The hot topic at Wednesday evening’s Exeter-Milligan school board meeting in Exeter was high school football.
This season the Timberwolves started the season with just 13 players. Due to injury, they have struggled to field a team of eight players, playing several weeks with just nine healthy players.
Mid-season, Superintendent Paul Sheffield held a meeting with all 7 -11th grade boys. The students were given information on the three options for the football program including continuing as an 8-man program, dropping to six man football or joining with Friend for a cooperative.
According to Sheffield the original survey showed the boys preferred to stay on their own by a 15 percent margin. Sheffield reissued the survey the week before the school board meeting and the results were 50/50 to stay on their own or go with Friend.
With those results in hand Sheffield, Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Dean Filipi along with the activities committee of the Exeter-Milligan school board (President Sharon Kuska, Board members Adam Erdkamp and Kendra Oldehoeft) met with their counterparts at Friend.
Erdkamp reported on the meeting with Friend during Wednesday evenings school board meeting. He noted that they had a fairly generic conversation with Friend. “We communicated we were open to the idea of cooping. We did not get down to any specifics. During the Friend School Board meeting they did vote to enter a two year coop with us in a 5-0 vote with one board member absent.”
Friend Superintendent, Dave Kraus, also reported the positive nature of their boards vote. “Our board voted unanimously to accept a coop agreement with Exeter-Milligan. I think it will be great.”
Kraus noted both class sizes and lower numbers in participation at Friend, “I think you see it state and nationwide with participation numbers lower. At the Pioneer Conference superintendent’s meeting most of schools were debating what to do. This isn’t just an isolated conversation, it’s becoming statewide.”
Sheffield gave more detail including the fact that the combined school would be D-1 and would still be eligible for playoffs even when looking at a four year attendance projection.
Exeter-Milligan and Friend have had a coop for Junior High football for the last three years. There is one more year on the coop contract for Junior High.
Kraus commented on the success of the junior high coop, ” The coop with junior high has been very successful. I think the kids have really enjoyed it.”
Sheffield explained that Exeter-Milligan would be the designated host school in the coop and would supply the head coach along with two assistants. Friend would supply two assistants and Exeter-Milligan would be the NSAA contact.
“The intent of coop was to be able to provide a JV and Varsity team. Dean (Filipi) sees the merits in both. We would have enough kids we would be able to field both.”
Friend has had several JV games this year but Kraus explained that it wasn’t a true JV team as they had many from the varsity filling in the roster.
For Friend, Kraus mentioned this is more about opportunity. They were in a position identical to Exeter-Milligan with three options, stay on their own, go six man or coop. The advantages they saw in coop with Exeter-Milligan were numerous, “In just being competitive. If we were to go to six man I don’t know how many years we would stay and have to learn a new game style and then maybe go back to eight man. By cooping we will stay more competitive with resources from just down the road.”
Sheffield went on to explain that the home football games would be split 50/50 with two home games in Friend and two in Milligan. Any playoff games would be played in Milligan on even years and in Friend on odd years which is included in the agreement.
Fairness was a big factor for the Friend district, Kraus commented, “Our biggest thing when we met with the activities group from Exeter-Milligan was that we wanted to be fair and equitable for both sides. No one school getting more than the other.”
“It’s about opportunities. Our schools mission is to offer opportunities for kids. That’s what we keep going back to, offer the opportunities for them to be competitive and to experience success as well.”
fter Sheffield shared the specifics on the agreement the board opened the discussion to the audience.
Erdkamp initiated the dialogue, “My mindset is why push forward if we don’t have any interest. Find out if everyone is open to considering it. It’s a hard choice. I think obviously we want the kids to be in the best position. If you look at the numbers going forward it becomes an issue with participation rates. . . We have a working relationship with kids in the junior high level. The kids have played together.”
Kuska added her thoughts, “The opportunity for a JV team is an important aspect. I don’t want to see the kids thrown into the situation where they aren’t physically and mentally ready to handle that yet. I see JV as an opportunity to develop athletes. Development is so good for them.”
Kuska was also concerned about the longevity of the deal. She noted that this was part of the discussion with the Friend committee. “If your numbers come back up are you going to drop out of this and then we are left holding the bag so to say? They said, no at this point in time they are not looking at a great influx in population – looking at it as a long term opportunity.”
The discussion moved to what it meant for the game. Board member Tim Pribyl was glad for the team to stay in the 8-man game, “Some of the lineman don’t have the opportunity (in 6 man) like they do in 8 man.”
Audience member Kyle Svec asked about the numbers for next year’s combined team.
Sheffield responded that Exeter-Milligan would have between 12 and 14 and Friend would have 12. “The problem we have now is we have 29 boys in the high school with only 13 going out. That is less than 50 percent.”
Sheffield also noted that a decision has to be made by November 1.
Another audience member Travis Due expressed his concern, “If we don’t do this and Dorchester goes to six man or Friend ends up with Dorchester we are left out here with nothing.”
Exeter-Milligan Assistant Coach Kory Kahlhadt was asked his opinion, “I grew up with a Freshman, JV and Varsity team. I think it’s important to have JV.”
After asking if everyone had the opportunity to voice their opinion, President Kuska called for a decision. Erdkamp made a motion to coop with Friend for 8 man football for a two year contract (the amount allowed by the NSAA) and Pribyl seconded.
Before the vote took place, Sheffield informed the board that once the vote passed that was all the participation the board would be involved with. The board passed the measure unanimously.
Sheffield and Kraus will meet this week to “iron out details such as transportation and coaching, the minor details to make a program work,” according to Kraus.
Kraus concluded, “Friend was really hoping this would work out. We were all crossing our fingers, and not just the school but the community as well. We have the Purple Ribbon meat program together and junior high football, our relationship is growing. We want that to continue. We are neighbors, all in the same business working with kids to give them the best opportunities we can.”