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Sports pairing meeting

By Nick Ripperger,

Herman Review

It's crunch time for the Chokio-Alberta and Herman-Norcross school districts when it comes to sports pairing.

The two districts are currently paired in football, softball, and volleyball. While it looks as though the football pairing could remain as is for a while longer, this is likely the last year that there will be a CAHN Spartans softball team or a CAHN Titans volleyball team. Between the two schools, there simply won't be enough participants. It is also likely after this year

there will no longer be a C-A Spartans baseball team, for the same reason.

As a result, the two districts are exploring their pairing options for the next school year, and representatives from both school boards and administrations have been meeting with neighboring districts, both together and separately.

Last Wednesday, they talked with their counterparts from Morris Area, and later, from Hancock. Both meetings were held in Chokio. Last month they met with Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley representatives.

The basic question for Spartans and the Titans is whether they want to continue to try to pair with similar-sized small districts, with those options running out, or if they want to be "absorbed" into a larger district's program.

Morris Area is already paired with other schools in a number of sports, including hockey, in which H-N also participates. C-A pairs with Morris Area in other winter sports of basketball and wrestling, with representatives of both districts agreeing it has gone well. On the other hand, H-N pairs with Wheaton in winter sports except hockey, which Wheaton does not offer, and in all spring sports except softball.

The Morris Area representatives said they were open, even welcoming, to expanding pairings to other sports. What Morris Area offers that only the larger districts in the area can is a wide range of sports, 19 in all, including gymnastics, swimming, tennis, and golf.

Said Morris Area board chair Kurt Gartland, "We are very open to it [pairing in more sports]." The drawback is that pairing in the sports that tend to draw the most participants, football, basketball, baseball, softball, and volleyball, also means that more participants will be substitutes or bench-sitters. That could lead to students who might otherwise go out for a team to decide not to.

However, that "drawback" could also be an advantage, as members of the H-N, C-A, and Hancock boards all agreed. As each school has seen its numbers dwindle, it has meant that younger and younger players have moved up to varsity teams to play against older players more skilled and more physically mature. Having enough players of a range of age and maturity means that there can be B squads, junior varsity, and junior high squads, where players can hone their skills against those with similar skills.

So far, though, the C-A and Hancock representatives seem to be inclined to remain among "equals" as long as possible, at least as far as the sports being discussed was concerned. C-A superintendent Ray Farwell related that in their meeting with CGB, C-A had expressed "a strong desire" to pair with CGB in all spring sports, including softball and baseball. He said that the C-A board was awaiting a specific response from CGB before making any decisions. One result of a CAHN/CGB football pairing would mean that the new team would become 11-man, instead of 9-man which both have had considerable success in over the years.

H-N board members have expressed concern that pairing with either Hancock or CGB would mean considerable travel time for their players just to get to practice, and the likelihood that H-N would not have any games played at the Herman facilities. If H-N were to decline to join the football pairing with CGB, a combined CA-CGB team would remain 9-man.

C-A superintendent Farwell made it clear that wherever C-A went with volleyball, football would follow. "We're not going to go multiple directions in the same season," he said, regarding traveling back and forth between practices and games. H-N has expressed the same sentiment about its sports pairings.

The Hancock representatives appeared to be less inclined than their Morris counterparts to enter into pairing arrangements without conditions. Superintendent Jerry Martinson said the board might be interested in volleyball options, although there is not "an absolute need" at this time for Hancock to pair in the sport. The same was true for football and baseball, he said, but the board would be willing to "entertain discussions."

He asked if Herman-Norcross would definitely be included in the discussions, expressing reservations about the distance between Hancock and Herman. H-N superintendent Tom Knoll suggested that in football at least, all the home games should be played in one place.

"I can't see three homecomings [in three different locations]," he said.

H-N board chair Dana Blume said that he envisioned an arrangement that H-N and C-A currently have in volleyball and softball, with all the volleyball games being played in Herman, and all the softball games being played in Chokio. He asked if Hancock would be willing to send its students to Herman for volleyball games.

"Our parents want to know if we will have any games," he told the Hancock contingent.

Martinson replied that regardless of the sport, a primary site should be determined that would be home to the majority of games and practices. For volleyball, that should be Hancock, he said. Blume asked about new team names, colors, and mascots. "Our best experience has been when we go with new team names," he said.

Martinson replied that he was concerned about the expense of new uniforms, saying that Hancock had just purchased some.

C-A athletic director Dave Hofland suggested that that was an issue that could be worked on later, if in fact a new pairing did come about. He went on to say that regardless of which other schools any of them paired with, some students would not participate due to distance or other factors.

As Hancock board member Barry Nelson put it, (in respect to declining enrollmetn causing the situation) "I'm upset with the situation. I wish we didn't have to do it. There's nothing fun about it."

C-A's Farwell said that his board wanted to make a final decision by the board's March meeting. Martinson suggested that school's athletic directors get together in the meantime to come up with a plan, at least for volleyball, and bring their ideas to their respective school boards.