The Minnehaha Academy boys' soccer team took to the field for practice Monday, nearly two weeks since a natural gas explosion tore through the school's upper campus and killed two school workers. Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune
One round of drills ended and members of the Minnehaha Academy boys’ soccer team headed to the sidelines for a break.
Leaving the field, junior Jack Schmitz couldn’t resist. He took a run at a lone soccer ball sitting in the grass and launched a right-footed drive toward the goal at the far end of the field. The ball clanged off the crossbar some 50 yards away and Schmitz jogged off the field.
“You saw that,” Schmitz, one of three co-captains, said with a wide smile. “You saw that.”
Nothing special, just a normal high school soccer practice occurrence, one likely replicated across Minnesota on Monday, the opening day of the 2017 fall sports season.
At Minnehaha Academy, normal was good. Normal is what the team needed.
It has been nearly two weeks since a natural gas explosion tore through Minnehaha Academy’s upper campus on West River Road in Minneapolis, killing two school workers. Assistant soccer coach Bryan Duffey was severely injured in the blast and remains hospitalized, his right leg amputated at the knee.
The building and its surrounding grounds have been off-limits since, forcing school officials, who delayed the start of classes for two weeks, to scramble to make arrangements for the upcoming school year. The varsity athletic teams have moved to the school’s lower campus, which houses elementary and middle-school-age students.
It will make for a crowded facility, but athletic director Josh Thurow is convinced the transition will work.
“There have been a lot of calls and texts,” said Thurow, who is operating without an office. “But we’ll make it work.”
The Aug. 2 explosion took a larger toll on the boys’ soccer team, which was having a preseason captains practice outside the school when it happened.
“It was shocking,” said co-captain Erik Ostrem, who was on the field when the explosion happened. “The loudest thing I’ve ever heard.”
With everything the team endured in the aftermath, head coach Steven Barone was emphatic about the importance of getting back into a routine.
“The key word is normalcy,” Barone said. “This is kind of our place to go and get away from everything. There’s a huge life lesson that can be learned from this: Life goes on.
“A young guy, who’s never been through that kind of adversity, you might want to tuck away and not think about it too much, but you can’t do that. The world keeps going and you have to as well. There’s a season to play and they have school they’re going to be back in.”
Barone has been in touch with Duffey, a school custodian, and his family, who urged him to keep pressing forward, even without him.
“Bryan’s wife told me the best way to honor him and show him we’re thinking about him is to go out and do what we’ve worked on and continuing to play,” Barone said.
The day after the blast, the captains called the team together.
“We got together to talk about what we felt, what we saw,” co-captain Jack Mahler said. “No soccer.”
All agreed that getting back on the field Monday was a welcome relief, a step toward getting back to normal.
“It’s good to get back in the groove,” Ostrem said. “We were thrown off a little bit, so it’s nice to get back and just play like we normally do.”
Now that they have had time to process the tragedy, the Redhawks are focused on turning it into a positive. Duffey’s situation has given them added motivation.
“I feel like our team has come together a lot more,” Ostrem said. “Bryan has become our rallying point. We’re not just doing this for us. We’re fighting for him.”
Said Barone: “This is our healing. We’re going to get through this as a family. We’ll walk through it side-by-side and deal with it as it comes.”