What about a change in conferences?

December 8, 2008

by Aaron Schultz

Over the past several weeks there has been numerous articles and discussion in the StarTribune concerning conference realignment.

Many of the bigger metro conferences look as if they will go through some major changes in the upcoming years as certain conferences dissolve.

Also in that mix is the real possibility of Hutchinson leaving the Missota Conference and moving into the Wright County Conference.

That decision could come as early as January as the WCC meets and may vote Hutchinson in or out.

Reading and hearing everything about conferences changing got me thinking.

Is a possible move for Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted or Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity in the making?

As of right now, I’d have to say a move by either HLWW or LP/HT is highly unlikely.

Still, it is always fun to speculate.

Starting with HLWW – I really don’t see a move in the making, or coming anytime soon.

Talking to Laker AD Dale Decker, he and the Lakers are very happy in the Central Minnesota Conference.

The CMC is made of schools of roughly the same size that offer the same sports.

The Lakers, year-in and year-out, are very competitive in the conference, and may be even one of the stronger schools in this tough conference.

While a possible move out of the CMC by the Lakers is a long-shot at best, that doesn’t mean that the conference may not change in the upcoming years.

Rockford, for example, applied for the Wright County Conference a couple years back, and you just never know. Maybe the Rockets find a different conference in the years to come.

Then there is Pierz, which has the longest travel distance of all the schools in the CMC.

Looking into my crystal ball, maybe the Pioneers will look to shift to a conference a little closer to home.

With all that said, I don’t see any changes coming to the CMC or for the Lakers in the near future.

Of course, that all could change in the years to come if HLWW’s enrollment would boom, or if yet some unseen circumstance should arise.

OK, now let’s dive into Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity’s conference alliance.

In their second year of a co-operative, LP/HT is a member of the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association.

Although the two schools haven’t been together as one for even two years yet, they have a long history of being in the same conference.

From the Circle Eight days, to the Tri-Valley, then to the MCAA, LP and HT have shared a conference for a long time.

This brings us to their current conference, the MCAA, which is made up of 11 teams, all of them in the metro area.

Initially, it was just HT that made the jump to the MCAA when the Tri-Valley Conference disbanded nearly a decade ago.

At that time, LP couldn’t find a conference, applying for admission into several – including the MCAA, the Tomahawk, the 212, and the Central Minnesota.

When none of those conferences allowed LP to enter, the Minnesota State High School League placed LP in the MCAA.

Joining HT in a conference, LP was again rivals with HT in the MCAA until the two schools paired their athletic programs starting in the fall of 2007.

Now together, LP/HT seem to have a good match in the MCAA.

The conference kicked off its inaugural football year in 2008 (with LP/HT winning the title) and has a number of very strong volleyball teams.

Moving to the winter season, boys’ basketball is the conference’s strong suit, and LP/HT finds itself near the top of the conference year-in and year-out in.

However, the one area that the MCAA seems to struggle in comes in the spring, as teams have a hard time fielding junior varsity teams for LP/HT to play.

That being said, the upper level of the MCAA for baseball and softball is strong, even though the bottom half of the conference isn’t as tough.

Over these past several years, LP/HT has built some nice rivalries with some of the schools in the MCAA.

Yep, a number of positives in the MCAA for LP/HT, but that doesn’t mean everything is rosy in the conference.

Ultimately, LP was placed in the conference, and several of the schools are, no doubt, still unhappy with a public school being a part of this private school conference.

Although HT is a private institution, LP is public, and is the only public school that is a part of the MCAA.

Another negative about the MCAA is the fact that not many of them have junior high programs, which can some times cause problems with the junior high schedule.

Lastly, there seems to always be concern with certain teams having enough numbers out for certain sports to field a varsity team, moreless a junior varsity squad.

While many of these complaints may seem like nitpicking, that’s what I do. If everything was perfect and rosy, I’d have no basis to write this current column.

Mind you, talking to Lester Prairie athletic director Scott Fitzsimonds, he gave me no indication that LP/HT was unhappy, at all, with the MCAA and have no plans on leaving.

But for this column’s purpose, I figured I’d take a look at what LP/HT’s best option may be if they did decide to move out of the MCAA.

The one conference that comes right to mind is the Tomahawk Conference.

This was one of the conferences LP applied to when it was without a conference, but was denied.

However, with McLeod West now dissolving, that leaves an opening in the Tomahawk, and I think LP/HT would fit in real nice.

Size-wise, LP/HT would have one of the larger enrollments in the conference, and with none of the schools in the metro area, busses wouldn’t have to deal with that rush hour traffic as they made their way to games.

Competitively speaking, LP/HT wouldn’t likely come in and dominate the conference by any means, but, I don’t believe, would be dominated themselves, either.

Now, what if the Tomahawk would come to LP/HT and ask if it is interested in taking McLeod West’s place in the conference?

Would LP/HT be willing to listen, are the Bulldogs happy enough where they are, or is the travel distance too much?

As for if LP/HT would be willing to listen, I have no idea. I’d guess they’d at least listen, but if it would go any further, I don’t know.

From talking to a few people, I am under the impression that LP/HT is happy being in the MCAA, and doesn’t appear to be looking to change conferences.

Lastly, as for the travel distance, I don’t think that it is all that much worse than it is in the MCAA.

The total mileage to each school in the MCAA adds up to 474.7 miles one way for the 10 schools, or an average of 47.5 miles-per-school.

Now, looking at the Tomahawk, the total miles to the nine schools currently in the conference from Lester Prairie is 585.9 miles, or 65.1 miles-per-school.

Yes, the average trip to a Tomahawk school would be about 17 miles further, but then you’d have to take into account traveling outstate opposed to traveling in the metro area, and I bet the travel times wouldn’t be all that different.

