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Athletics: Revisiting the Glory Days with Principal Schmidt

Mike Schmidt puts the pal in principal.

Not only is he the high school principal, he's also been pressed into activities director duties this season.

Still, the husband to Heidi and father of Carissa, Corrina, Camryn and Cade found time from his busy schedule to answer some pressing questions facing the Staples-Motley School District.

Q: What type of athlete were you in high school?

MS: Not a traditional one. I was the X-Games, before they were a thing. Skateboarding, BMX, water skiing and roller blades were my choice of sport that I'll claim. A group of us on the streets of St. Paul Park and Cottage Grove, made quite a name for ourselves back in the day.

Q: I've heard talk about the glory days of your skateboarding career. Tell us about that?

MS: Skateboarding had made quite the comeback in the '80s. The boards were artistic and rebellious, the music that went with it was loud and fun, the clothes were "rad" and the skills to do the sports: legit and they hurt when you bailed. I was drawn to it all. Skating was like skiing on land and I enjoyed the freedom of the motions and thoughts in my head. There's nothing like getting air ... and landing it.

My only "claim to fame" within it all was once at the Minneapolis Aquatennial Fest, a group of us took the bus to the event and I managed to register for the half pipe competition. In between sets, "The Bones Brigade" (Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero and Lance Mountain) were there to do an expo and filming. I'd done well enough to be selected as a "background skater." I dropped in the half pipe and wiped out. I never made the cut. I follow Mr. Hawk on Twitter and admire his career. I still have some of my old boards and recently began skating again at the park in Motley. It's a great venue. It's my version of exercise. I even resurrected my old deck design. I can still ski and hold my own ... however, I've got some work to do on my board.

Q: How did you view athletics as a student compared to now as a father and an activities director?

MS: I believe I've kept it all in its place, however, being a parent, definitely comes into play as an educator. As a father, there's so much fun and enjoyment in watching your kids. I've coached all of mine at one time or another and I'm better for it. The memories we've shared as a family through parks and recreation programs, school activities and athletics and the arts: are still talked about. So many great stories and lessons surround them all.

All of those experiences have played into my administrative career. As a principal, that's one of the goals: create programs that provide a positive, healthy opportunity and experience for students. Coaching has become very transformational in design via the MSHSL and I'm all for it. It's centered around purpose, accountability and the experience. I'm very proactive with this at school. Wins have their place ... however, in the end ... what's our purpose when spending all that time with students?

Q: You're an active principal. You like to engage with the students. How important is that in today's culture and is it more important in a smaller district?

MS: The students make this job what it is. It's all about them. I'm grateful to be included in their lives. Students need support. The title doesn't change that. I'm very proud of our students at SMHS. They've shown a generosity and care to not only themselves, but to our staff and community. I'm humbled when I venture out with them. They're incredible.

A great example of this is year after year we host Special Olympics Basketball, over 70 students donate their day to the event. They make me cry every year and they know this. (They know they make me cry at times ... their depth in what they accomplish is profound).

I'm proud of them. I will say, in a small school we are fortunate to have more freedoms at times. We enjoy this and take advantage of it to benefit others. Our student to staff ratio allows for stronger relationships that through time are trusted. Our community enjoys our students and expects to be involved with them. Together, they're all quite remarkable and appreciated.

Q: Staples-Motley School District is proposing a referendum. Tell us a little bit about it and the need for it?

MS: Like many greater Minnesota districts, it's our time and turn, to ask the public for their assistance. Our buildings and spaces range for the 1930s to the '90s. We're fatigued from decades of great use, however, the expectations of education and preparation, simply don't mix with old facilities. Our accessibility isn't equal access and that's important as well. The community at-large, has been a part of so much long-range planning in my time here. I'm impressed with the energy and knowledge behind the referendum. Educationally, our district staff over-achieve with what they have to work with. It's time for the facilities to match their efforts and our students accomplishments.

