District 4 – Candidate Responses

NO RESPONSES from Jono Cowgell (incumbent)

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)

Elizabeth Shaffer – Not much personal experience – my children were XC runners, so I missed exposure to diamond sports in Minneapolis. My family has been season ticket holders for the Twins though for several years!

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?

Elizabeth Shaffer – I believe MPRB needs to encourage, support and respect these sport organizations and nonprofits. These groups’ expertise in recruiting, organizing, teaching and coaching the game are a tremendous asset to the youth of our city, as well as our park system. MPRB should be proactive in their communication and see these organizations as valued partners.

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.

Elizabeth Shaffer – This summer, I held community meetings in almost all of District 4’s forty-two parks, listening to resident feedback. One of the issues I heard about was MPRB’s reduction of baseball fields for SWHS (even though they aren’t in this district!). I fundamentally believe commissioners are to represent the voices of constituents, so if the community voice wants to keep more baseball fields and amend the master plan, I would prioritize that perspective. If there are reasons behind MPRB’s design decision I am unaware of, like financial constraints or ecological issues, I would have to reconsider. I will commit to respecting the leadership and voice of the SW area district commissioner in these matters as well.

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.

Elizabeth Shaffer – I would be willing to consider improvements in scheduling technology, especially if there were partnerships in funding. We need to utilize the benefits of improved processes whenever we can while making sure there is equal access for everyone who wants to use the spaces.

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?

Elizabeth Shaffer – Thank you for sending the MOU for me to read directly. I would push for a better understanding of the metrics around our coordinated youth programs, determining which ones are driving the best results. Do the successful programs have better funding? Are all athletic programs being funded equally? Do all youth sport programs struggle with attrition? As a commissioner, I would love to regularly interact with the athletic volunteer organizations about their work. I have been a volunteer in my local park the last four years and know the great benefit this work brings to MPRB. The best ideas often come from those most engaged in the process.

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?

Elizabeth Shaffer – To encourage players to stay in Minneapolis, I would first need to better understand the data around why they leave. I can assume that school community, field conditions, program depth and rigor, coaching expertise, cost and basic safety would be some of the conditions evaluated. Once MPRB has a better understanding of what players are looking for, they can assess their program and plan improvements. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.