Math, science and skiingThe Math and Science Academy — one of the state’s smallest schools that participates in sports at the high school level — is not only fielding a Nordic skiing program, but one that is competing with the big boys of the Classic Suburban Conference and Section 4.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, South Washington County Bulletin
The story has been written 100 times. Everyone loves the little guy.
One of south Washington County’s smallest schools is no exception.
The Math and Science Academy — one of the state’s smallest schools that participates in sports at the high school level — is not only fielding a Nordic skiing program, but one that is competing with the big boys of the Classic Suburban Conference and Section 4.
A charter school in Woodbury, Math and Science Academy serves students in grades six through 12. With a ninth through 12th-grade enrollment of 143 students according to Minnesota State High School League guidelines — the school offers intense math and science experiences along with providing creative and challenging opportunities in arts, humanities and athletics.
Cross country running was the school’s first sport. Track and field came soon thereafter. Three years ago, in addition to boys and girls basketball, the Nordic skiing program began.
Head coach Daniel Scheff, 29, spearheaded the additions of the track and field and Nordic skiing programs.
“These are some really nice, healthy activities in the fall and spring with running and track and in the winter with skiing,” Scheff said. “When I was growing up basketball was my main sport, but I like these individual-type sports, because everyone can participate and improve unlike some team sports where not everyone gets a chance to compete, just practice.”
Prior to joining Math and Science Academy, Scheff, who grew up outside of Cambridge and attended Cambridge-Isanti High School, was an assistant coach at Robbinsdale Armstrong. A graduate of St. Cloud State University, he is currently a full-time coach while he pursues his masters degree. Scheff hopes to coach at the college level in the future.
“The kids have fun,” Scheff said. “They like to be together and work hard. They have a good time. Nordic is a nice sport too, because everyone can participate and they can see themselves improving.”
In total, the Dragons have 14 skiers out this season, eight boys and six girls, under the tutelage of Scheff — numbers that compare to what larger schools in the Classic Suburban and Section 4 are able to field. In its first season — the 2008-09 school year, however, the Math and Science Academy Nordic program began with Scheff and four skiers.
“A lot of the bigger schools have around 20 to 30 kids in their Nordic programs, but have around 2,000 kids in their high school,” Scheff said. “If you do the ratio, ours are better for cross country, for Nordic and for track and field. It’s nice to see the kids involved.”
One of the Nordic pioneers was current Math and Science Academy senior Kyle Osborne.
Osborne, now a team captain, said athletics have helped him in school and in life.
“It’s definitely been a lot of work and it has especially helped me stay in shape for cross country and track,” Osborne said. “It’s also helped me learn to manage my time, to keep in track of my homework and be more disciplined.”
Osborne’s first sport was cross country running. When track began his freshman year he joined the team. Then, when Nordic started the following year, he added it to the mix.
“I enjoyed cross country and track is pretty similar,” Osborne said. “Our coach recommended that I do Nordic in the winter. I had skied a few times before, but not very much. I’ve definitely come a long way from the first time I skied until now. I really enjoy skiing. It’s a great way to enjoy the winter.”
Otherwise an independent, Math and Science Academy is able to participate in the Classic Suburban Conference. The Dragons don’t officially belong to a conference, but its athletes can be recognized and earn All-Conference and honorable mention honors out of the CSC.
Scheff said being able to participate in the Classic Suburban has been essential to the Dragons.
“A lot of skiing around the state of Minnesota involves around being in a conference and it’s tough to find ski meets as an independent,” Scheff said. “They were really willing to let us come in to the Classic Suburban and really supportive. It’s been a great time and it’s a great group of coaches to work with. It’s fun being part of a conference.”
Math and Science Academy returns all of its key skiers from last season and the team is captained by Osborne, fellow senior Aren Siekmeier and sophomore Maddie Ames. Other key skiers include sophomore Jacob Siekmeier and eighth-grader Ines Siepmann.
Jacob Siekmeier earned All-Conference honors last season, finishing in 10th place individually in the CSC and took 36th at the section meet. Aren Siekmeier was All-Conference honorable mention the past two years and was 35th at the section race a year ago.
“I think all the sports have been a big benefit for all the kids,” Scheff said. “I had one boy, a seventh-grader, in cross country that had never really ran before. We had a goal that he would be able to run 20 minutes without stopping. When he was able to do that he was really proud of himself and felt really good about it.”
Key upcoming meets for the Dragons are: the Holiday Relays on Dec. 18, at Trollhaugen in Dresser, Wis; the ABC Relays on Jan. 15 at Theodore Wirth Park in St. Paul; the Classic Suburban Conference Championships on Feb. 1 at Battle Creek Park West; and the Section 4 championships on Feb. 9 at Battle Creek Park West, where Math and Science Academy will take on fellow District 833 schools East Ridge, Woodbury and Park.
“I just think it’s good to get out of the school environment once and a while and have a chance to be with your friends,” Osborne said. “Even though it’s hard work, it’s something we do together.”