HOLMGREN: Hannah Stewart should have played in Lions All-Star Game
If you’re following the North Dakota Lions All-Star game series this week, which features the top boys and girls basketball talent from the class of 2015, you’re probably asking yourself this question: Where in the world is Bishop Ryan’s Hannah Stewart?
That’s a great question, and it’s one in which the North Dakota High School Activities Association is responsible for the answer: Iowa City, Iowa.
Stewart – the 2015 Miss Basketball Award winner, Class B senior athlete of the year, three-time Class B state tournament most valuable player, etc. – enrolled at the University of Iowa in June in order to partake in the Hawkeyes’ optional (read: mandatory) summer team workouts.
Two years ago, the NCAA began allotting both men’s and women’s college basketball teams two hours of team instruction per week over an eight-week period during the summer. The top teams – like Iowa, which has reached the NCAA tournament in each of the past eight seasons – take advantage of that practice time, particularly using it to transition freshmen into college basketball. The catch? Those freshmen must enroll in courses at their university in order to participate in the summer practice sessions.
Stewart heading to Iowa is a big deal for North Dakota high school basketball, and particularly for the Minot area. It should be appreciated. What better setting to celebrate a standout career than at the Lions game, when the best of Class A takes on the best of Class B? And for Stewart, Ryan teammates Gabbie Bohl, who will play at U-Mary; and Maddie Wald, who will play at Minot State; are participating in the Lions game. How fun would it have been for those three girls, members of three consecutive state championship teams, to play together once more?
Instead, Stewart is being penalized for not only furthering her athletic career by practicing with Iowa, but also furthering her academic career by enrolling a few months early.
Because many years ago, college coaches coached the Lions game, so it would’ve been an NCAA violation. And one time, a player elected to follow their Lions game coach to that college rather than following through on their commitment to a different school.
But for years now, high school coaches have coached the game. For instance, this year, Hannah’s mother/Ryan coach Julie Stewart will lead the Class B girls. (Side note, how honorable of her to agree to coach even after her daughter was disallowed from playing in the two-game series.)
So ultimately, any rule forbidding players enrolled in college courses from partaking in the Lions game is completely outdated.
Should be an easy fix, right?
The Stewart family didn’t want to make a fuss out of the ordeal when they found out she’d be barred from the game, so instead, they contacted the NDHSAA directly and politely asked it to consider changing the rule.
Then, Hannah Stewart wrote a letter to the NDHSAA asking the governing body to change the rule in the future, so that other players wouldn’t have to be left out from the meaningful experience that is the Lions game. At least if she couldn’t play in it this year, she could make a positive change for future players, right?
Nada. The NDHSAA didn’t budge.
So now, I’ll ask – publicly rather than privately – please, whether it be the NDSHAA or someone else involved with the Lions game who has a say in the dated rule, change it for the future.
Because, at the end of the day, North Dakota basketball fans deserve to see the best players play in the Lions game.
For the past four years, Hannah Stewart was one of the best.
Ryan Holmgren is the former sports editor of The Minot Daily News. He now covers University of Wyoming athletics for the Casper Star-Tribune.