Declining numbers, poor results and travel are three reasons the Pine River-Backus Tigers want to leave the Mid-State Conference.
At a conference meeting Nov. 25 in Wadena, PR-B activities director Jeff Shelstad presented a letter to the other Mid-State activities directors that said:
"We would like to compete in the sports in which we now compete in the Mid-State Conference through the end of the 2004-05 school year. At that time we plan to drop out of the Mid-State Conference."
Before the meeting Shelstad was confronted by Mid-State Conference officials concerning rumors PR-B wanted to leave the conference. Shelstad told the conference they weren't rumors.
"We do want to get out of the conference," Shelstad said in a phone interview Nov. 26. "There's a lot of people in town, in the school, and in the position of authority that want us to leave the conference. That's not a rumor at all. They think it was a big mistake when we joined the conference."
On Nov. 19, PR-B's sports committee, made up of Superintendent James Madsen, Principal Allen Ralston, Shelstad and school board members Jim Coffland, Ed Bettino and Sandy Poferl, voted to leave the Mid-State.
PR-B varsity head coaches also voted in favor of leaving the conference. Volleyball coach Tom Lupella was the only coach against the change.
Shelstad's letter also said PR-B is the smallest school in the conference and foresees additional decline in enrollment.
In a phone interview Nov. 26, Ralston said PR-B expects a 30-student decline in each of the next four years.
"Our junior class is relatively small in number of kids and that has an impact," Ralston said. "We're looking at losing 120 kids in our high school now until 2008. That's got to have an impact on your entire program and level of competition. We're not the only one in that situation."
Ralston and Shelstad both offered the PR-B girls' basketball team as one example. In grades 9 through 12, the Tigers have just 10 girls out for basketball. Because of the low numbers, the girls' team will play an abbreviated schedule this season. PR-B will play just 11 varsity games with the rest scheduled as junior varsity games.
Meanwhile, Staples-Motley's girls' basketball team has a 23-game schedule.
"The athletic department, the administrators and the coaches decided we would just play a modified schedule," said Gregg Ehlert, co-head coach of the PR-B girls' basketball team. "Playing in the Mid-State where there are a lot of great programs, for as young as we are, it would just take its toll on our young girls.
"We just hit a window of a couple of years. There just isn't the interest in basketball as there once was. Kids are in different things like band and choir and drama. We have some young kids who are going to be very competitive if we stay in the Mid-State. We just have to be patient and next year we'll see what happens."
The Tigers have until Sept. 9, 2004, to make their departure from the conference official. Other conference activities directors made no decision, leaving the door open for PR-B to remain in the conference.
"The conference ADs gave us the green light," said Shelstad. "I think they're being very fair, giving us every opportunity to build our girls' basketball program back on its feet. We're happy to have the extra time to do that."
Ralston said PR-B would re-evaluate its situation before the Sept. 9 deadline. He hopes PR-B can stay and compete in the conference.
"I don't think we'll drop," said Ralston. "From my understanding, when we had our sports committee meeting, we said we would go through with one more year and see what will happen with our girls' basketball program. Then we would re-evaluate where we stand. If it ends up being a numbers deal then we may not be even in their sections anymore. That's going to have an impact.
"We have until the fall of 2004. At that time we'll take another look at what's happening. That's when we'll make any decisions about leaving."
Staples-Motley activities director Glen Hasselberg said every school in the Mid-State Conference, except Pequot Lakes, is declining in enrollment. He said PR-B's situation is frustrating because of the uncertainty of scheduling and he hopes something can be resolved.
"We didn't take any action," said Hasselberg. "I say no action because we don't have to take action. No action was required by requesting to get out a year from now. If we were to act on that, between now and if Pine River were to apply to a different conference and get turned down, they may have to re-evaluate and end up staying where they are at. If we would have said you're out, then they couldn't stay where they're at.
"We took no action other than to recognize what their intentions are. Those intentions could change."
PR-B currently offers seven boys' sports and six girls' sports. All but football compete in the Mid-State Conference.
PR-B joined the Mid-State Conference two years ago after leaving the Park Region Conference. It was unsure which conference PR-B would apply to join should it leave the Mid-State.
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