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Local
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Will the Hutchinson Aquatic Center open this summer?

With the days of summer approaching and many things canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some may wonder when, if ever, the Hutchinson Aquatic Center plans to open.

The answer, according to Dolf Moon, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Education, is not as crystal clear as the pool’s water.

“The biggest piece is, what is the governor’s executive order migrating to,” Moon said. “That sets in a series of planning that we need to look into.”

Dolf Moon

As Gov. Tim Walz continues to adjust his executive orders, that will be the leading determination of when the pool can open, along with many other PRCE summer offerings such as softball and baseball leagues. He recently announced the end of his stay-at-home order this past weekend, and gatherings of 10 or fewer people are once again allowed, but that’s a far cry from what is needed to open the pool or begin other activities.

But even if Walz ended all restrictions June 1, the pool still couldn’t open the next day.

“You just don’t fill up a several hundred thousand gallon pool in a day,” he said. “It’s about a 10-day process. You’re using water out of a fire hydrant that’s coming in at 50 degrees, and the bathers like it at 70 degrees or higher. So you have to start filtering your water and bringing the temp up, and that’s about a two-week process.”

So the earliest the aquatic center would open at this point is June 15, but filling the pools isn’t the only issue. There’s also the matter of hiring workers. Moon said it takes about 70-80 people to fully staff the aquatic center for the summer. Many are students home from college who may have to find other jobs rather than wait for the pool to open. If that’s the case and the aquatic center isn’t fully staffed when it opens, some of its amenities may not be available, such as the zip line, diving boards or slides.

As Moon and PRCE staff look ahead and try to plan for all contingencies, they are considering options such as opening the pool at a reduced occupancy level, or only opening a portion of the pool. They are also looking at alternatives for admission. A season pass may not provide the necessary value if the season starts late, so staff are looking at only selling daily admission passes, or small packages such as 10 days worth of admission passes.

Moon is also considering what to do about swimming lessons if the aquatic center doesn’t open for awhile. He said staff are looking at the possibility of lessons at Jerry Carlson Pool in the middle school.

While doing all of this planning, PRCE staff are also keeping up with Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for sanitization and best practices.

“We’d like to be open, we just want to make sure it’s a safe experience for our users and our staff,” Moon said.

As with all contingency plans, Moon said there is also the possibility that there may not be an aquatic center season this summer. The Fourth of July is tentatively set as the final possible date to open. After that, the season would be canceled.

An early July start would allow for a six-week season. That would be about half of the aquatic center’s typical season, but still salvageable.

After the Fourth of July, however, the issue again becomes staffing, plus attendance usually begins to wane.

“Typically, around Aug. 10, which is about six weeks from the Fourth of July, we start seeing — some colleges start a little earlier — kids start dropping out,” Moon said. “So out of our 70 people, the number starts going down around Aug. 10.”


Local
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Hutchinson's greatest girls hoops players include college stars and an Olympian

When it comes to Hutchinson’s greatest girls basketball player ever, there’s no competition.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time WNBA champion Lindsay Whalen’s jersey hangs in the Hutchinson High School gymnasium named after her for good reason. During her four varsity seasons, from 1997 to 2000, Whalen racked up 1,996 career points, a school record that stands tall to this day.

But it wasn’t just her ability to score that made the current Gopher women’s basketball coach so great.

“She has all of those intangibles, those unmeasurables you can't teach them,” said Andy Rostberg, Whalen’s former high school coach. “Whether it be heart and courage, you can't measure that. Leadership qualities, she has all of those. Then you put in work ethic and the rest is history.”

While the future WNBA Hall of Famer is the first name that comes to mind when people think Hutchinson girls basketball, there were many great players who came before her, and many she has inspired to greatness in the two decades since she graduated from HHS. Here’s a look back at some of the best players to have stepped onto the hardwood in a Tigers jersey.

Chasing a Hall of Famer

When Whalen finished her high school career with 1,996 points, she was more than 700 points ahead of any other Tiger in school history. Second on the list at the time was her former teammate, Kelly Brinkman, who graduated in 1999 with 1,204 points. Before those two the leader was Joy Anderson, who graduated in 1989 with 1,113 points.

In the past 20 years, however, the Tigers have had a number of players chasing Whalen’s record, although all have fallen short by hundreds of points.

