Football districts approved
Conferences in football will officially become a thing of the past after the 2014 season and districts will be ushered in.
Where each of the schools will be placed is now known after the groups passed with a unanimous vote of approval on Monday by the Minnesota State High School League board of directors.
The change to districts is meant to make scheduling easier for programs who struggled to find eight games in the regular season and cut down on some of the travel costs some faced in trying to fill their schedules.
The move to district scheduling was approved in January. A district placement committee of coaches and administrators was then formed to group schools based on enrollment, geography and like schools, while also taking into consideration traditional rivals.
The districts were brought to the MSHSL board for approval on Monday. Now it is up to the individual program to form their schedule against schools within their group. With many districts consisting of more than 20 teams, most will be broken up into sub-districts.
“We still really don’t know exactly what our schedule will look like,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “There’s going to be a subcommittee put together now of representatives from our 22-team district to try to compile the schedule moving forward. Like I’ve said before, I don’t get too worked up about teams that we play in the regular season as long as travel is fairly equitable and we are not having to hike it all over the state.”
Alexandria will play in the North Central District starting in 2015, along with CLC rivals such as Willmar, St. Cloud Tech, Brainerd, Bemidji and Moorhead. It’s not guaranteed that the Cardinals will play those teams every year, but the chance to maintain games is there.
“We still have some natural rivalries there,” Empting said. “We have Brainerd, which is a possibility and I think makes sense for us to play, along with some other schools that are in close proximity.”
Empting has no doubt that Alexandria can be competitive in the new field.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s up to us as a program to take care of our business and make sure we’re getting our kids ready. You look at the schools that are in our district that we could play, most of them we’re already in competition with and have been a part of our conference or are in our section.”
Unlike Alexandria, Osakis did lose the chance to play some of its traditional rivals from the Prairie Conference.
The one that stands out is the loss of the Silverstreaks’ game against Browerville every year. The Tigers were placed in the Mid-State District, along with Parkers Prairie and Eagle Valley cooperative, Prairie Valley, while Osakis will play in the 22-team Midwest District.
“Initially, I was disappointed that we will be losing some long-standing rivalries with our old Prairie Conference schools,” head coach Bill Infanger said. “I personally will miss the matchups against Browerville, [Upsala-Swanville Area], Royalton, and [Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg]. Hopefully we will be able to grow our rivalries with the old Prairie North schools that we are still grouped with.”
Infanger said that in talking to some of his players, the loss of those rivals might not be as big of a deal to them as he initially thought.
“In the end, it’s all about the student-athletes and most of them I talk to just want to play football,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to them who they play. A rivalry to them is who we played last year and had a good game with, so I’m sure there won’t be any fall off in interest or participation because of lost rivalries. We look forward to the challenges of playing in the new district.”
One of Infanger’s main concerns when the move to districts was approved in January was Osakis’ ability to remain competitive against schools of like size. The Silverstreaks have a high school enrollment of 243 this year. Detroit Lakes, one of the biggest schools in the Midwest District, has 744, according to the MSHSL website. There is a chance Osakis won’t see teams like the Lakers during the season, based on how the sub-districts play out.
“Our new district has teams with enrollments of  at the top end down to 226 I believe on the small end,” Infanger said. “How competitive we can be will be affected by how the scheduling committee groups these 22 teams into eight-game schedules for each program. That remains to be seen.”
Brandon-Evansville will play in the largest of the nine-man districts after being placed in the 26-team District 9-West.
The Chargers also maintained the chance to play some of their traditional rivals from the Pheasant Conference such as Ashby, Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley and Wheaton-Herman-Norcross.
“Now we have the option to see those teams if we want but also to see other teams that we wouldn’t normally see,” Pattrin said. “I like to be able to play teams we wouldn’t always play. It can be fun to see some other faces sometimes.”
There are plenty of options with the 26-team field when it comes to creating sub-districts. It’s also a district that spans a huge area, ranging all the way to Kittson County Central in Hallock, in the northwestern corner of Minnesota.
“If we can keep things down for travel it would be nice,” Pattrin said. “When you have a district like ours stretching from Canada to 212, that’s quite a drive. But the chance is there for that to happen, however unlikely.”
After a couple years of rebuilding, Pattrin said the Chargers are excited about the opportunity to compete in the new district.
“We got some really good groups coming through,” Pattrin said. “Our seniors for next year, this will be their third year basically starting. It will be a challenge with some teams dropping from Class A, but we feel we can compete with the vast majority of the teams in our district.”
ALEXANDRIA – North Central – Alexandria, Bemidji, Big Lake, Brainerd, Buffalo, Cambridge-Isanti, Chisago Lakes Area, Duluth East, Elk River, Monticello, Moorhead, North Branch, Princeton, Rocori, Rogers, St. Cloud Tech, Sartell-St. Stephen, Sauk Rapids-Rice, St. Cloud Apollo, St. Francis, St. Michael-Albertville, Willmar
OSAKIS – Midwest – Barnesville, Breckenridge, Crookston, Detroit Lakes, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, East Grand Forks, Fergus Falls, Frazee, Hawley, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, Osakis, Ottertail Central, Park Rapids, Pelican Rapids, Pequot Lakes, Perham, Roseau, Staples-Motley, Thief River Falls, United North Central, Wadena-Deer Creek, Warroad
BRANDON-EVANSVILLE – 9-West – Ada-Borup, Ashby, Bertha-Hewitt, Brandon-Evansville, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, Class Lake-Bena, Clearbrook-Gonvick, CGB, Goodridge-Grygla-Gatzke, Hancock, Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, Kittson County Central, MACCRAY, NCE-UH, Norman Country West, Northern Freeze, Park Christian, Renville County West, Rothsay, Stephen-Argyle Central, Underwood, Verndale, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo, Waubun, WHN, Win-E-Mac