Charter Flight

Though the letters “MBA” normally conjure visions of accountants and middle managers, you may start seeing them on letter jackets and sweatshirts around town. MBA also stands for Minnesota Business Academy, a two-year-old charter high school that occupies the old Science Museum building in downtown St. Paul. Though charter schools have existed in Minnesota for more than a decade, many are just now getting around to forming sports teams. There is nothing keeping charter schools from competing against conventional public schools with established sports programs, but few have had the moxie—or the money—needed to pull together a winning squad.

Then last fall, MBA partnered with the Agriculture & Food Academy in Rosemount to form a combined athletic department. The athletes call themselves the “Charter Stars,” and so far they’ve signed on enough players for boys and girls basketball teams, cross-country and downhill ski teams, a danceline, and a cheerleading squad. The Stars’ first-ever game, a boys’ basketball match against the Burnsville Blaze, took place the other day at Burnsville Senior High School.

Charter Stars cheerleaders don’t have a home gym. They don’t have perky ponytails, and until recently, they didn’t even have uniforms. But they do have spirit—in a cool, offhand way. A few weeks ago, the squad gathered in a makeshift practice space, one of the former Science Museum’s exhibit halls. It was a random sample of girls of all sizes and skill levels. They ran through the shortlist of cheers they’d memorized, while Rosalind Bakion, MBA’s activities coordinator and de facto coach, looked on.

“Dynamite!” began one cheer, and a sly girl with purple-edged hair, the anticheerleader’s cheerleader, ran through the moves. The cheer declared, “Our stars are dynamite! Our stars are,”—here a quick swish of the hips—“tick, tick, tick, tick—BOOM! Dynamite!”

“There were no tryouts,” said Bakion, a sporty, earnest-looking woman dressed in a shiny zip-front track suit. “From the start, we said that if you show up for practice you can be on the squad. You don’t have to look like a Barbie doll to be on this team.”

A couple days later, MBA hosted the Charter Stars’ first-ever pepfest, a disorganized, low-key, and cautiously enthusiastic affair. About 50 kids and a handful of teachers and parents milled around in what used to be the Science Museum’s main lobby. Oddly, “TC,” the Minnesota Twins mascot, made an appearance. Team members were introduced, the danceline performed a short number, and the cheerleaders, decked out in their newly acquired uniforms—bright blue skirts with matching Charter Stars T-shirts—ran smoothly through “Dynamite!” It has apparently become their signature cheer.

The executive director of MBA is Paul Durand, an animated man who is determined to raise the visibility of Twin Cities charter schools. He stepped up to the mike and spoke excitedly. “Our first game is happening tonight!”—here a pause and building sense of foreboding—“It’s not the size of your school that counts. It’s the size of the heart of the athlete.”

The game itself was a humbling experience, with a final score of 25-103. Off court, the tone was tense, with noisy, countercheers from the Burnsville bleachers, and a pre-game face-off of sorts. “We saw the other cheerleaders in the locker room,” said one Charter Star cheerleader. “They looked us up and down and said,”—here she adopts a sarcastic tone—“‘Are those your real uniforms?’”—Andy Steiner