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Paynesville Press - January 7, 2003

West Central Conference looks to add three schools

By Michael Jacobson

The West Central Conference is expected to add at least three new teams for its 2005-06 seasons.

Three former members of the 212 Conference - ACGC (Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City), BOLD (Bird Island, Olivia, and Lake Lillian), and Yellow Medicine East (YME) - have submitted formal applications to the conference, which were approved by the conference's athletic directors in December.

Their admittance must still be approved by the conference superintendents, first at their meeting this spring and then again next fall. But, generally, the superintendents follow the recommendation of the athletic directors, said Paynesville superintendent Howard Caldwell.

The West Central Conference - which currently has only 12 schools - has been looking to add additional schools, said Kyle Nehowig, Paynesville's athletics coordinator. Ideally, said Nehowig, the conference would have 16 teams, divided into two eight-team divisions.

The West Central Conference was an eight-team conference in the 1980s but added eight teams in the early 1990s - including Albany, Cathedral, Melrose, and Sartell to the North Division - and reorganizing in two divisions. Since then, though, just in the north, the conference has lost Sartell (to the Central Lakes Conference) and Litchfield (to the Wright County Conference).

This loss has affected competition in some sports. For instance, in cross country, All Conference honors are awarded to the top 15 runners from the six teams in the north. Only five schools in the north offer wrestling, which has prompted the conference to hold a joint conference tournament with all 11 teams this year for the first time.

Of much greater concern, though, according to Nehowig, is the pressure that a small conference puts on scheduling. With the number of conference games dwindling in a number of sports - those that rely on head-to-head games - athletic directors have had to find more games against nonconference foes, said Nehowig. With every school needing to prioritize their athletic expenses, keeping transportation costs for long-distance road games to a minimum is important.

"It's getting harder and harder to find games and to keep them within a reasonable distance," said Nehowig. For instance, in football, the Bulldogs currently have only five conference games and three nonconference games. In recent years, they have hosted Hawley, though they did not make a reciprocal trip due to the distance. Being in an eight-team division would provide the Bulldogs with seven conference football games, reducing its nonconference schedule to only one game.

An eight-team division would also provide the Bulldogs with 14 conference baseball, basketball, softball, and volleyball games, up from 10 currently.

By having more conference games expansion would stabilize the conference, giving schools unhappy with the current small slate of conference games less reason to look elsewhere, said Nehowig.

Schools need to give two year's notice to leave a conference, which is why this conference expansion would start in 2005-06. In order to add ACGC, BOLD, and YME to the South Division, Minnewaska Area and New London-Spicer would move to the North Division.

Nehowig and the Bulldogs coaching staff met this fall and discussed whether the Bulldogs would be better in the North Division, where the Dogs have traditional rivals and shorter travel distances, or in the South Division, where the schools are more Paynesville's size. They decided to stay in the north, said Nehowig, which the Dogs will do, with football as a possible exception.

By its current enrollment, Paynesville would be the smallest school in the North Division. For high school sports, schools are judged by their enrollments in grades 10-12. Currently, PAHS's 10-12 enrollment is 304. The closest school in size in the North Division would be Sauk Centre (356). Other schools are Cathedral (438), Melrose (436), NL-S (425), Albany (416), Minnewaska (404), and LPGE (371).

(Minnewaska and New London-Spicer, both current WCC South Division schools, would shift to the North Division under this proposed new alignment.)

The schools slated for the South Division are much closer in size to Paynesville: Montevideo (363), Morris (315), Yellow Medicine East (295), Lac Qui Parle Valley (293), BOLD (289), Benson (266), and ACGC (258).

But, said Nehowig, despite their size, the Bulldogs have competed pretty well in the North Division, winning baseball, cross country, track, and wrestling titles in recent years. Feeling they could compete in the north, the coaches opted to maintain their traditional rivalries and have shorter travel distances, said Nehowig. Had the Bulldogs joined the south, they would face long mid-week trips for some games. Transportation costs might have dictated that the Dogs would have played doubleheaders in baseball and softball against schools like YME and played boys' and girls' basketball doubleheaders, according to Nehowig.

Another factor was that coaches wanted to insure that they could play C-squad games against their conference opponents, which is more likely against the larger schools in the north, especially with the shorter travel times.

The conference alignment for football - which is the sport most dependent on size, according to Nehowig, who is also the Bulldogs' football coach - is still in limbo.

Right now, the conference would have 15 teams in 2005-06, having eight teams in the north and seven in the south. Under this arrangement, it might be possible for the Bulldogs to compete in the south in football and in the north in all the other sportsÉas it does now.

But the conference could still add another member to fill out two eight-team divisions, and then the Dogs would need to switch with a team from the south - Montevideo, most likely, the largest school in the south - for football, if the Bulldogs were to avoid playing against the larger schools in the north. While the logistics for playing in the south for football - where the team plays only four away games, all on Friday nights - makes this possible, switching divisions would depend on conference politics, with Montevideo resisting having to play in the north.

Either way, said Nehowig, conference expansion - especially adding three good schools like ACGC, BOLD, and YME - should benefit Bulldogs athletics.

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