Last week the Herald-Dispatch did an analysis on a potential co-op between the two local high schools. This week, they looked into how a potential co-op would be received by looking at other situations in the state.

Last week, the Herald-Dispatch included an analysis piece on a potential football program co-op between local high schools—Sleepy Eye Public and St. Mary’s. You can find that story here: https://www.sleepyeyenews.com/news/20191106/will-declining-enrollment-open-discussion Much of the social media reaction seemed to be very positive toward forming a co-op. To build off of last week’s factual analysis, an analyzation of other co-ops and the results of their programs was also completed.

In the 2017-18 school year, Mahnomen and Waubun schools joined forces for a co-op in both girls and boys basketball. In the 2018-19 year, all sports joined together.

Back in June of 2017, the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth school board voted in favor of a co-op by a 6-1 vote. The Mahnomen school board had no issue with co-oping, as they voted unanimously supporting the co-op. After the decision was made to co-op, a decision was made to rebrand the two schools. The co-op provided an opportunity for a fresh start with new colors, a mascot, and a new team name—just in time for the 2017-18 basketball season. The two schools decided to have the student bodies and each community vote on all three.

Now, at the time, Mahnomen had won its seventh straight section title in football, a straight up dominant force. At the time of the co-op announcement, they had 25 total trips to the State Tournament, taking home eight championships and five second place finishes. Waubun on the other hand, had their own fair share of success as well. Since 2007, Waubun took home three section titles and a 9-man second place finish.

Mahnomen and Waubun once shared a storied rivalry, especially in football.

The two programs realized the times were changing, as back in the day the rivalry was very strong and got heated, much like St. Mary’s and Sleepy Eye Public used to be. That rivalry has essentially been eliminated in football, as St. Mary’s opted to go 9-man and the two teams will never face each other ever again. The difference in times can be looked at as more of the players from the two schools are friends, as well as teammates in other sports, especially in the summer programs.

Much reaction from the Mahnomen and Waubun adminstrations and communities was positive. While positive, it was also a bit of a change for the two communities. Much of the reaction was positive because they were proud the schools’ administrations did what was best for the students. They cited that the major thing sticking out to most parents was accepting that kids were not physically mature to play varsity football. Both programs at the time had freshman playing heavy duty minutes against upperclassmen. Playing these student-athletes at their proper level physically can pay off heavy dividends in their development.

St. Clair and Mankato Loyola also recently joined for football. Spartans coach Dustin Bosshart said, “It’s like two families coming together, everybody is treated all the same.” The two schools agreed to have home games and practices split between the two schools. A few St. Clair-Loyola players were hesitant about the co-op, but eventually grew out of that as they got closer with their new teammates. The team held team bondings before practices started so the boys could familiarize themselves with each other.

A small synopsis from Mahnomen and Waubun, as well as St. Clair and Loyola, joining the co-op movement, is that all communities recognized the need for safety of their players and stability for the future of their programs.

Both programs in Sleepy Eye’s situation must ask themselves the question of how to develop players for their future and how to sustain their programs without kids either quitting or not signing up. More importantly, a decision must be made to determine what is best for the student-athletes. After all, schools are educational institutions where decisions are made that are best for kids. An educational system’s focus is supposed to be putting students first and giving them opportunities to provide them with the best chance to better themselves.

Sleepy Eye is a strong and supportive community when pushed to the limits.