The University of Minnesota Crookston Athletics Department has been shut down since mid-March, and KROX caught up with UMC Athletic Director Steph Helgeson to discuss how the shut down has impacted the athletic department.  While athletic department staff is not on campus, the facilities are getting upgrades, including a resurfacing of Lysaker Gymnasium, which Helgeson said should be done in the next couple of weeks. “We’re getting updates daily from facility management,” said Helgeson. “Dave Danforth is out on campus, so he’s able to send us some photos. That’s exciting to see that still moving forward, so hopefully, that will be done here in another couple of weeks.”

Helgeson said she thinks people will be very impressed with the way the floor looks when finished. “I think it looks awesome,” said Helgeson. “Shawn (Smith, Communications Director) helped designed that along with Brandy Chaffee.  Brandy is our director of development and she helps with communications.  We looked at other floors in the conference to look at their designs.  So, I think we branded it really good.  I think it’s really impressive.  I think people will like it when they see it.”

There will also be new branding throughout the facility, according to Helgeson. “We also did a little bit of branding throughout the building,” said Helgeson. “So, we’ll be getting that stuff up with the UMC athletics. What’s it like to be a Golden Eagle, so we’ve got like – excellence, accountability, gratitude, leadership, empathy – different designs on the wall. You’ll see some brushed aluminum like where the Wellness Center entrance is at.  The new golf performance center, we’ll have some new branding and signage on that, the fitness center upstairs, and some new logos throughout the hallways for our sports teams.  So, a little bit of different atmosphere throughout the building to kick it up a notch, and I think it will look nice and impressive when the students get back to campus.”

Helgeson added that the university is still working on a fundraising campaign to replace the hoops in Lysaker and add a video board.  Transitioning to the cancellation due to COVID-19, Helgeson said that while the department has saved about $90,000 this spring, it’s been a difficult time. “It’s been interesting,” said Helgeson. “You know, it’s a challenging time for all of us, I think.  When you’re involved in athletics, you’re used to being there 24/7, and I know it’s been an adjustment for our coaches as well as our student-athletes. It’s difficult to not be able to complete that spring season, especially if you’re a senior.  Our hearts go out to them because that’s a difficult situation as you build for your senior year.  But, we have saved about $90,000 not completing our spring season.  So, we’ll look at those balances and work on that towards maybe holding some funds towards the fiscal year 2021 and how we align with institutional mission to spend those funds. We’ll probably hold those, for now, to see where we’re at for fiscal year ’21.”

 Helgeson said the department is very excited to have hockey returning, and they are getting close to signing a new contract with the City of Crookston. “We are working with the Crookston Sports Center (CSC),” said Helgeson. “Our finance director, Tricia Sanders, works with the CSC on a contract.  We need new lockers in there, new flooring and some branding in the CSC. We’re excited to start that initiative and get that going. We’re close to signing the contract on that. We’d also like to look at doing a big splash around our hockey alumni this fall.  Hopefully, around homecoming, we’ll be bringing them back as well.”

Helgeson said UMC is looking at an early November homecoming weekend centered around volleyball and hockey. Helgeson also noted that the annual golf tournament in Hallock has been canceled for 2020, but they are still trying to figure out if they can have some form of the UMC Teambacker Golf Classic in July. 

We also asked Helgeson how things are going at her other business, Ness Café, in Erskine.  Helgeson said so far, so good, and was very thankful for the great employees they have. “I’m grateful that I have a great group of employees that still want to work,” said Helgeson. “They’re still there, still working doing takeout and curbside delivery.  But I’m blessed and grateful I have a great staff at Ness and a great staff at UMC in the athletic department.  I couldn’t ask for better people to work with.  But it’s going well so far. We’ll see how it takes us day-by-day, but so far, so good.  Grateful for all the customers that we have.  Living in a small community you really realize how important that is.  People really reach out and care.  Whether that is Erskine or Crookston, you see that in small communities and what that means.  I just feel grateful and blessed every day.”