Rape Charges Fuel Iron Range Tensions

Joy Powell, StarTribune (Minneapolis), Oct. 24, 2006

The alleged rape of an 18-year-old high school senior by four current and former football players at Hibbing Community College is renewing tension in Iron Range towns over the recruiting policy for college athletes.

The four were charged Monday in connection with the alleged gang rape of a Grand Rapids, Minn., woman in a college residence hall on Oct. 14.

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Bill Hanna, editor of the Mesabi Daily News, said there’s been controversy on the Iron Range about out-of-state recruiting at Hibbing, Mesabi and Vermillion community colleges. Athletes have come from Milwaukee, Texas, Detroit and other locales.

“It’s a tension issue, and it has been for a lot of years,” Hanna said. “And then also, there is a certain racial component that’s included.”

In 1991, black football players recruited to play at Hibbing Community College complained of racist threats and incidents. The same year, a group of whites armed with a rifle broke into the Hibbing apartment of some black college students and attacked them. One of the 26 black recruits had been charged in a gun incident, and two were suspects in a rape.

In 1993, a Virginia, Minn., man, along with two friends, went looking for a football player who allegedly raped his 13-year-old daughter. They beat the first black man they found. He was one of 12 black football players recruited to play at Mesabi Community College.

It’s too early to say whether the recruiting practice is a contributing factor in the latest case, Hibbing Mayor Rick Wolff said Tuesday.

“But certainly, it’s one of the many things that will be looked at as we try determine how this happened,” he said. “It may come into play.”

The alleged assault

In the Hibbing case, the woman said she had been visiting a friend in the dorm when she headed toward the exit just before 10 p.m. The woman said she had not been drinking.

The complaint said that a black football player whom the woman had previously met in the dorms ushered her into a room where she was sexually assaulted. She told police she thought there were five attackers.

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‘All kinds of diversity’

Wolff said that in recent years, his community as well as other Iron Range towns have been dealing with “all kinds of diversity.”That’s just the way life is today, because change is constant,” he said. “If you’re not changing, you’re dying. We’re much better equipped as a community to deal with issues like this than say we were 10 years before, 15 years before, just because how far we’ve come.”

Recruiting remains a hot-button issue, though.

“You have a lot of people saying it’s a community college, they want to see a lot of their students, family, friends, high school play on local community college level,” said Hanna.

At the same time, some coaches contend that the crop of local athletes is not strong enough to compete successfully, Hanna said.

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