Feb. 12, 2007

Holy Trinity and Lester Prairie resume talks on sports pairing

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Lester Prairie School Board will have a special guest at its 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday, Feb. 20. Superintendent of Holy Trinity School Fr. Paul Wolf will be attending to discuss the possible pairing of the two schools in all sports.

“I expect it to be a meeting of “hearing, listening, and working, in order to make the best decision for both schools. We are definitely considering the pairing,” Wolf told the Herald Journal last week.

The last formal meeting regarding the subject was a Nov. 6 Lester Prairie School Board meeting.

At that time, the board passed a motion to allow Holy Trinity to pair in all sports with Lester Prairie if Holy Trinity was willing to play as Bulldogs, and wear Lester Prairie’s school colors. In addition, all of the games will be played at Lester Prairie for a two-year period. The pairing was to begin for the 2007-08 school year if Holy Trinity agreed to the original terms.

When Lester Prairie Superintendent Joe Miller called Wolf following the November meeting to tell him what the board decided, Wolf replied, “I wish Lester Prairie School would have come to a more agreeable pairing offer,” but added, “However, we have not closed any doors or burned any bridges.”

Miller and Wolf resumed their discussion of pairing sometime after Christmas. There were some phone calls and then a meeting between Wolf and Miller Jan. 22.

“The reason for Fr. Paul coming is to say, ‘We are going to work together and try to move forward with this pairing.’ We want to get this started. We want to get ready for fall,” Miller said.

Lester Prairie Athletic Director and secondary principal Ron Erpenbach was pleased to hear that the talks on pairing had resumed with Holy Trinity.

He has been told by all of his head coaches that there is a need to pair. Even a coach who was not supportive at the pairing meeting last fall sent Erpenbach an e-mail after realizing what the team numbers would be for next year and seeing the need to pair.

“I am hoping that all of my coaches will be there the night of the meeting. Every one of my head coaches has told me that they think we need to be paired by next year,” Erpenbach said.

Even if Wolf and the Lester Prairie board agree to move ahead with the pairing, the final agreement will still take some time.

The state high school league has to be told, and the schools need to hear from the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association conference, either supporting the pairing or not.

“With this pairing, we will not be the largest school in the conference,” Erpenbach said. “My calculations put us at only the third-largest school in the conference. Some of the smaller schools in our conference will not like us pairing because it is one less school that they are the same size as.”

Erpenbach added, “I believe two things. I believe the conference won’t ask us to leave, and, if they do, the state high school league will turn around and put us back in the same conference. It isn’t that we have a competitive size advantage with the pairing.”

If the pairing is agreed to, both Miller and Erpenbach have reviewed the numbers and the amount of playing time for athletes. They understand that there are only five varsity basketball spots and 11 varsity football spots, but they think it is important to see 11 freshmen spots and 11 JV spots. Even if students are not able to play varsity, they will get more playing time in ninth through 12th grade with the pairing.

“Will we have ninth grade teams across the board? The answer to that is ‘no,’ but we will have more age-appropriate teams,” Erpenbach said.

Erpenbach also pointed out that many parents playing sports at Lester Prairie School 20 years ago have the mindset that they were OK then, and things will be OK again.

However, 20 years ago, schools like Silver Lake, Brownton, Buffalo Lake, and Cosmos were not paired.

Now, those schools that used to compete with Lester Prairie and Holy Trinity do not exist.

In the old Circle Eight Conference, there were eight schools. Silver Lake has now paired with Glencoe, Brownton has paired with Stewart, Buffalo Lake with Hector, and Cosmos is with Atwater, Erpenbach said. The only two schools not paired in the old Circle Eight Conference are Lester Prairie and Holy Trinity.

“Maybe they did not have a ninth grade team then,” Erpenbach said. “But that was OK because the other schools did not have a ninth grade team. Maybe they didn’t have two junior high teams, but that was OK because the other schools didn’t either.”

Today, trying to schedule games with some of the larger area schools like Glencoe-Silver Lake, Watertown-Mayer, Waconia, Norwood Young America, and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, is difficult, Erpenbach said. Most of the larger schools want two or three teams at some levels.

Erpenbach and Miller are looking to the future and are concerned because they feel what Holy Trinity is seeing in student numbers will be Lester Prairie’s problems in a short time.

“We will not be seeing a large growth in our population in the very near future. This is about fact. We will go down in numbers in the next three years,” Miller said.

Both understand parents are concerned about their children getting enough playing time, and many parents are only looking at current numbers, not what will happen to sports next year or the year after. Nevertheless, Miller and Erpenbach feel that it is their responsibility to make sure that the next year’s programs are all right too.

“Winsted doesn’t have a JV girls’ basketball program this year, and we may not have a JV girls’ softball team this year. By just keeping the programs afloat, you are lessening the opportunities where kids have a chance to compete. It is not about winning, but allowing more kids age-appropriate places to play,” Erpenbach said.

Miller added, “One of the things that is important to remember is that we are paired with Holy Trinity in all junior high sports, where Holy Trinity has junior high teams.”

Since pairing with Holy Trinity High School in junior high sports two years ago, there has only been one complaint. It was not about religion, which has some parents concerned, but about playing time.

“I don’t think they will try to turn us into Catholics,” Miller said.

Because both schools are members of the Minnesota State High School League, Holy Trinity and Lester Prairie would have both of their names listed on all official rosters, Miller said. The schools are only pairing in sports and are two separate entities. In other words, it would be the Lester Prairie/Winsted Holy Trinity Bulldogs.

“I am not going to say that is the way it is going to be forever. In five or six years, that might change,” Miller said

As far as the upcoming meeting, Wolf was not sure what to really expect. “There are a lot of questions that must be resolved,” Wolf said.

A major concern will be in scheduling practices and games. Logistically it will be impossible to have all the boys’ teams and all of the girls’ teams practice and have all of the games in one location.

“There would never be any practice time because we have games almost every night,” Miller said. “We will work things out. That is our job. That is what they pay us to do.”

Erpenbach said, “The devil is not in the details for me. It is for the others, but not for me. I won’t lose any sleep over it. It will be worked out.”

Miller looks at the pairing as highly possible and thinks the first year would be the most difficult. “I don’t see where there will be issues that will not be easily resolved,” Miller said.

“I have never had a parent cheer for the color of the uniform, but every parent I have ever watched cheers a lot for their child,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter what color they are wearing. They are still going to cheer for their children.”

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