Athletics: Pierz’s Rocheleau a new voice at the league
The Minnesota State High School League announced changes in board members and policy.
One area voice is leaving while another is stepping in.
After four years representing the Minnesota School Board Association, Crosby-Ironton’s Mike Domin’s term ended with the Minnesota State High School League. While not directly taking his spot, but taking one of the vacant positions is Pierz activities director Dave Rocheleau who will represent Regions 5-6A.
While hesitant at first, after talking with colleagues, Rocheleau decided this was a move he wanted to make.
“Going to the board of directors was a move I wasn’t sure I should do or not,” Rocheleau said. “Talking to other ADs who have been on the board they said it was the most rewarding thing they ever did in their career. So I made the leap and did it. I’m not sure what to expect.
“Definitely why I wanted to get on was to get a better understanding of the league and to be able to voice my opinion on things as well. Just to be that part and take that active role. The biggest thing is to learn and improve my career.”
One of the recent issues faced by the league was creating a more economically stable business model.
In its last meeting June 1, the league brought out its new model. It stated membership dues will be based on a membership fee, a per-student fee and a per-activity fee. Through revenue sharing, excess funds at the end of the fiscal year would reduce membership fees the following school year.
The development of the sustainable model was established as a Strategic Direction by the Board of Directors in the fall of 2019. The revenue target determined to ensure financial stability from membership dues is $4.5 million annually. This amount is projected to diminish in subsequent years by offsetting membership dues with excess revenue from state tournament ticket sales, broadcast and streaming, and sponsorships from the previous year. The model includes modifications for member schools with enrollments of 40 or fewer students.
Additionally, the Board approved a preliminary budget of $9.1 million for the 2021-2022 school year. This budget is less than the budget approved pre-pandemic in 2019-2020 at $9.6 million. During the 2020-2021 school year, the League had a $5.9 million budget.
“I think they’re starting to get a good formula,” Rocheleau said. “When they came up with all the fees last year they kind of dumped on people and schools and so forth who weren’t expecting it.
“The more you look at it the more it makes sense how they have it set up. The schools are the league. The dues they do pay is because it is their league. I think with the revenue sharing when they get their money back on tournaments then the schools get their money back. It makes sense in order to keep the league moving and going forward. If the tournaments do happen and they get good results, well then the schools have that revenue coming back. I think it will be a good system in the future.”
Domin said other than dealing with COVID-19 for the past year and a half it’s hard to think about anything else. He did, however, see strong growth within the league and its role as an education tool.
“The pandemic is all people focused on for the last year and a half,” Domin said. “I think I’m really proud of the league’s role in education in activities. It’s more than just activities, but it’s that education. It’s more than wins and loses, but the experience. That’s really what it would be. Keeping that intact. We’ve talked about it over the last year and a half. All the naysayers, it’s easy for them to pick on us, but if people who really understand what goes on behind the scene with our excellent staff, that we don’t have as many of because of the pandemic, and what they have to do to put together a state tournament behind the scenes and making that experience memorable for the students. That’s all we’re trying to do.”
Going forward, Domin said, the league will have to deal with additional classes and the addition of girls wrestling. He said state tournament venues will also be an ongoing issue that will be looked at in order to make sure the aforementioned business model works better.
“We put it in a fee structure for the member schools which we had to during the pandemic because if we didn’t do it we would have been out of business. It didn't go over real well so we had to form another task force with the people who had concerns and we came up with a plan that will have to be reviewed over the next few years to see if that’s the right plan.”
Domin said most of the league’s revenue came from ticket sales and revenue from state tournaments. He said that model was ineffective and certainly not pandemic proof.
While not an issue during his four years, Domin believes gender issues will once again become a topic of interest.
What he learned the most during his four-year term was the level of work behind the scenes to ensure student-athletes have a memorable experience.
“When you have a league staff member and the hours that they have to put in during a state tournament and then they’re doing another state tournament back-to-back,” Domin said. “They make comments like they’ve only seen their family for two hours in 10 days. I think it’s eye-opening to see what they have to do to make sure that tournament gets going.
“A lot of it is working with others and partnerships. This last year, a lot of it was working with the Minnesota Department of Health and the Department of Education, the governor's office and legislators are calling us all the time. The ultimate goal is to try to find a way for the kids to play, but it’s more than that. There’s a lot of different circumstances. Mental health will be a big one coming off the pandemic. That will be a big one for the students and that trickles down to the league.”
Rocheleau said he hopes to be a voice for central Minnesota during his term but believes the league is “rolling” and he wants to make sure it continues to roll.
It’s always been a strong belief of Rocheleau to provide opportunities for all students and their many interests. He believes the recently added girls wrestling is a solid step.
During Rocheleau’s tenure as AD at Pierz, there haven’t been any female wrestlers, but the Warrior wrestling program has had females before.
“We have had female wrestlers the past few years,” Wadena-Deer Creek activities director Norm Gallant said. “I voted for this proposal. I think until it gets established, not much will look different until the postseason. I think in the future, there would be thoughts of co-ops to perhaps fill ‘teams.’ However, this proposal looks more at the individual aspect of the sport rather than duals or things of that nature.”
Activities directors of all the area’s wrestling programs are looking into the addition of girls wrestling to their curriculum. Aitkin had a female participate this past season. C-I and Brainerd have had female wrestlers in the past
“Obviously, they passed girls' wrestling and I think we'll probably have a few participate in that and it should grow as it goes on,” Rocheleau said. “I definitely think boys volleyball could be an opportunity. There are club sports there as well so that could evolve.
“Then you have to look at that breaking point where you get too many things and so forth. The key is to provide opportunities where everyone has a chance. Hopefully, we can get that balance.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.