December 31, 2003 at 1:47 p.m.

Girls state High School Hockey Tournament to stay at Ridder Arena

Girls state High School Hockey Tournament to stay at Ridder Arena
Girls state High School Hockey Tournament to stay at Ridder Arena

A federal judge in St. Paul on Dec. 22 ruled in favor of the Minnesota State High School League regarding the venue for the 2004 state Girls' Hockey Tournament.

An attorney for the plaintiffs that have sued the League over the venue choice moved for a preliminary injunction to force the tournament to be held at Xcel Energy Center instead of Ridder Arena in 2004. Senior Judge Paul A. Magnuson of the U.S. District Court in St. Paul heard arguments on both sides of the issue before issuing his ruling denying the motion for preliminary injunction.

"This decision affirms the belief of the League Board of Directors that its process for reviewing tournament venues and selecting state tournament sites is not flawed," said League Executive Director Dave Stead following the hearing. "When this issue was presented to the Office for Civil Rights, the League cooperated with the OCR investigation. After traveling from Chicago to view both venues, the Office for Civil Rights concluded that Ridder Arena was an appropriate venue for the state girls' hockey tournament. We are pleased that Judge Magnuson recognized the thorough nature of the OCR investigation and agreed with the League's site selection process.

"Ridder Arena is an outstanding facility and it is the right place right now to play the girls' hockey tournament. Not only does our Board believe that, but so do numerous parents, fans, administrators, and players who welcome the opportunity to play in an electric state tournament atmosphere that simply would not exist at Xcel until attendance grows, as we hope it does. Those who offered opinions in support of conducting the 2004 tournament at Ridder Arena included the current president of the Minnesota Girls' Hockey Coaches Association, as well as Natalie Darwitz, a current Gopher and Olympian who has played hockey in large venues all over the world."

Judge Magnuson issued his extemporaneous ruling because the issue has extreme time sensitivity, he said. He will issue a formal written ruling at an unspecified future date.

"The League Board of Directors will continue to gather information about the venue and will review at its meeting in March, after the 2004 girls' hockey tournament, whether Ridder Arena continues to be the most appropriate site for the tournament," Stead added.

"The Board makes difficult decisions all the time, but every decision is made after careful review of all of the facts and with the overriding philosophy that its decisions must be made in the best interests of all of the students in Minnesota."

The 2003 State Girls' Hockey Tournament was held at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus, a brand new facility constructed to be the home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers women's hockey team, and with the intent to serve as home for the state girls' hockey tournament, argued Mark R. Whitmore, attorney representing the League.

Whitmore asserted that Title IX, federal gender equity legislation which the plaintiffs alleged was violated by the League in selecting Ridder Arena instead of Xcel Energy Center, "is about equality, not identicality."

Judge Magnuson stated that he did not believe there was a violation of Title IX, that "if a judge was supposed to make this kind of decision (in favor of the plaintiffs), then I should cancel them both (the girls' and boys' hockey tournaments)."

"If I issued this injunction," Judge Magnuson continued, "I'm afraid that representatives of dance team would be in here tomorrow."

The girls' hockey tournament is scheduled the same weekend as the state girls' dance team tournament at Xcel Energy Center.

In addition to his findings dismissing the alleged discrimination, Judge Magnuson also agreed with Whitmore that forcing the League to move the 2004 state girls' hockey tournament to Xcel Energy Center would have placed that venue in a position of having to accept a judicial decision without being a party to the case.

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