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Tom Miller / Forum Communications Co., Published June 04 2012

No place to play for Central Valley seniors

Buxton, N.D.

The high school football careers of Central Valley’s Ethan Proznik and Dusty Schildberger are in need of a 2-minute drill.

The seniors-to-be from Buxton, N.D., might even need a Hail Mary.

The pair has become the collateral damage in a complicated mess of declining rural school enrollments, the delicate negotiations of co-operative sponsorships and the rules of the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

After all the twists and turns, all it means for Proznik and Shildberger is they might not have a senior football season.

“I really just want to play,” Schildberger said.

With dipping participation numbers, Central Valley athletic director and football coach Randy Vigen said he saw the need for a co-op coming in 2010.

So the school boards of both Central Valley and Hillsboro came together to sort out the details: the name of the co-op, the nickname, the colors, the hiring process of coaches, salaries, etc.

The process was rushed along as Vigen knew the deadline for football co-ops in the NDHSAA has a two-year cycle, with the falls of 2011 and 2013 landing on the rotation. Football, in order to ease scheduling and encourage classification consistencies, is the only sport in which co-ops are considered by the NDHSAA on a two-year basis as opposed to every year.

That would mean a co-op would need to be submitted by mid-September in 2010 to accommodate Central Valley’s needs by 2012.

In 2010, the Central Valley and Hillsboro school administrations had come close to an agreement, Vigen said.

But it hit a snag. Details couldn’t be ironed out and some bitter feelings developed between the two communities regarding the football co-op. Vigen put it this way: “The towns weren’t ready for a shotgun marriage. Some people felt we were rushing into things.”

After an initial plan couldn’t be worked out with Hillsboro, Central Valley looked into co-op options with Thompson, but those discussions also couldn’t formulate an agreement.

One of the many issues with taking on a co-op is that a school such as Hillsboro or Thompson would then add Central Valley’s enrollment numbers to its NDHSAA classification. For example, Hillsboro football, with the addition of Central Valley’s enrollment, could bump from 9-man to Class 2A 11-man.

Hillsboro and Central Valley came back to the negotiating table this past year and were able to come to terms. The two schools were already combined in baseball, track and field, golf, speech and wrestling.

On April 16, the NDHSAA approved the co-op for the remainder of the sports, except football. Vigen said he doesn’t foresee any problems when the schools re-apply for the football co-op for the 2013 season.

Earlier this week, Vigen and Hillsboro athletic director Terry Baesler sent an appeal to the NDHSAA asking the organization to revisit the question of the football co-op starting in 2012-13, essentially allowing Proznik and Schildberger to play at Hillsboro.

The appeal will be taken up by the NDHSAA board of directors at a meeting June 19 in Valley City.

“It’ll be up to our board of directors,” NDHSAA executive secretary Sherm Sylling said. “They’ll have tough decisions to make.”

Sylling said the NDHSAA is always cautious of setting a precedent by making exceptions to rules and creating a slippery slope.

Vigen understands the board’s dilemma but would like the NDHSAA to be flexible in this instance.

“The activities association and (Sylling) do a great job looking out for student-athletes,” Vigen said. “There has to be rules and guidelines and no one likes hearing ‘no.’ But I think sometimes you have to look at each case individually. We’re just hoping they take a good look at this and have more discussion on it.”

Meanwhile, Proznik and Schildberger wait to learn their fate.

“That’s real sad,” Vigen said. “Those boys put a lot of stock into football.”

The two were ball boys for the Central Valley football team in sixth grade and started playing in seventh grade. Proznik was a running back/linebacker and Schildberger was a wide receiver/defensive back.

“They’re great kids,” Vigen said. “They work hard in and out of the classroom. They don’t deserve what’s going on. It’s not their fault.”

During the Valiants’ final game last season against Drayton/Valley-Edinburg, a string of lights and the scoreboard at Central Valley’s field went dark. With Central Valley trailing 38-22, the game was called and never finished.

Proznik and Schildberger hope that isn’t an omen to the lights going out on the final season of their high school football careers.

“It’s all kind of ridiculous,” Schildberger said. “It’s just us two.”

Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald