The thoughts of a co-op have been bandied about throughout the community in recent years, but nothing has ever come to fruition. So, with that said, what would a potential co-op look like?

In a sign of the times, declining enrollment, in addition to low number of football players and concern for their safety, has potentially opened the door for discussion of a football co-op between the two local high schools. The thoughts of a co-op have been bandied about throughout the community in recent years, but nothing has ever come to fruition. So, with that said, what would a potential co-op look like?

Smaller rosters force a cause for concern about player safety, as both schools have had many players playing both offense and defense, plus special teams, which heightens the risk of injury. Additionally, thin rosters have led to underclassmen seeing the field much earlier than they should. Often, these kids are not physically prepared for the game of football, as they are facing upperclassmen who are much stronger and much more experienced. Football is a physically violent game, unlike baseball or basketball. Some kids play varsity on Friday night and then follow that up with a JV game on Monday.

This is also problematic for many schools, as the MSHSL bylaws state that a player can only play so many quarters within a given timeframe:

“An individual player may not participate in more than 6.5 quarters of play during any consecutive 3-day period. This limitation applies to participation in games at all levels of play: Junior High, B-squad, Junior Varsity, and Varsity.” Also stated in the bylaws, “during a season, no student may participate in more quarters than a number equal to (6) times the number of varsity games scheduled.”

Did you know that St. Mary’s has had to cancel multiple JV games the past two seasons? The Knights JV team played two games last season. They had to cancel a game this season, after the third quarter, because the game was going so poorly. They played just two full games this season. Sleepy Eye Public also considered cancelling their final JV games, due to their numbers being so low after JV guys were called up to replace injured varsity starters.

To build off of player safety, a person must ask themselves, what is best for the kids? Safety should be the top priority. With fewer players, kids are also being pushed to play out of position, with minimal experience, while underutilizing their best talents. With the loss of JV games, many kids are being forced to play the role of a scout team, rather than fine tuning themselves and working on their own skills in practice.

Secondly, the game of football can teach many life lessons, as all sports can. A possible combination of schools would eliminate the issue of kids being out of position. It would give them an opportunity to compete for a position, as opposed to being handed that position, and put themselves in a position that best suits them to make them the most successful they can be.

Now, the average citizen may be concerned with a potential co-op what class the team would play in. Under the current MSHSL rules, if the two teams combined, the enrollment calculation would keep them in the same class Sleepy Eye Public is in now, which is class 1A. So yes, the two schools can combine and play the same teams Sleepy Eye Public is currently playing.

Current enrollment has Sleepy Eye Public at 139 and St. Mary’s at 85. With the current MSHSL rules for co-oping, the smaller of the two schools enrollment is cut in half for classification placement. So in theory, if Sleepy Eye Public and St. Mary’s merged, a football team’s enrollment would be calculated at 181. The cut-off for class 2A is 205 currently— well below the placement threshold. See enrollment below:

Sleepy Eye District

TMB        215 MVL        206 MCC        197 Adrian/Ellsworth    175 Springfield/Comfrey168 Wabasso         151 Sleepy Eye    139 NUC        111

Sleepy Eye crossover or Section opponents:

MCW        190 Minneota        189 LQPV        184 Canby        174 YME        172 Lakeview        170 RTR        155 Dawson Boyd    153 Ortonville    145 Sleepy Eye    139

Other local schools or section 2A:

St. Clair/Loyola    234 JWP        205 GFW        203 Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran        183 BOLD        183 WEM        183 USC        179 FBA        178

The community also may wonder what affect the closing of Del Monte will have on the enrollment at each school. Also, the Indians have the second lowest enrollment in their district, ahead of just New Ulm Cathedral. In a Section of teams like MCW, Minneota, RTR, and Dawson Boyd, the Indians are far below the enrollment of their opponents.

Like Sleepy Eye Public, St. Mary’s enrollment is near the absolute bottom in their Section. They are the smallest school by enrollment. The GHEC/Truman team, despite a co-op, is only at 86 for 9-man football. The second lowest team closest to St. Mary’s is Lanesboro, with 103. The Knights’ Section is also loaded with teams with school enrollment hovering around 140. See how the Knights contend enrollment wise below:

SESM District (Conference):

RCW        138 Cedar Mountain    137 BLHS        135 Nicollet        108 Hills-Beaver Creek    104 Lanesboro    103 Edgerton        99 GHEC/Truman    86     SESM        85

SESM Section:

Ogilvie        139 RCW        138 Cedar Mountain    137 BLHS        135 Onamia        123 RRC        121 Nicollet        108     SESM        85

The average resident of Sleepy Eye is often concerned about losing a program’s identity. Rightfully so, however, these teams are not currently competing at their highest level. An identity can be quickly negated by lack of competitiveness — people lose interest in a struggling program. Everyone in the community understands it’s the Indians and the Knights. It may not be a “want,” but more so a “need.” Look at the current enrollment, and projections for the short and long-term. A discussion can certainly be opened up.

Mahnomen was a football powerhouse, a wrecking crew of a football program, before they merged with Waubun in 2017. Now the newly created Mahnomen-Waubun Thunderbirds carry on the tradition and pride for both communities. Other strong programs have combined recently as well. Springfield now carries on Comfrey. St. Clair and Mankato Loyola have combined. Another Sleepy Eye district foe in Adrian has combined with Ellsworth as well, in recent years.

People can look at many of our local programs that have co-oped and shown success. The Sleepy Eye United Golf team has multiple State Tournament appearances, including first place in 2018. The hockey team co-oped with New Ulm, and carried that program for multiple years, in both boys and girls hockey to the State Tournament. Our track and cross country teams continue to co-op as well.

In addition to player safety, enrollment declining, amongst other things aforementioned, a coaching staff would also be up in the air. There has already been confirmation that both schools will see changes in their coaching staff in coming seasons.

A potential co-op could bring the community together, strengthen it as a whole. After all, a co-op is meant for cooperation and working together. Large tailgates, a large band, a large crowd. A new sense of pride.

Perhaps both schools’ administrations should send out a survey to parents and players, to identify what the community thinks. A co-op has a chance to stabilize both schools’ programs for not just the short term, but the long term, also.

Lastly, a discussion opens up a myriad of points. Among those needing to be discussed would be: practice and game locations for all levels, a youth program development, various coaching staff positions, uniforms and mascot or team name, and how administration would be constructed for a co-op program.