New Athletic Director Brett McNeal is politician, versatile athlete


New Athletic Director Brett McNeal feels strongly about the student-athlete relationship. “The community and students really embrace sports as a partnership with the athletes and the students,” he described. “They go hand and hand…it’s a package.”

Anna Kleven, Sports and Photography Editor

Brett McNeal plays so many sports he can’t name all of them. South’s gregarious new athletic director arrived this summer already having experienced a high profile basketball career and a reputable political streak. A native of North Minneapolis, McNeal comes to us with a deep familiarity with Minneapolis public schools.

Sports were an integral part of his childhood. “When I was growing up, kids did everything,” he said. “Sports kept us busy and they kept us tied to our schools.” McNeal’s friendly competition with this brother, who was “naturally the better athlete,” moved him to put his nose to the grindstone of the basketball court. He was recruited out of North High by coach Clem Haskins to Western Kentucky University, a basketball superpower at the time. “It was fun playing with players that were “Mr. Basketball” of their respective state or player of the year the year they graduated,” he said. Even among a team of all star players, McNeal stood out: he set numerous records as a combo-guard. He was inducted into the WKU hall of fame in 2008.

After graduating from WKU with a communications degree he returned to his city to work in politics. In the late 90s he served as city council coordinator and was declared a “political boon” by Citypages. McNeal did community organizing in the neighborhoods where he grew up in North Minneapolis. Throughout his political career, sports remained a strong vein in his life. “I migrated to human resources but woven in between there I was a basketball coach” he recounted. He coached for his alma mater North High, as well as park teams. Edison first hired him as a hall monitor. He worked his way through the ranks to the Athletic director position, where his interests in human resources, organizing and sports convened.

His proudest moment at Edison came when the women’s track team took first and second at the state tournament two years in a row. “I watched them work really hard every day and all year round,” he said. Up until that point, no Minneapolis girl’s team had ever won a state championships. “It’s an accomplishment that can never be surpassed,” he said proudly. “Edison owns it. Everyone else in the conference is second.”

Although Edison is near and dear to him, McNeal had no problem migrating South. In high school he was aware of South’s athletic dominance. But in McNeal’s eye, what’s most valuable about South athletics is not its score record but its philosophy about the student athlete. “The community and students really embrace sports as a partnership with the athletes and the students,” he described. “They go hand and hand…it’s a package.” This doctrine appeals to McNeal who was a student athlete who excelled academically.

McNeal foresees several challenges for the upcoming year. “We would love to upgrade our facilities…it’s a recruiting tool for families and students.” The primary concern is growing participation across the board, especially in non-traditional sports. Integrating middle schoolers into high school sports was a first step in a plan to draw wider involvement in South athletics. “We want to get information out…faster,” he said, “and be visible at Booster club meetings, community meeting, and around the school.”

McNeal encourages all students to be involved in athletics, but cautions against devoting a life to a single sport. “There’s been a push for kids early to specialize in a sport,” he said. He sees this trend as a danger to their physical and social health. “It keeps them from interacting and meeting other students that participate in other sports. They limit their networking. They limit their cultural development experiences.”

It would be difficult to even experiment in the number of sports that McNeal has played over his lifetime. Currently he gravitates towards golf and basketball, but he has also participated in baseball, swimming, cross country running, and football. McNeal has been a fan of Tiger Woods during and after the scandal.  “If they turned the rocks over on all of those golfers, none of them would be playing!” he laughed. He also remains equally loyal to Vikings’ runningback Adrian Peterson. “Everyone makes mistakes.”

McNeal is the only staff member who doesn’t work under full jurisdiction of Ray Aponte, but he has been working closely with the principal as he adjusts to South. “Working with the administration, staff and students is a lot of fun, especially when it’s around coaching and sports…it’s almost hard to say I’m working. It’s doing something that I love to do.”