Herald Journal, Nov. 22, 2004
Paired HLWW-LP wrestling program looks for good season
By Aaron Schultz
The days of forfeit after forfeit are over for the Lester Prairie and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted wrestling programs.
With both schools running short on the number of athletes out for wrestling, a decision was mutually made.
No longer will it be the Lester Prairie Bulldogs, or the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Lakers.
The two programs, with approval from both school boards, and the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), have combined to form one program.
The new venture will be in place for at least two years, which is required by the MSHSL, but all sides hope it lasts much longer.
Now, the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted/Lester Prairie wrestling team, with 40 wrestlers out, should be one of the stronger programs in Section 5A.
I’m really excited about the season,” co-head Coach Jeff Granrud said.
“I think we should be pretty tough this year. I’m excited for the season to start,” co-head Coach Marcus Halvorson said.
While this may seem sudden to some, it has been talked about for several years.
Lester Prairie used to be paired with Holy Trinity of Winsted, but when the Trojans folded their wrestling program, the Bulldogs were back to struggling with numbers.
When John Halvorson was still coaching Lester Prairie, the idea of combining programs was brought up from time to time between him and Granrud.
“The seed was planted back when John (Halvorson) was coaching, and we just went for it now,” Granrud said.
Halvorson and Granrud discussed it after the Section 5A tournament at HLWW last year, getting the ball rolling.
The time appeared right for both programs, as anyone who attended the match between the two schools last year could see.
HLWW defeated the Bulldogs, in a match that was filled with forfeits on both sides.
“We (Bulldogs) had some strong wrestlers, but we were just unable to fill several weight classes, which really hurt us in dual meets,” Halvorson said.
Looking at the two programs, it looked like a natural fit, but a lot of work would need to be done.
Former Bulldog athletic director Hal Stevens, and Laker athletic director Dale Decker went to work.
“Both ADs did a lot of work over the spring and summer taking the idea under their wings,” Granrud said.
Next, approval by the MSHSL was needed for the idea to go forward.
The MSHSL approved the move, and the program was one step closer.
Both school boards then approved it, and the HLWW/LP wrestling team was now a reality.
While it was now official, a lot of work was still needed to get done in order for the program to move forward, starting with the head coach, or should we say co-head coaches.
Granrud and Halvorson spent well over 40 hours together in meetings with each other to iron out any differences in coaching philosophies.
“We agree on most coaching ideas, but we needed to come together on a couple smaller points, which I think we have worked out,” Granrud said.
Next up for the HLWW/LP wrestling program was a determination on a new mascot for the program.
Looking for an original name away from Bulldogs or Lakers, it was decided upon to go with Scorpions.
Granrud explained to the HLWW school board at a recent meeting that by creating a unified mascot, the team can hopefully avoid an “us” versus “them” mentality when it comes down to practice and competition.
Along with a new mascot, the Scorpions will also have new colors and singlets.
The singlets, which a member from the Lester Prairie school district donated the money to pay for, will be black and Vegas gold.
As for warm-ups, nothing has been finalized yet, but the coaches hope to get something ordered soon.
“We will be funding much of this on our own, so we will be pinching pennies here and there,” Granrud said.
As for practices, which started last Monday, the entire squad, wrestler from both schools, will practice together every day.
The first week practice was at HLWW, with this week’s practices in Lester Prairie.
Maybe the biggest hurdle Granrud and Halvorson will face, which if week one is any indication, will be cleared easily.
That hurdle is how are the kids from each school going to get along with each other, and making sure their are no problems.
“Well, after one week, their has been no school versus school issues, which is great,” Granrud said.
“My first impression is that the numbers are great, the coaches are working well together, and the kids are getting along real well,” Decker said.
While everything has been going smoothly after one week, there were concerns heading into the season if all would go well.
“The kids had mixed reactions, at least at HLWW, with some of them worried that now they would no longer have a spot on the varsity,” Granrud.
But, in all, just two kids were lost from HLWW, while they gained a bunch of others.
It was also noted by the coaches that the intensity level is really up in practice, wrestling against different competition.
“Having more practice partners to compete against should really help each and every kid get stronger, and it will help the team be stronger, also” Halvorson said.
With everything moving forward full speed ahead, their still stands one question that is not ready to be answered yet.
That is the question of which class the HLWW/LP Scorpions will be in this season.
While it looks as if the Scorpions will remain in Class 1A this season, it will not be finalized until the 22nd day of practice.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to stick in Class 1A this season, and it looks as if we will. But, there is that possibility that a move up to Class 2A might happen,” Decker said.
Here is the issue, and the reason why the Scorpions still aren’t sure which class they will be in when section tournament time rolls around.
The MSHSL has a formula for determining which class a combined sports’ program, between two or more schools is placed.
The formula is based on the schools’ enrollment from two years ago, the last time the schools had to submit an enrollment for reclassification.
The MSHSL takes the enrollment from the largest school in the co-op, which is HLWW, and starts with that number.
Then, it counts the number of wrestlers in the wrestling room on the 22nd day of practice, and will see what percentage of Lester Prairie wrestlers are in the room.
If, for example, Lester Prairie wrestlers make up 40 percent of the wrestlers in the wrestling room, then 40 percent of Lester Prairie’s enrollment counts towards the total enrollment for classification.
In wrestling, their are three classes, which are divided by enrollment, with the Class 1A cutoff at 310 students in grades 10-12.
In all likelihood, the Scorpions will remain in Class 1A this season, but next season might be a different story.
The MSHSL reclassifies all schools every two years, and will be doing so next year.
This, of course, means new enrollment numbers, which could push the Scorpions up to Class 2A.
Getting back to this season, the Scorpions’ only concerns are meshing together as a team, going out and proving they will tough to deal with for opponents all season long.
“I’m sure there will be some bumps along the way, but I think this was a great idea, an idea that has a chance to be very successful,” Lester Prairie Athletic Director Ron Erpenbach said.
“As of right now, it is more than I had hoped for with 40 wrestlers in the room. I have big expectations, and we will be very competitive in both conferences,” Granrud said.
“This is going to be a very exciting year for us,” Halvorson said.
A young team
While the Scorpions will have a solid base of 40 wrestlers, they have just one senior out.
That lone senior is Nick Selchow of Lester Prairie.
To go along with Selchow, the Scorpions will have 11 juniors and a number of talented underclassmen.
“We have some younger kids, that as the season goes on, will develop and should really help us,” Granrud said.
As with any team, especially a new team such as this, leadership will be very important.
With that in mind, Halvorson and Granrud have decided to wait a little longer than normal for captains to be named.
The process, which Granrud says will take place either Dec. 3 or 4, will have each wrestler vote for one captain from each school.
A trip out of state
This year the Scorpions are scheduled to compete in the MPCG Invitational, which will take HLWW/LP to Mayville, N.D., Saturday, Jan. 15.
How did the Scorpions land in a tournament in North Dakota, you may ask?
Well, Mayville is Granrud’s hometown, and the tournament features some of the toughest teams in North Dakota, and northwest Minnesota.
“I have always wanted to take the team up to the tournament, but Dale (Decker) always told me that when we had a full team, we’d discuss it,” Granrud said.
Now, with a full team in place, the Scorpions are headed to Mayville, but with one small catch. They will need to cover a chunk of the expenses.
That is where Granrud’s mother comes in to play.
The 14 varsity members who are making the trip will be staying at Granrud’s mother’s place, which cuts out the cost of a hotel.
Along with a return home for Granrud, the trip will give the team a chance to compete against some different wrestlers.
“We tend to see the same teams, and wrestlers, several times during the season, and this will give the kids a chance to face some new blood,” Halvorson said.
The Scorpions will be competing in two different conferences this season, the Central Minnesota Conference, and the Minnesota Christian Athletic Alliance (MCAA).
The MCAA tournament is Thursday, Jan. 20 at Rivers Christian.
During the season, the Scorpions will face each team in the Central Minnesota Conference in a dual.
Both Lester Prairie and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted will host two meets, or tournaments, during the season.
Lester Prairie will host its annual Invitational Saturday, Dec. 4, which is will be the first outside competition of the season for the Scorpions.
Lester Prairie will also host a quad. Thursday, Dec. 9.
Meanwhile, HLWW will host a quad. Monday, Dec. 20, and will host a triangular Tuesday, Jan. 18.
HLWW will also be the site of the Section 5A individual tournament.