved to be aware of it. As it was, travel ball was a decidedly suburban thing “in my day”. 🙂

Mike Shelton –  Yes and I would like to create a process that may even work to designate specific diamonds and facilities across the city create certainty for certificate programs.

What I’ve noticed is that many facilities sit empty too often because of the lack of coordination and communication. By designating specific facilities and diamonds and working with the specific organizations and associations I believe we can alleviate those challenges right off the bat.

Eric Moran – One of the key items of my platform is updating the park website and digital offerings, and this is a part of that. As park commissioner we would be reviewing and updating all of our technology, making sure that it is not only accessible but easy to use. Having a modern website and digital platform is key to a successful system.

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?

Becka Thompson – No. I will look into this. I know that there are complex partnerships between MPRB and MPS but I didn’t know about how diamond sports played into that. Thank you for making me aware.

Mike Shelton –  I am. I am a basketball coach at North High School who still works with the parks as our space at North High is limited. Unfortunately the MOU doesn’t works too well right now.

I think the Improvement starts with developing a community association system similar to our suburban counterparts. If we’re able to create that system across the city, I think we could strengthen the relationship between the schools part and agencies that use the facilities in real time.

Eric Moran – Similar to the Linden Hills plans, creating a more modern and proper experience for players and fans alike. The park board needs to have a better communication plan overall with other organizations, such as MPS. With a better technology system we can have these a better planning and organization of use of spaces.

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?

Becka Thompson – First, make many of our parks safer. On the northside it is an easy decision to go to Robbinsdale. I also think that they need to make parks programs more readily advertised. There is little to no communication to families. I know- I have a 13 year old son and MPRB didn’t ONCE reach out to us even in a mailer in the 12 years I’ve lived in my house. That is a travesty given we have two parks within walking distance that could have been a place to play- instead, I DID go to Robbinsdale.
MU, as mentioned in another question, has done a great job in keeping Minneapolis kids playing in Minneapolis. I would wish that they would expand even and I think that model can be used over and over again to compete with suburban traveling leagues. MPRB needs to partner in that. I support this effort even as I am just learning about it more fully.

Mike Shelton –  As the associate basketball coach at North High School, we, the entire city, fight to keep our kids in the community. At North High School, we have lost thousands of students for multiple reasons. One main reason is our youth programming is dis-coordinated compared to stable and consistent programming just minutes away in the communities mentioned. In fact my child played in Brooklyn Center this past year because we did not have a stable baseball program in North Minneapolis.

I want to bring our kids back to our community and let them know that they can thrive in our city. We believe that’s the right thing to do it is to just thing to do and it is the most equitable thing to do.

Eric Moran – I would love to see a successful league as mentioned above, but this would require a multi-year program to establish a stronger league with MPS. With a strong league established this would prevent players from leaving, but this sort of work would not happen overnight.