WINONA, Minn. -- I was standing in one of the five classrooms at Hope Lutheran High School on Thursday, chatting with Tammy O’Laughlin and Angie Meyer, two of the five full-time teachers at the school with an enrollment of 37.
Question: How big is the senior class?
Answer: There are eight seniors.
Question: How many of those eight are going on to college?
Tammy and Angie started naming names. “Jamie, Felicia, Christine …” They quickly went down the list, naming all eight kids, all of whom are going to college.
Yes, Hope Lutheran is a tiny school that’s housed in the basement of a Lutheran elementary school and has no athletic facilities of its own and lacks lots of other things that people in most schools take for granted. But Hope Lutheran, which opened six years ago, has something that goes beyond brick and mortar and enrollment and numbers.
Hope Lutheran -- where everybody knows everybody by their first name – has family.
“Our school began as a dream for a few families who wanted their children to continue their Christian education in a high school setting,” said Meyer. “Their dream has become a reality but not without countless hours of work, as most of our school is run through volunteers.”
Meyer is typical of the staff at Hope Lutheran. Her duties include teaching physical education and health classes, working as an athletic administrator, head volleyball coach and assistant softball coach. Her husband, Kevin, is the head softball and boys’ basketball coach and their daughter, Felicia, is a senior pitcher who is 31 strikeouts away from the career state record.
Softball has become one of the hallmarks of Hope Lutheran. The Patriots are 17-2, ranked sixth in Class A and hoping to make the school’s first appearance in a state tournament. I watched Hope Lutheran squeak out a 2-0 victory over Lewiston-Altura on Thursday in a Section 1 East subsection game. The Patriots will meet Rushford-Peterson on Saturday at Todd Park in Austin as the tournament moves into double-elimination.
(For photos and video from Hope Lutheran, see MSHSL on Facebook.)
The eight seniors graduated on Friday, with the ceremony held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. Right next door is St. Mark’s elementary school, with Hope Lutheran tucked in the basement. There are no plans for a larger space at this point.
“However long God wants us here, that’s how long we’ll be here,” said O’Laughlin, who teaches math and physics.
The school opened in 2003 with only a freshman class and added grades every year. This year’s seniors are the third graduating class. Sports offered are softball, volleyball, baseball and boys’ and girls’ basketball. All coaches are volunteers. Four Hope girls play hockey at Winona High School and the Patriots have a cooperative agreement for football with St. Charles High School, although the only football player from Hope is ninth-grader Brady Meyer … yes, he’s the son of Angie and Kevin (who is a volunteer assistant coach at St. Charles.)
Home games can be an issue, since Hope has no gym or athletic fields. Volleyball games are played at St. Mary’s University and the softball team’s home field is in the small town of Rollingstone (insert your own Mick Jagger reference here), 11 miles north of Winona. The Rollingstone field is postcard-worthy, set in a shady city park with a huge bluff serving as a backdrop behind center field.
But the field was built for youth baseball, meaning there is a pitcher’s mound. Softball pitchers throw from flat ground, which is not an issue this season. But next season the pitching rubber will move from 40 feet away from home plate to 43 feet. That means the mound will either have to be removed for the softball season or the Patriots will have to search for another home field.
During Thursday’s game, Kevin and Angie Meyer coached, Felicia pitched and Brady watched. Angie’s mother, Marcia Youngs, and her husband Jim worked in the concession stand, where their dog Gypsy lounged.
Cell phone signals are weak or nonexistent in Rollingstone. A local fan, watching someone staring into his phone, offered this advice: “The only place to get a signal is downtown, by the stop sign.”
After the Patriots defeated Lewiston-Altura, I asked Hope Lutheran senior first baseman Christine Klug about the softball team’s role in publicizing the school.
“It’s kind of too bad,” she said. “We’re so blessed to have such good coaches and such a good softball program, but it’s too bad people don’t know more about our school.”
Earlier Thursday, Christine and her fellow seniors, whose school year had already ended, played a prank on the underclassmen and teachers. The staff and 29 students walked to Godfather’s Pizza for a buffet lunch – yes, the entire school went out for lunch together. While the school was empty, the seniors removed all the desks and chairs from the classrooms and stacked them in the narrow hallway. They also wound giant rolls of shrink-wrap plastic around several vehicles.
It was all in fun and everybody got a big laugh out of it. And later in the day, virtually every student and parent was in Rollingstone, cheering for their team.
“A lot of people in Winona don’t even know what Hope Lutheran is,” Angie Meyer said. “But when you have a vision, it’s amazing what you can do.”
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