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Parkers Prairie adds cross country, hockey this school year

John Noga

The Parkers Prairie school district will add a couple more athletic options for students to participate in this coming school year.

At its July 13 meeting, school board approved a motion to add hockey as part of a cooperative agreement with the Wadena-Deer Creek boys program. The motion to add cross country at Parkers Prairie also passed in what activities director John Noga felt was an easy decision on both fronts.

"I'm working on a schedule for cross country right now," Noga said when contacted by the Echo Press on July 25. "Now we just have to go through the process of the paper work between us and Wadena-Deer Creek. There are multiple schools involved in the Wadena-Deer Creek program. I talked to (activities director) Norm (Gallant) over at Wadena-Deer Creek and he basically said the more the merrier."

Noga says it's an opportunity to help get more students involved without taking away many athletes from other programs that are already established in the school.

Parkers Prairie has an enrollment of 162 students in grades 9-12, according to the Minnesota State High School League website. Sports offered in the fall include football, girls tennis and volleyball. Winter sports include boys and girls basketball and wrestling as a cooperative with Bertha-Hewitt and Verndale.

Three families with students in the Parkers Prairie district have expressed a desire to have the option to play hockey. The Panthers have a similar cooperative with Alexandria in boys tennis where Eli Simonson goes to school in Parkers Prairie and plays tennis for the Cardinals.

It allows a student to compete in a sport that isn't already offered by the Panthers with a minimal cost to the district, Noga says. The contract to join the Wadena-Deer Creek cooperative will last for two years before the schools can reassess the interest from athletes.

"It's very minimal cost for hockey," Noga said. "Pretty much we have to pay a fee like we do for every sport. I think it's $90 per sport we pay to be a member of the high school league. Other than that, the parents or the students do their own transportation and they do their own equipment. It was kind of a no-brainer. It's very minimal cost for us and it helps a kid who wants to stay here."

Noga saw it as a similar situation in cross country, which will have its inaugural season this fall. Athletes will use the same uniforms that the Parkers Prairie track and field teams use and have one paid position in head coach Shannon Wicklund. Wicklund is also an assistant coach for the Panthers' track and field teams.

Cross country will be open to students in grades 7-12 who can compete at junior high, junior varsity and varsity meets. Noga said about 15 kids have expressed interest in joining the team for its inaugural season.

"Like I told the school board that night, I looked at the kids who had signed up and really they were kids who weren't playing football, they weren't on our (girls) tennis team, they really weren't out for volleyball," Noga said. "I just thought it was a good addition to get more kids involved with another opportunity."

Noga said he is about three-quarters of the way through creating the first cross country schedule. The Panthers will target home meets with other programs of similar size in the area and potentially compete with a lighter meet load in their first year.

"I looked at a few schedules like (Ottertail Central) and saw what meets they were in," Noga said. "We're going to go to like Long Prairie, OTC has a meet, Pillager has a meet, Staples has a meet early in the season. We'll try to keep them closer to home this first year and see what the interest is."

Noga was happy to see the Parkers Prairie district give its students more chances to be involved in the sport of their choosing.

"It's about giving these students opportunities to compete and be active," Noga said. "If we didn't have this cross country, there would be 15 students who weren't out for football, tennis, volleyball. They have a chance to compete now."

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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