John’s Journal: Rock Ridge ‘Brings Tears To My Eyes And A Smile To My Face’
Minnesota’s Newest School District Offers A Look Into The Future
Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2023 - 6:08 PM
At 2:16 p.m. Friday, members of the Rock Ridge High School girls basketball team walked into their new gym for the first time. They gazed at the shiny floor, the sunlight streaming in from high windows, a giant video board and three smaller scoreboards. The place was gleaming.
“Holy buckets,” said one, “this is insane.” As the last few players walked into the space, they heard from a teammate already standing at midcourt, “You better take your shoes off. We’re keeping this court clean.”
Rock Ridge is a new school district bringing together students from Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert. Voters in those communities approved consolidating the two school districts into one as well as building a new high school and two new elementary schools. It’s the first newly consolidated school district in Minnesota in 15 years. (Rock Ridge website: https://rrps.org)
The current high school enrollments are 443 at Virginia and 246 at Eveleth-Gilbert for a total of 689. Shuttle buses run between the two high school buildings each day as students learn in both places and make new friends, all in preparation for moving into their new high school in a few months.
Athletic teams have led the way into the future, with the Rock Ridge Wolverines boys swimming and diving team the first to join together four years ago. After decades of competing against each other, the girls and boys basketball players became Wolverines this season, and boys coach Spencer Aune said, “I’m blown away by the kids. They’re already best friends.”
Friday was a “soft” opening for the new gym, and the first time the public – and the players -- would be inside the school. The Wolverines girls hosted Two Harbors, followed by a boys game between Rock Ridge and Hibbing. This was a chance for the seniors to play one game in the gym that will become the Wolverines’ home starting next season. The rest of this year’s home games are being played in Eveleth.
The new high school will open to students in the fall; it’s a beautiful structure that is tucked into a wooded area off of U.S. Highway 53, a mile from the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth. The school is on Progress Parkway, which is entirely suitable for a district that’s looking into the future.
The 300,000-square-foot high school is a marvel of light and space and technology. From large wooden beams to exposed steel to the textures and colors of the walls and floors, the facility carries a distinct Iron Range theme. In the classrooms, study spaces, an 800-seat auditorium, an eight-lane swimming pool, a large fitness center, and technology areas that focus on auto mechanics, welding and woodworking, the school is a marvel. The football, baseball and softball fields, now blanketed by snow, are permanently covered with artificial turf.
To the sound of bouncing basketballs in the gym at mid-afternoon, a school official expressed concern about that evening’s crowd, saying “I wonder if anyone will come?”
But of course, if you build it they will come. The parking lot was nearly full 30 minutes before the girls game tipped off inside U.S. Steel Gymnasium (many areas of the school have sponsors), and nearly every single one of the 1,400 or so seats were filled when the action began. The concession stand wasn’t yet stocked; the only items for sale were bottles of water and pom poms in Rock Ridge green and white. Both items did a brisk business.
The Wolverines pep band performed magnificently, a large Rock Ridge student section provided spirit and entertainment, cheerleaders cheered, the dance team performed at halftime of both games, and everybody smiled. Officials Dave Clement, Babe Glumack and Jordan Parentaeu called both contests and did a splendid job. When the officials were introduced before each game, they were applauded by the fans. (Between games, Glumack told a visitor: “What a great atmosphere. This is a really fun gym to work in.”)
The girls game tipped off at 5:47 as the Rock Ridge students stood and chanted, “I Believe That We Will Win!” Things quickly went the way of the Wolverines, and that didn’t change throughout the day. The first points in the new gym were scored on a driving layup by Rock Ridge ninth-grader Maija Lamppa, whose teammates include her twin sister Lexi and junior sister Emma.
Maija Lamppa and Two Harbors senior Karly Holm put on a show, with each scoring 31 points in the Wolverines’ 90-58 win.
The boys game featured head coaches who are brothers, Spencer Aune and Hibbing’s Tom Aune. That contest also went to the Wolverines by a score of 92-71. Carter Mavec led Rock Ridge with 16 points, with Casey Aune and Jalen Miskowitz scoring 14 each. Finley Cary led Hibbing with 17 and Raymod Brau had 16.
“Oh, it was awesome,” said Wolverines senior Grant Hansen, who scored the first basket in the boys game. “The fans were crazy, the court’s so nice, the whole school is nice. I feel so lucky. For us seniors to get in here, it meant everything.”
Rock Ridge girls coach Byron Negen added, “I think the atmosphere today, with the community coming together, just made it perfect for the kids. It was something they will remember, especially the seniors.”
The day was filled with pride in community, in a new adventure, a bright future and in the Iron Range itself. But mostly, the day was filled with happiness.
“I honestly can’t take the smile off my face,” said Wolverines senior Paige Maki. “I was smiling the whole time, all day, just thinking about it. It was kind of surreal. It shows how much these communities have come together to support us. It brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.”
Early in the afternoon, athletic director Josh Lamppa – who was among the people who studied other schools and had a hand in the design of the new building – was taking a visitor on a tour of the building. Other than some minor detail work that’s being done, the school looks ready for staff and students. Very few people have been able to walk though the halls at this point, but for basketball fans who saw the gymnasium and adjacent pool – both can be viewed through large windows from the concession area – it was a taste of what’s to come.
After the two basketball games had gone off without a hitch and folks were chatting in the gym, Josh Lamppa was approached by his daughter Emma. She had a simple question: “Dad, can I get a tour?”
The waiting, for everyone, will soon be over.
--See more photos from Rock Ridge on the MSHSL Facebook page.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]