Q: I understand plans are already drawn up and plans for land the district would move from already has plans for it. How important is this vote in the grand scheme of things for Staples-Motley?

MS: The communities are growing. Along with that come the expectations of infrastructure. Our school buildings, are tired as are the extra-curricular spaces. We've seen industry and business arrive and stay, Lakewood Health System expand and new homes are coming. School districts are important to those within those ranks. We owe it to them and those who come to keep moving forward. Furthermore, we've got support from Lakewood for $1.5 million for a walking track, $50,000 from First International Banks and $75,000 annually from the city for our Activities Center that's been proposed. It's all very exciting and I'm pleased with the "together we can and should do this for all" attitudes.

Q: You returned to the activities director position along with still being principal this year. How difficult has that been? How difficult has this spring been?

MS: I've had this dual role before. I enjoy it. It adds layers to the expectations of knowing what's going on within a high school. So many of our students are involved after school with opportunities. I enjoy the evaluations with coaches and students, post-season. It's a privilege to work with not only the programs, but the parents and community members that support them all. As far as how difficult has it been? The staff I work for and with, make it all happen. And ... if you follow me on Twitter, you know I'm not a winter person. So I'll take spring any way it comes.

Q: Staples-Motley is struggling with participation in activities. Compared to the glory days of the late '80s and early '90s, it's struggling to compete in some sports as well. What's behind it do you think?

MS: The challenge schools face today, not just here, is there are so many more options for students both in and out of school. All of those opportunities impact numbers and your successes. Year-round sports and activities pull at students and their families. In the end, there is only so much people can do. Regarding the '80s and '90s, we recently had our Hall of Fame. I wasn't surprised to have conversations with those we honored, coaches and players alike, refer to that era in high school sports being past-tense. For reasons I stated previously ... year-round, single sport athletes, external options, etc. You throw in all that families balance in 2019 and it's a challenge, regardless of where you are. We've been around 1,100 students as a district for over a decade and added programs. At some point, we've only got so many kids to fill the rosters for athletics, activities and the arts. We continue to celebrate our successes here, both in and out of the classroom. This year's graduates are leaving us with over 700 credits earned. That didn't happen decades ago ... as those opportunities weren't in schools yet.

Q: Staples-Motley has also gone through numerous coaching changes. How difficult has that been to find people to coach not just at the varsity level, but in the lower levels as well? And also to keep them?

MS: I was just at an area meeting for the MSHSL. It's very safe to say ... this concern is statewide. We're no exception. We've got a great roster of head coaches currently, that are looking to stay. I intend to support them in that. Coaches, give more than many realize. What impresses me the most about our coaches, is their desire to see our students have a great K-12 experience in all they do. From the classroom to the arts, our coaches balance their programs needs with a menu of positive distractions for students. It's a lot to get acclimated to. In the end, they're here to build an experience for our students and community.

Q: Do you think people understand the culture within a high school today?

MS: Hmm ... great question. I think it evolves with every year. We are finding more and more that we're the landing pad for families, students, academics, mental health, wellness, guidance and interventions. We're happy to help any way we can, however, we are limited on what we can and should do. Our end goal is to send our graduates out into a world that awaits them and have them be ready to cope and succeed. The students in any high school go through traditional growing pains, however, now they're immersed in a social media and instant communication world. Sometimes that combination is the biggest hurdle to their emotions and reasonable resolutions. I'd say that's been the biggest cultural shift I've seen.

Q: Some close to you might say you're stuck in the '80s, what with your taste in music and movies. What is it about that era that has you locked in the past?

MS: Stuck? Locked? Come on. I choose the '80s. The '80s are like, whoa, dude, gnarly! 'Nuff said!

Q: Does your son appreciate your taste in pop culture or is he trying to broaden your horizons a bit?

MS: Cade rolls his eyes at much of what I'm into. He has three older sisters. He's an expert at eye rolling.

Jeremy Millsop

My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.

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