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Tom Mix, Published January 15 2014

Norman County West exploring possible athletic co-op

HENDRUM, Minn. – Enrollment projections for the Norman County West school district have spurred some proactive action by the district’s superintendent Ollen Church.

Numbers for several fall and winter sports programs at Norman County West High School have been trending low the last several seasons.

Church, with the authorization of the NCW school board, sent letters to four neighboring school districts last month inquiring about the possibility of forming athletic co-ops in the near future.

The four school districts that were sent letters are: Hillsboro-Central Valley and Northern Cass in North Dakota, as well as Ada-Borup and Climax-Shelly in Minnesota. All four school districts are within 30 miles of NCW, a school district that serves Hendrum and Halstad.

“We have to explore all options,” Church said. “Right now the board is just giving us the OK to send the letters out. We are in the exploratory stage. We are just testing the waters. That is all we are doing.”

The letters stated that the current enrollment for grades 7-12 at NCW is 125 students. The projected 7-12 enrollment figures for the fall of 2014 are 147, but just 90 of those students will be in grades 9-12, leaving several varsity athletic programs at the school vulnerable to low participation.

NCW currently co-ops with Ada-Borup in all spring sports.

Church said participation numbers for fall and winter girls sports are particularly low, and the letters sent out suggest a “strong possibility” that the school won’t be able to run a volleyball or girls basketball program next school year.

The girls basketball team has 17 players grades 7-12 and the volleyball team has 20, leaving both squads with limited sub-varsity scheduling.

Church said as of Tuesday none of the school districts he corresponded with had called him back. He anticipates hearing back from the schools after each hold their monthly school board meetings this month.

Ada-Borup held its January school board meeting Wednesday and the NCW letter was discussed.

“No real formal action was taken,” Ada-Borup Superintendent Mike Kolness said. “We plan to talk with Norman County West in the near future. Our school district has a unique relationship with Norman County West, and we have worked well together.”

Athletic co-ops have become a growing trend in area school districts with shrinking enrollments. The tricky part is finding the right partner.

Every potential co-op in each sport has to be approved by the respective high school activities association it applies to.

Combining schools’ athletic numbers, in any sport, often means the newly created co-op team will have to elevate in division of competition. For example, if NCW were to co-op with Ada-Borup in football, that team would play in Minnesota, Class 2A based on the enrollment formula put in place by the Minnesota State High School League.

“Taking on another school for some of those schools would require them to be bumped up a class, at least in some sports,” Church said. “That is the biggest obstacle in the road.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562