By Harry Colbert, Jr. –
A school that was on the chopping blocks four years ago can now again call itself a champion.
The Polars of North Community High School are state champions in Class 1A boys basketball following a 68 – 45 win in the title game over Goodhue, March 12 at the Target Center. In a bit of irony, just four years ago when North was set to close, enrollment at the school was just 68 students … one student per point scored by the Polars in the championship game. Now, thanks to protests and community pushback, North’s enrollment is just above 300, graduation rates are up 28 percent and 90 percent of the school’s seniors are slated to graduate in a couple of months.
“Nine out of the 12 kids on this team are on the A and B honor roll; that’s what I’m most proud of,” said North head coach, Larry McKenzie. “Four of our five starters are on the honor roll. We have three seniors who are going to college next year. That’s what this is all about. These are student athletes in every sense of the word.”
Winning is nothing new to McKenzie. A Minnesota Hall of Fame coach, McKenzie was the first coach to claim four consecutive state crowns when he led Patrick Henry to titles from 2000 – 2003.
In his third season at North, McKenzie said his kids felt as if they were not only representing the school, but all of north Minneapolis.
“These kids could have gone elsewhere but they accepted the challenge to stay and represent their community and to restore the legacy of North,” said McKenzie. “North really is a community school.”
North being a community school was evidenced throughout the year with overflowing gymnasiums during the Polars’ regular season.
“We’re a school of 300 but it looked like we are a school of 900 because of all the support we got from the community,” said Dr. Shawn Harris-Berry, principal at North.
Harris-Berry said the winning athletics programs at North (the football team made it to state the past two years, losing in the finals this past year) are attracting needed attention to the school, but successes are being achieved in the classroom as well.
“There’s a high sense of pride about being a student at North. A year ago we had only 20 8th graders making high school decisions put North as their first choice of school, this time around we had 100 kids choose North as their first choice,” said Harris-Berry. “Families are seeing North as a viable option for their kids to prepare for college and that’s really exciting.”
Harris-Berry said the school owes a debt of gratitude to the community surrounding the school for refusing to let North be closed.
“The Near-North community is the reason why we’re here. If it wasn’t for them going out and protesting we wouldn’t be here,” said Harris-Berry. “Our students have a huge sense of pride about North and changing the narrative of the school.”
According to McKenzie and Harris-Berry several celebrations are planned for the winning basketball team and they plan to invite members of the community to take part in the students’ achievements.