The team’s second greatest scorer ever is a 2017 graduate and current starter at St. Cloud State University, Tori Wortz. Like Whalen, Wortz was a four-year starter and finished with 1,544 points.

When current girls basketball head coach Tim Ellefson started his first season as the head coach, he could see Wortz’s potential as an eighth-grader. Although she showed flashes as a freshman, it wasn’t until her sophomore season that she established herself as a team leader.

“After like the first game, she had 12 points or something like that,” Ellefson said. “I told her, ‘For us to be the best that we can, I need you shooting 13, 14 shots a game.' She had probably shot five or six. She didn't feel real comfortable about that. She went out the next game and shot like 10-for-12. … Since then she took on that role and was looking for her offense more, and that led her to being a great scorer.”

A strong defense can also lead to scoring, and that was especially the case for Wortz, who sits second on the team in steals with 310. The only person with more is her former teammate, Kenzie Rensch, who graduated in 2018 with 321 steals. Rensch also ranks among the team’s top-10 scorers with 1,088 career points.

Defense was always a specialty for Rensch, who got her first taste of varsity as an eighth-grader in a late-season game.

“She jumped up and went in there,” Ellefson said. “She never touched the ball I don't think, but she went out and guarded their best player for about five straight possessions and got two steals and frustrated her into bad decisions in those five possessions. That was the start of it. She just craved it. And that's what's going to make her successful at Augustana these next few years as she looks to take a bigger role on their team.”

Those two along with former teammates such as Erin Corrigan, Morgan Kurth and others from that era combined for one of the best full-court presses in school history.

A few of stat-sheet stuffers

Another name you’ll find in the record books often is 2005 graduate Meghan Rettke. She holds the career rebounding record with 1,473 and is third in career scoring with 1,401 points, making her Hutchinson’s only player in the 1,000-1,000 club. She’s also Hutchinson’s top blocker in school history with 367 stuffs.

Brianna Monahan, who graduated in 2003, also ranks fourth with 1,313 career points and third with 917 rebounds.

“Knowing both of them,” Ellefson said, “they were tough-minded, worked hard and outworked you. Then put that along with their height and talents, that's when you get dominance.”

Rostberg also recalled Monahan’s ability to come up big in the clutch.

“When the game was at its height and it was the toughest situation that the team was facing, that's when (Monahan) rose up,” he said. “We had a lot of them that did that, but (Whalen and Monahan) really stand out. The situation at hand was never too big.”

And when it came to passing, you might think Whalen holds the school record in assists considering she ranks third all-time in the WNBA, but you would be wrong. That record belongs to Carrie Schwartz, who dished out 509 assists and graduated in 1998.

Schwartz, like Whalen, was a taller point guard who could see over the defense and handle the ball well, according to Rostberg, and could make any pass in the book: pocket pass, rolling pass, out to the corner, Schwartz could do it all.

“She was like having a coach on the court,” Ellefson said. “She knew what the play was, what to look for and what the defense would do. She could anticipate that kind of stuff.”

Other honorable mentions in the record book include 1998 graduate Katie Jensen, who ranks second with 934 rebounds; 2012 graduates Alissa Retterath and Nichole Wittman, who scored 1,238 and 1,111 points, respectively, to rank fifth and eighth in school history; and a pair of players from the late 1980s — Joy Anderson and Kris Hoeft — who scored 1,113 and 1,093 points, respectively, to round out Hutch's top-10 all-time scorers.

None of this success came without hard work, and that mindset has been passed down through the years to make Hutchinson girls hoops the program that it is today.

“It's the hard work and the willingness to do whatever it takes to help their team win,” Ellefson said. “That's the trademark of Hutch girls basketball.”


Education
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Pandemic budget restraints lead to Hutchinson school layoffs

Rebecca Boll

The Hutchinson School Board temporarily laid off 51 positions Monday evening. The majority — 36 — were coaches and advisors for spring activities canceled due to state mandate in response to COVID-19.

Overall, the layoffs are expected to save the district an estimated $200,000.

"Because of budget constraints and the COVID-19 pandemic, the School Board has determined that it must temporarily lay off employees who hold positions that do not have a dedicated funding source," the resolution states, "including, but not limited to, positions that are supported by fees."

