Armed with portable bleacher seats, the first fan arrives at Hamline University’s Klas Stadium on a Friday night to watch a home football game. The rain falls in blankets of light mist as Beth Stockhaus checks the bleachers for dry spots. Clad in a gray sweatshirt befitting the first chill of a Minnesota fall, she slowly gravitates toward the top of the stands and takes refuge under the small overhang of the announcer’s booth.
Considerably older than your typical college football fan, Stockhaus sets up her seats, mentions her husband, and looks to the field for her son. Despite the collegiate surroundings, her son, Stephen, a junior running back and linebacker, is not majoring in physics or studio art. In fact he is just trying to graduate high school.
A student at DeLaSalle High School, Stephen Stockhaus is only one of 60 football players and 38 cheerleaders who regularly travel by school bus to participate in DeLaSalle “home” football games.
DeLaSalle students, fans, and coaches have traveled to their home games since the 1950s, when building expansion forced them to abandon their football field. But with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board proposal of a shared-use multipurpose sports facility in the works, parents and students alike are longing for a place to really call “home.”
“It really sucks to have to come to different fields,” says Beth Stockhaus, herself a 1978 DeLaSalle graduate. “It would really enhance the experience to have a field right there at the school like everyone else does.”
Winning away from home
The neon red sign that reads “Hamline University” flickers on and DeLaSalle’s star running back Jeremy Randle receives the opening kickoff and runs 89 yards to score the team’s first touchdown. Not too long afterward, Beth Stockhaus’ sister, Deb Paulson, and her husband arrive. Their daughter, Megan, is a junior soccer player at DeLaSalle.
“We’re late because I was waiting for her at my work because she said she needed a ride,” says Paulson.
Unfortunately for Paulson, Megan found a ride from someone else.
“It’s not a big deal because I like football,” Paulson says. “But coordinating the rides from where the kids are, particularly the kids that can’t drive, is really hard.”
The students who play in the games, whether it is football or soccer, must take the bus with their team back to the school even if their parents come to the game.
In addition, students who want to cheer on their peers have to find a ride to a different location for each home game. This poses a special difficulty for students who play other sports, like sophomore Cassidy Stephens.
“I just came from volleyball practice,” Stephens says. “[If we had a field] I could have just stayed there for the game, but I had to get a ride here. And I live in Golden Valley, so it’s hard.”
Her friend Tess Melby agrees. “It kind of sucks because we don’t have rides anywhere.”
The football players also say they find the travel stressful.
“It’s really difficult,” says Matthew Detloff. “You have to have a different mindset every time. You have to get out of school early and you don’t have time to eat before the game.”
Yet it doesn’t seem to be having a negative impact this evening, as Randle scores the second touchdown of the game in the middle of the third quarter, putting DeLaSalle ahead of Minnehaha Academy 16-7.
According to head football coach Dick Weinberger, the traveling is an inconvenience, but the players and coaches have found their own ways to deal with the constant change of venue.
“DeLaSalle’s been traveling for 105, 106 years now,” Weinberger said. “We can’t even spend any time concerning ourselves with that as a football team. It just can’t even be a factor.”
And in recent years it seems it has not been a factor. In fact, DeLaSalle’s finished the season last year with a very respectable 9–2 record, with both loses at “away” games.
Despite the team’s record, everyone I talked with maintained that the home field would be essential to the spirit of the team and would create a larger sense of community amongst the fans.
“It’s not about wins and loses,” explains DeLaSalle vice president of marketing Mike O’Keefe. “Our school embraces the notion of community, and we would like the broader public to be able to gather and connect with each other.”
And despite the fact that a large and vocal segment of the Nicollet Island community opposes the construction of the stadium (see sidebar), O’Keefe contends that the new facility will be a public asset. “We like being here and we intend to be here for a long time because it is a magical place and we want to bring other people to this magical place,” he says.
Halfway through the fourth quarter DeLaSalle leads 16-13. With roughly six minutes left on the clock, running back Adam Coleman tacks on another touchdown, for a final score of 23-13.
To the screams of a smaller-than-usual crowd, the players gather in a circle in the middle of the field before returning to the locker room to gather their belongings and catch the bus. A mother congratulates her son and tells him she will meet him back on the island.
It is already past 9 p.m. and the rain has stopped.
In the stands, Beth Stockhaus folds up her bleacher seats and files out of the stadium.