Don’t get me wrong, moving to the Tomahawk wouldn’t shorten trips for anybody, but I don’t think it is unreasonable, either.

Of course, the perfect scenario is one that I don’t think has any chance of happening.

That would be for HLWW and LP/HT to be in a conference together with area teams that are roughly the same size.

So, for the heck of it, I’m going to put together a conference that I would like to see, and call it the Crow River Conference.

The 10 team conference would be made up of LP/HT, HLWW, Mayer Lutheran, Maple Lake, Kimball, Buffalo Lake-Hector, West Lutheran, Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, Southwest Christian, and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City.

To get down to an eight-team conference, pick two and throw them out.

I know, the Crow River Conference wouldn’t be perfect either, but with how large the other area teams are, it is as close as I can get. Check out the enrollments and travel distances below of the fictional Crow River Conference, as well as the other conferences I’ve talked about in this column.

Probably a lot of work for not much of a chance of anything changing, but it was fun to do, and I hope those of you that have stuck with me through this long column enjoy it as well.

(All enrollments are from the Minnesota State High School League and are for grades 9-12. Meanwhile, all of the time and distances mentioned are from google maps.)

Crow River Conference Enrollment
• HLWW: 316.
• Maple Lake: 275.
• Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop: 260
• Kimball: 243.
• Mayer Lutheran: 236.
• Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City: 234.
• LP/HT 229.
• West Lutheran: 205.
• Southwest Christian: 193
• Buffalo Lake-Hector: 177.

Travel time and distance to Crow River schools
(All distances from Winsted.)
• Maple Lake: 25 miles - est. 53 minutes.
• Kimball: 40.2 miles - est. 1 hour, 4 minutes.
• Mayer Lutheran: 12.2 miles - est. 26 minutes.
• Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (Grove City): 41 miles - est. 56 minutes.
• West Lutheran (Plymouth): 45 miles - est. 1 hour, 6 minutes.
• Buffalo Lake-Hector (Hector): 46.5 miles - est. 1 hour, 8 minutes.
• Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop (Winthrop): 43 miles - est. 1 hour, 10 minutes.
• Southwest Christian (Chaska): 33 miles - est. 1 hour, 2 minutes.

Central Minnesota Conference enrollments
• Rockford: 503.
• HLWW: 316.
• Pierz: 304.
• Holdingford: 289.
• Maple Lake: 275.
• Eden Valley-Watkins: 243.
• Kimball: 243.
• Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa: 219.

Travel time and distance to CMC schools
(All distances from Howard Lake.)
• Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (Belgrade): 71.8 miles - est. 1 hour, 25 minutes.
• Eden Valley-Watkins (Eden Valley): 37.8 miles - est. 57 minutes.
• Holdingford: 67.2 miles - est. 1 hour, 36 minutes.
• Kimball: 32.1 miles - est. 47 minutes.
• Maple Lake: 16.3 miles - est. 22 minutes.
• Pierz: 92.2 miles - est. 2 hours, 17 minutes.
• Rockford: 19.8 miles - est. 32 minutes.

Tomahawk enrollments
• Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop: 260
• Minnesota Valley Lutheran: 248
• LP/HT: 229
• Sleepy Eye Public: 196
• Springfield: 186
• New Ulm Cathedral: 184
• Buffalo Lake-Hector: 177
• Cedar Mountain/Comfrey: 172
• Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s: 161
• Wabasso: 134

Travel time and distrance to Tomahawk schools
(All distances from Lester Prairie.)
• Buffalo Lake-Hector (Hector): 41.6 miles - est. 59 minutes.
• Cedar Mountain/Comfrey (Morgan): 83.2 miles - est. 2 hours, 1 minute.
• Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop (Winthrop): 37.2 miles - est. 1 hour, 1 minute.
• Minnesota Valley Lutheran (New Ulm): 55.5 miles - est. 1 hour, 29 minutes.
• New Ulm Cathedral: 54.7 miles - est. 1 hour, 27 minutes.
• Sleepy Eye Public: 68.4 miles - est. 1 hour, 44 minutes.
• Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s: 68.4 miles - est. 1 hour, 44 minutes.
• Springfield: 82.6 miles - est. 2 hours, 1 minute.
• Wabasso: 94.3 miles - est. 2 hours, 7 minutes.

MCAA enrollment
• Trinity: 256.
• Providence Academy: 236.
• LP/HT 229
• Meadow Creek Christian: 210.
• West Lutheran: 205.
• Maranatha Christian: 194.
• Southwest Christian: 193.
• New Life Academy: 190.
• Heritage Christian: 116.
• Bethany Academy: 95
• Concordia Academy/Bloomington: 95.

Travel time and distance to MCAA schools
(All distances from Lester Prairie.)
• Bethany Academy (Bloomington): 44.1 miles - est. 1 hour, 13 minutes.
• Concordia Academy (Bloomington): 46.2 miles - est. 1 hour, 16 minutes.
• Heritage Christian (Maple Grove): 45.6 miles - est. 1 hour, 17 minutes.
• Maranatha Christian (Brooklyn Park): 49.2 miles - est. 1 hour, 20 minutes.
• Meadow Creek Christian (Andover): 60.1 miles - est. 1 hour, 38 minutes.
• New Life Academy (Woodbury): 63.7 miles - est. 1 hour, 36 miles.
• Providence Academy (Plymouth): 42.9 miles - est. 1 hour, 15 minutes.
• Southwest Christian (Chaska): 27.7 miles - est. 57 minutes.
• Trinity (Eagan): 54.4 miles - est. 1 hour, 26 minutes.
• West Lutheran (Plymouth): 40.5 miles - est. 1 hour, 12 minutes.