A home game 100 years in the making for DeLaSalle

Huddling up
The DeLaSalle Islanders will host Brooklyn Center Friday night in the team's first-ever true home game. DeLaSalle's football team has played 'home games' during its history, but those games have always been played on other school's fields, with DeLaSalle being 'home' in name only.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The high school football season gets underway Thursday night and this weekend across Minnesota.

One of the state's powerhouses will do something Friday night that it's never done before.

Even though DeLaSalle High School is more than 100 years old, it's never hosted its own home game.

The opening of the field, though, comes after years of controversy on the small Nicollet Island, where the school is located.

The storied DeLaSalle football program has earned trips to the state tournament the past two years, won the state championship in 1999, and in 1953, shut out every opponent en route to an undefeated season.

And all that time, head coach Sean McMenomy can't believe the team has never had a home.

"It's just amazing -- they had to jump on a bus every Friday night and go -- have their homecomings at Brooklyn Center, Roosevelt," McMenomy said. "It is shocking, and you don't hear about it. Fortunately you won't have to hear about it anymore at DeLaSalle."

Day and night
DeLaSalle's new football field with have a nice view of the Minneapolis skyline.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Even in the weeks leading up to this season, the team hasn't used its new field, lest they wreck it during practice. Thursday, in fact, will be the team's first practice on the new turf.

With it, seniors like Walter Franklin will forget the memories of always being away, even during those games when DeLaSalle was, on paper, the home team.

"I'm just really excited and anticipation is really getting to me because I'm really excited to play our first game," Franklin said. "Just the feel you're going to get when you walk out on the field, and be ready to play."

Players and coaches also say the new field will offer one of the most scenic "Friday Night Lights" settings anywhere, thanks to the Minneapolis night skyline in the background.

But for all the competition about to happen on this field, there's already been a few years of it off the field. A number of neighbors on Nicollet Island opposed the project.

Coach Sean McMenomy
DeLaSalle head football coach Sean McMenomy.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The island is in the middle of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis and includes dozens of Victorian-era homes. A railroad track that traverses the island will one day carry Northstar commuter trains. That gives the area the luxury of being both in the middle of everything and, yet, wonderfully secluded.

The island is on a laundry list of preservation districts and historic districts -- it's even part of the National Park Service, which opposed the new field.

Resident Chris Steller said it's not just the worries about the island's character that made him and others wage an ultimately unsuccessful court battle against the field.

"Along the way, I think that this project was railroaded," he said.

For one, a street was removed for the new field, which Steller said means one fewer road for emergency vehicles to respond to calls on the island, and overall, Steller said the city just didn't handle the issue well.

Running sprints
Members of the DeLaSalle football team, running sprints during practice.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

"We saw sort of raw politics at work where, we felt, elected officials and public officials were putting the school's interests ahead of a simple request to look at other options," Steller said.

Steller said the school and city now have to live up to the promises they made about who can use the land. The new field sits partially on land that's still public -- owned by the city's Parks board -- even though DeLaSalle is a private, Catholic high school.

Whitney Clark, who heads the Friends of the Mississippi River, a group that opposed the field, said he hopes the issues raised with DeLaSalle will make city leaders think twice the next time a proposal like this comes up in such an historic area.

"You win some and you lose some, and we opposed this on principled grounds," Clark said. "We didn't prevail, and we wish them the best of luck."

Back at the new field, coach McMenomy says he's both excited for the new season -- and understanding of the concerns that came up.

"The island is special. You can't fault them for caring about their island and where they live," he said. "I think it's just a matter of finding a good compromise between the two, and I think we've done that to the best of our ability. We're going to continue to work as a family on the island."

The DeLaSalle Islanders will open their new field tomorrow night at 7 p.m. against Brooklyn Center.

Click here for more information on this year's Minnesota high school football season and teams that are moving up or down a class.

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