Hutchinson Public Schools Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden said that none of the employees, including coaches, would have to reapply or be interviewed again for their positions. The school intends to bring them back when it is able to based on guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education and the governor's office.

"It may not be all at the same time," VanderHeiden said.

Most of the employees that were laid off held part-time positions, but some — such as two custodians and a media technician — were full-time positions. About half of the 15 non-coach layoffs were employees who stepped forward when the district asked if there were any volunteers. Not all positions related to spring activities were cut. Some activities such as FFA and yearbook are ongoing and were not subject to a canceled season.

The decision was made unanimously by the board, but not before reading two letters opposing the action at the beginning of the meeting, and later discussing them.

Scott Renning, head baseball coach, wrote a letter to the board on behalf of spring head coaches and activity advisors. In it, he says coaches who are laid off are unsure if they can communicate with students, and what liability that would bring. He also raised concerns about the stability of coaching positions in the future, as the term "termination" was used in the official notice employees received. He said there hadn't been sufficient communication from the district office.

"Our student athletes need us now more than ever to navigate these life situations," he wrote. "The mental health of our kids during this horrible time could be addressed even more then normal by coaches and advisors."

Hutchinson High School Principal Rob Danneker said the district decided not to have coaches provide individual exercise routines for students in lieu of regular practice and events, but that coaches were encouraged to act as mentors to students in the meantime.

"(Coaches are) connecting to (athletes) as students, as human beings, reaching out to them … to make sure they are staying connected, that their mental health, social well-being, all that stuff is being checked on,” said Activities Director Thayne Johnson. “That's certainly the norm here in Hutchinson."

"The (Minnesota State High School League) itself does not prohibit contact with coaches and students anywhere throughout the year other than what they call their black out periods, or no contact periods," Danneker said. "Because of the current situation we are in, the high school league has amended bylaw 208 to narrow that period this summer to three days."

Regarding the word "termination,” VanderHeiden said that was used based on legal guidance to follow state requirements, but supervisors told employees the layoffs were temporary.

"In my mind there is a huge difference between a layoff and a termination," said Board Member JoEllen Kimball.

She speculated that working from home and distance learning had resulted in a lack of communication.

"I agree the word ‘termination’ has a different feel than a temporary layoff," VanderHeiden said.

One position cut was an Early Childhood Family Education teacher. Another cut was for a community education coordinator. Kimball noted that both programs will return, and custodians will be needed in the future as they have been in the past.

"As soon as those programs are being brought back online, we can get those organized and back in business," VanderHeiden said. "We will certainly bring any and all of those employees back."

FUNDING QUESTIONS

In another letter to the School Board, Education Hutchinson President CariAnn Squier said the layoffs were not necessary.

She noted the school had $1.7 million more in revenues than expenditures and a fund balance of $13 million. She highlighted budget revisions reviewed by the School Board earlier this year that showed the district had underestimated its revenue by a few hundred thousand dollars.

"Where is that extra revenue?" she asked in her letter. "If it is not being used to help with the budget constraints, then it should be."

Hutchinson Public Schools Director of Business and Finance Becky Boll was asked to address the financial questions.

She started by addressing the school's $1.7 million in revenues over expenditures. The local and national economic forecast, Boll said, is on track with what was seen during the Great Recession.

"We have some crises we need to work through right now, but what we learned back then was that the ... impacts of these types of economic backdrops that we're operating in, it lasts for multiple years," she said.

While the district did see a $1.7 million in revenues over expenditures in a recent review, not all of that money is available for the school to use as it likes. The state restricts many school funds. As a result, the school has local control of $556,000 of those revenues.

As for the unexpected revenues the school saw last month, Boll said it was a result of enrollment coming in higher than expected despite continuing to trend down. She also noted the story changed since March and the start of the pandemic.

When work ended for the weekend on March 13, the school had one set of budget revisions. Then on that Sunday, March 15, the school was given a new sense of what the COVID-19 pandemic would mean for schools in Minnesota when they were temporarily closed and educators were told to prepare for a long period of distance learning. The state went on to mandate schools provide meals for students and day care services for essential employees, services that needed to be funded locally. Meanwhile, schools were no longer collecting fees for lunch services and a la cart sales, as well as fees for other programs. Ultimately, fees for spring activities were either not collected or returned.

