District 6 – Candidate Responses

NO RESPONSE from Risa Hustad

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

Bob Fine – 46 years coaching, both softball and baseball. In addition, during that time I coached about 30 years of basketball and a dozen of soccer. Served on the Park & Recreation Board for 16 years, including serving as its President and chair of Recreation. As a parent, coached all four of my children. As a fan, probably coached over 1,000 kids, and sometimes follow them. As a brand new Commissioner, I personally developed the Neiman Athletic complex by Fort Snelling, and got it named for Leonard Neiman, who got me into coaching. It wasn’t just a project to have first class fields, but to save the area from alternative uses. I was also instrumental in every other new or improved fields in the park system, while serving on the Board.

Barb Schlaeffer – My brother and I played baseball/softball as kids living in Chicago. My own kids played other rec and club sports. As a parent, I understand how participation on a team can provide kids with a supportive community, teach sportsmanship, build resiliency and contribute to their mental and physical health.

Cathy Abene – My kids played baseball for a year through the MPRB, but that was the extent of their participation in diamond sports. I played softball as a kid in summer leagues in the suburbs, and I played in summer adult leagues through MPRB in the 1980s and ’90s as a young adult.

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?

Bob Fine – Close relationship. These traveling organizations are made up of Minneapolis citizens, who devote a lot of time to the improvement of traveling and recreation programs, for our youth. They have valuable input, that accompanies the experience they have.

Barb Schlaeffer – The Park and Recreation Board, schools and clubs all need to give Minneapolis families great reasons to stay, live and play in the city. All are serving the same families. The relationships among these groups should be well-coordinated. The MPRB is well suited to give all kids their first positive experiences with diamond and other sports. If and when certain families chose to pursue a more competitive level of play, they should be able to find, try-out and join a club team with well-maintained facilities in the city. If elected, I will be a persistent and loud advocate for ongoing maintenance of park facilities.

Cathy Abene – Right now I think that MPRB could be the missing link between introducing recreational access to these sports and being a resource for those seeking advanced levels of play. This is not an area of expertise for me, but I am very committed to making more connections between the MPRB and 612, Mpls United, Minnesota Ultimate, and other sports leagues. I know there are costs associated with traveling teams, but perhaps that’s a barrier the MPRB could work on removing for kids who want to play, build skills, and compete, but cannot afford to.

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.

Bob Fine – The Master Plan should be amended and elimination of ballfields does not make sense. The Master Plan is not set in stone and can and should be amended to provide better basebll/softball fields but also not eliminate fields.

Barb Schlaeffer – When the Southwest Area Master Plan advances, it makes sense to revisit the specifics and review the participation data and trends at that time. I would like to see MPRBs participant diamond sports numbers, both youth and adult. And I would like to see participation numbers for the traveling clubs in Minneapolis. If the number of youth players has declined over time, I’d like to see more qualitative data on why. Is it because they went elsewhere to play diamond sports, frustrated with the quality and availability of the fields in Minneapolis? Or is it because more kids are being drawn to other sports, like ultimate, La Crosse and soccer? Is MPRB effectively communicating about its diamond sports opportunities to young families?

I believe it makes sense to have a premier baseball diamond at Pershing for Southwest High School. Reconfiguring four Armatage fields into a pinwheel layout for softball and little league seems to have support from many advocates and volunteers, and I would like to learn more about the concept’s opportunities and limitations. I would like to understand the MPRB’s specific objections to that proposed layout. In a city, parkland is at a premium and may need to be utilized in multiple ways in all seasons.

Cathy Abene – I support organizations such as yours having a voice in these planning processes. I will add that there are many completed master plans throughout the system at this point with no real implementation strategy. If elected, I will not be driving large, capital investment in our Parks. I work as a civil engineer in the public sector, and I’ve been part of literally hundreds of capital projects–I am not swayed by their allure. I am much more interested in maintaining what we have, preserving natural resources, and expanding youth recreation in a truly significant way.

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.

Bob Fine – Yes! The Park Board should always be working with the community that understands and uses the fields. This is part of the overall problem with Recreation and their operations.

Barb Schlaeffer – See below.

Cathy Abene – Yes! One of the primary reasons I’m running is that I’m a twenty year public sector professional and I know what’s possible when it comes to managing public systems. The MPRB is woefully behind on technology solutions. In addition to scheduling, add to the list work management and asset management. We need investment and modernization to steward our incredible park system. Public facing systems should be truly user friendly. This will be a priority for me.

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?

Bob Fine – Yes, I have in the past. I started a recreation sports organization before I left the Board, which was approved unanimously by the School Board and the Park Board. They met a few times to start working on the relationship between recreational schools & traveling sports. It had representatives from the various team sports and organizations. Unfortunately, when I left the Board in 2013, it stopped meeting altogether, which had been coordinated with park staff. Unfortunately, it was only in the process of setting up a system to work everyone together. This is still needed throughout the park system and should be resurrected. Even if it does not, there should be coordination and communication with all sports. My longest association has been with baseball and softball, so I am quite aware of the history in these sports.

Barb Schlaeffer – I have spoken to several folks who served on the Minneapolis Youth Advisory Board as well as others involved in youth sports. There seem be a patchwork of ways in which park facilities are reserved for school team sports and club sports. The need for a more streamlined and centralized system for coaches to use has been mentioned by many. And a quarterly or year-end settling up on facility fees is preferred over having to make a payment for each reservation.

This is the kind of challenge that does not require a unique new solution. Other cities have undoubtedly grappled with and addressed this in efficient ways. Play Ball Minneapolis may be a great solution. I would leave that to the experts to recommend options. It’s worth an investment if it will alleviate frustrations on the part of volunteer coaches, school coaches and families.

Cathy Abene – I am not familiar with this specific MOU, but I will get up to speed if elected. I am the only candidate in District 6 who has been endorsed by Ira Jourdain, the District 6 School Board Director. I’ve also been endorsed by Ward 13 Council member Linea Palmisano. These endorsements are important to me because I believe we need much more collaboration between our local governing bodies, particularly when it comes to strategies for our city’s kids. In my current role as Principal Civil Engineer for the University of Minnesota, I have directly negotiated and executed several agreements between the U and the MPRB (and many more between public organizations throughout my career). While these were not sports related agreements, the basic form and function is the same. I truly understand how these entities work together and I’ll bring the deepest experience of any candidate. Finally, only two of the candidates in this race are MPS/MPRB parents; I’m the only candidate with kids still in MPS, including one daughter who has worked for MPRB for three years. Things have changed. We need to get more kids involved in rec programs and we need modern strategies to reach them.

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?

Bob Fine – It’s unfortunate that nearby suburbs, have better fields and programs than Minneapolis. I have had grandchildren who are on young teams in St. Louis Park, with southwest Minneapolis kids primarily on their teams. Minneapolis facilities and programs should not be second class to anyone. To me it is an embarrassment, that the Minneapolis Parks, heralded as one of the best if not the best system in the country, should be second class in offerings and field conditions than the suburbs. Especially when there is parental support as there is in southwest Minneapolis.

Barb Schlaeffer – I am sure there are anecdotes. To make the case, we need that data. We need to work harder to prevent the private and suburban schools and clubs from ‘poaching’ players and families. It will take better communication, coordination and facilities.

Cathy Abene – Make our offerings irresistible!