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John’s Journal: Student Sections Named Spirit Of Sport Award Winners

Concordia Academy, St. Croix Lutheran Set Standard For Sportsmanship

Posted: Monday, December 18, 2023 - 2:33 PM


Students from Concordia Academy and St. Croix Lutheran shake hands after a volleyball section tournament game. (Photo by Nate Jorgensen.)


"For anybody who was there, they would say it’s exactly what high school sports should be about.” (Photo by Nate Jorgensen.)

There are moments in and around high school activities that stand out for all the best reasons. One of those memorable moments came during and immediately after an important postseason volleyball game this fall. It was special for two key reasons: 1) teams from rival schools were competing with the knowledge that one would see their season end and one would move a step closer to the state tournament; 2) the student sections did everything the right way throughout the evening, displaying passion, school spirit and sportsmanship.

What happened after the match ended was especially noteworthy, because that’s when the students from both schools met on the gymnasium floor and went through a formal handshake line, just as the volleyball teams did.

The entire evening was a remarkable display of sportsmanship, which is why St. Croix Lutheran and Concordia Academy have been named recipients of the MSHSL Spirt of Sport Award for 2023. The Spirit of Sport Award, a program initiated by the National Federation of State High School Associations, recognizes efforts that exemplify the ideals of the positive spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics

Concordia Academy in Roseville and St. Croix Lutheran Academy in West St. Paul are only 10 miles apart. Both are Lutheran schools that are members of the Skyline Conference, so they compete against each other regularly. Because of that, many of the athletes know their counterparts from the other school.

On this November night, in the Class 2A Section 4 semifinal match at Concordia Academy, the Concordia Academy Beacons defeated the St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders 3-1. The Beacons won the section championship two days later to advance to the state tournament.

“I was there, and it was incredible,” said Concordia Academy activities director Katie DeWitt. “The whole night was all in good spirit. For anybody who was there, they would say it’s exactly what high school sports should be about.”

The scene inside the gym became publicized when Jori Senter Susanka, a parent from Concordia Academy, wrote an essay that was published on the opinion page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

She wrote, The building was overflowing with green-and-white-draped Concordia fans, but a huge contingent of red, white and black St. Croix Lutheran fans were present, too, complete with students dressed as Piglet and Chewbacca.

As the match progressed, the energy in the room intensified. The bleachers were set along one side of the gym, with the student sections hugging both walls. At each point won, those sections seemed to get louder and louder — almost to a deafening pitch. It was typical high school volleyball — with just a bit of an edge of "we really want this win!"

Between sets, as the teams huddled on the benches, student fans from the two schools stepped down from the first row of bleachers and held push-up contests as their friends screamed encouragement. The excitement never ebbed and the decibel level only grew as the match progressed.

Senter Susanka wrote: While the room erupted in celebration when the final point was scored by Concordia, the student-athletes lined up to "good-game" each other. Then something happened that I have never — in my multiple decades of going to sporting events — seen before.

Both student sections quickly, and with no encouragement from school leaders or anyone else, lined up in two straight lines right next to their school's student athletes to high-five and "good-game" the opposing student section. And just like that, all the intensity and tension between the groups seemed to evaporate into thin air.

Marco Rodriguez, a senior athlete at St. Croix Lutheran who has friends at Concordia Academy, said the student handshake line was not pre-planned.

“Both student sections were pretty full and the spirit was definitely there,” he said. “We face each other in a lot of sports and we kind of know each other. Both sides were really energetic that night, there is always this feeling of respect on both sides. Their student section started doing push-ups and our student section was like, ‘We’ve got to beat them in this.’

“It was a great night overall, a very competitive game, back and forth. At the end everybody from the student sections went down on the court. We weren’t heartbroken but we were bummed. The players came through and we shook their hands. I wanted to talk with my friends from Concordia and I was looking toward their students. I know Kellen Quast from being with him at leadership meetings; I looked at him and we shook hands; it started as kind of a joke thing between the two of us, but the other students lined up to shake hands, too.”

It was quite a scene. The students formed two lines on the edge of the court, smiled at each other and offered their congratulations.

At first, the parents were too shocked to know what to do. Then slowly, from the back of the crowd, one of the parents started to clap for what they were seeing. Realizing what was happening, the Concordia and St. Croix Lutheran parents also came together, stopping their conversations, and turning to applaud their students who were exhibiting the most remarkable show of good sportsmanship most of us have ever (or will ever) see.

In a world where we hear stories about sporting events filled with insults hurled, physical altercations and sometimes even worse, it gives me, as a parent, great hope for our next generation of fans. Perhaps the students have learned from the bad behavior they have been seeing that they can and should do better. Perhaps by seeing remarkable sportsmanship like this from our students, we adults will learn that we also can and should do better.

“Truly, it was a night where all the students had fun and enjoyed each other,” DeWitt said. “They enjoyed the competition and the rivalry, and they were good sports with each other because they respect each other.”

--Click here to read the essay by Jori Senter Susanka: 

--MSHSL senior content creator 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] 

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