Regarding the school's $13 million fund balance, Boll said the school had local control of $9 million, which she thinks of as “a savings account” used for cash flow.

"We have the 20 percent on hand we need to pay our bills and payroll for three months time," she said.

But also accounted for in that fund balance is money to fulfill a School Board policy requiring the school have money on hand to handle other emergency situations.

"Last week during a press conference, Gov. (Tim) Walz alluded to, for the first time in a very long time, a lot of tools he has in his toolbox. One of them is the governor and the Legislature can shift aid and taxes from school districts. In layman terms, that means they could use us as a bank. We've lived through that as public schools back starting in 2010, ’11 and ’12."

If the state decides to hold or shift aid, the school would need cash on hand to pay its bills, or borrow money.

"It's in the district's best interest to make sure that it has enough funds on hand should the state decide to use one of those tools coming up within the next year," Boll said, "so that we don't have to secure a line of credit or aid anticipation certificates."

She said doing so would ultimately take money from education purposes.

Kamrath asked Boll if it was accurate to say the funds the school had available sounded like a lot, but could be easily consumed within the school's overall budget. Boll said that was correct.


Local
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Hutchinson High School Night of Music goes digital this Saturday

The student-led Night of Music Concert has been a Hutchinson High School end-of-year tradition since 2008 when juniors Mike Lauer and Eric Radloff launched the event as a fundraiser for the music department.

In a change from past events, this year's Night of Music is not a live event. It is being broadcast at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 23, on the Hutchinson Community Video Network and its YouTube channel.

Kay Johnson / Submitted photo 

Hutchinson High School senior Cole Meyer stepped up to organize this year’s Night of Music.

Each year, a student or a group of students step up to organize it. This year's coordinator is senior Cole Meyer. He shares his thoughts about the event in this Leader Q&A.

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, what can people expect this year? How will it be different from past years?

This year, Night of Music will be organized solely for the intent of lifting the spirits of both the viewers and those involved, not as a fundraiser. Participants have sent in videos performing anything they wanted — from electronic trap music to a cover of a movie soundtrack played as a clarinet duet. I have then edited all of those videos together with transitions between to create one long video of our Night of Music. That video will then be live-streamed on Hutchinson Community Video Network's cable channel and YouTube channel to allow for the most people possible to be able to watch. The event will also feature special announcements directed to the seniors watching at the end from Kevin Kleindl, HHS director of bands, and Nathaniel Raabe, HHS director of choirs.

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How many groups are performing? What types of music will be performed?

The list of performances has not been finalized yet but we tentatively have 16 performances lined up. Those performances include electronic trap, acoustic covers, classical multi-track (multiple performers edited together virtually), and vocal performances. There truly will be something for everyone and it will be special to see the passion that these students have put into their performances.

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Are you performing?

Kay Johnson / Submitted photo 

Eavan McCormick, pictured, and Cole Meyer are playing a trumpet-clarinet quartet arrangement of "Cum Sancto Spiritu" by Antonio Vivaldi.

I am! I will be performing with Eavan McCormick. We're playing a piece titled "Cum Sancto Spiritu." In order to follow social distancing guidelines, we both recorded our parts individually and edited them together into one song with all of us playing.

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Why did you take the lead on this project? What are your future plans?

Until I decided to take the lead on the project, Night of Music like many other annual events organized both by our school and by students would've been canceled. During this time, there is a lot of tension and uncertainty circulating through the air. Negativity is certainly not hard to come by. So, I decided that somebody needed to make a change. Music, to me, is the best way that I knew I could bring some positivity back into the community. Next year I will be attending Princeton University where I intend to concentrate in physics and get certificates in both applied and computational mathematics and applications of computing. I will certainly be continuing my ventures in community service and music as well.

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Kay Johnson / Submitted photo 

HHS student Aaron Fredricks and Michael Tankersley, not pictured, are playing a piano-and-vocal cover of “Yes I Will” by Vertical Worship.

Why should people tune in to watch the show?

This event is not only organized with the intent of showing off the skills of our music students at Hutchinson High School, but it is also to spread some positivity throughout the community. Take advantage of this opportunity to escape from this crazy world! Sit back, grab some popcorn and enjoy.