Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 4, 2002

Lester Prairie still looking for athletic conference

By Aaron Schultz

It is a sticky situation that does not look like there will be a solution which makes everyone happy.

For nearly a year, schools in the Tri-Valley Conference knew they needed to go looking for new athletic conferences. The Tri-Valley is folding at the end of the 2002 spring season.

At this point, every school except Lester Prairie has a new conference for 2002-03.

Lester Prairie is having a tough time finding a conference near its enrollment, yet not so far away in distance.

So far, Lester Prairie has applied for admission to five conferences. Three have declined, and responses from two others are still forthcoming, Athletic Director Bob Kuehl said.

There is no ideal option for the Bulldogs. Some conferences make more sense for the Bulldogs to join than others, but to date, not one conference has agreed let Lester Prairie join.

When schools want to switch conferences, they must apply to the new conference(s) they are interested in. That conference can accept or reject an application.

If a school has gone through the application process and been rejected, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) will then place a school into a conference it determines would be best.

The conference is bound by MSHSL's decision at that point, however, the school itself can still decline but will be given no more assistance.

In Lester Prairie's case, that would mean still trying to find a conference on its own or playing as an independent.

Further complicating the issue is that a new conference has been formed for football only, which Lester Prairie is part of. It is the Gopher Valley Conference.

Holy Trinity of Winsted and Lutheran of Bloomington, both of the Tri-Valley, are also in the Gopher Valley for football.

For other sports they have both been accepted into the Minnesota Christian Athletic Alliance (MCAA), which does not have football

Gopher Valley members and their enrollments in grades 10-12 are:

· Lester Prairie, 127

· Holy Trinity of Winsted, 80

· Lutheran of Bloomington, 133

· Randolph, 102

· Medford, 128

· Mankato Loyola, 153

· Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, 180

· Bethlehem Academy, 100

· Elmore Academy, 116

· St. Clair, 168

If the Bulldogs end up in any conference other than the MCAA, they would need to join that conference for football as well, except for this season, 2002.

Lester Prairie initially applied to the Central Minnesota Conference (CMC), the Tomahawk Conference, and the MCAA.

The CMC and MCAA turned Lester Prairie down, and the Tomahawk didn't respond.

The MSHSL suggested that Lester Prairie reapply to those conferences as well as the 212 Conference and the West Central Conference.

On the second attempt, the CMC, MCAA, and Tomahawk again declined, while response from the other two is still being awaited.

Looking at the five conferences Lester Prairie has applied for, not one of them is ideal.

The MCAA is an all-private school conference. Several of those conference schools have shown resistance to allowing a public school in the conference. In fact, Holy Trinity is the first Catholic school to be admitted.

Also, the MCAA already has 12 schools, so the addition of Lester Prairie would present some scheduling problems.

The CMC, located to the northwest, which includes Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (enrollment 222), is somewhat of a larger conference. Every school in the conference has an enrollment of at least 222 students, except for Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, which sits at 188.

Lester Prairie, on the other hand is at 127 students for grades 10-12.

Former Tri-Valley member Maple Lake has been accepted by the CMC. Its enrollment is at 243 students.

Currently, the CMC includes HLWW, Rockford, Kimball, Big Lake, Eden Valley-Watkins, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Pierz, and Holdingford.

Next year, Maple Lake is replacing Big Lake, which is going to the Rum River Conference.

The Tomahawk Conference, located to the southwest, which also has turned Lester Prairie down, is attractive in enrollment, though the distance is far.

Seven of those schools have enrollments under 200. The largest in the conference is Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop with an enrollment of 283.

Some other schools in the Tomahawk include Buffalo Lake-Hector (161), Cedar Mountain (108), McLeod West (153), Sleepy Eye (181), and Wabasso (177).

The other two conferences Lester Prairie has applied for do not look as appealing due to size and distance.

The 212 Conference has a large range in enrollment, which is topped by Yellow Medicine East (343).

Also in the conference are Atwater-Grove City-Cosmos (286), and BOLD (320).

The West Central Conference is made up of schools with enrollments in the 300 to 400 range.

Schools in the West Central include Albany (471), Sauk Centre (401), Melrose (477), and Lac qui Parle Valley (328).

While the choice of which conference to join may be clear cut for some and blurry for others, a final decision on where the Bulldogs will be for the 2002-03 season is not too far off.

Where other Tri-Valley schools are going

· Holy Trinity and Lutheran of Bloomington are headed for the MCAA.

· Mayer Lutheran is going to the Minnesota River Conference, which includes Norwood Young America, Sibley East, Belle Plaine, and other schools to the south.

· Maple Lake is in the Central Minnesota Conference.

· Randolph is headed to the Gopher Conference.

· Concordia Academy and St. Croix Lutheran are going to the Tri-Metro Conference.

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