After two weeks of practicing with the Minneota football team, with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads, players from Lincoln HI are officially part of the Vikings.
On Wednesday, Minnesota State High School League Executive Director Dave Stead informed both Minneota and Lincoln HI that Lincoln HI's players will be eligible to play with the Vikings in the 2011 season.
Waiting for the final ruling, the two teams continued to practice, and Minneota head coach Chad Johnston was relieved to know the time and effort spent to get the former Rebel players up to speed will be put to good use this season.
"We set up our depth chart for them being there and getting reps for them, whether it's the first, second or third team," Johnston said. "Finally, it's a relief to know that everyone's effort that was put into this is going to work out."
With low numbers out for football, and the Ivanhoe school district breaking off with Hendricks, the ability for Lincoln HI to field a football team was in question for this season. But with co-op approved, both schools are elated to have nine Lincoln HI kids coming to Minneota to play football.
"The upside is nothing but positive," said Lincoln HI Athletic Director Craig Midtaune. "The kids, in these two weeks, have been terrific for not knowing what's going on. The attitude they've had, from talking to them, they're excited for practice and now have the opportunity."
By approving the co-op, Minneota Athletic Director Harlen Ulrich said the respective high schools and the MSHSL completed their top priority: giving the Lincoln HI student-athletes an chance to play.
"That's what the High School League wants to do. They want to give kids opportunities to participate in activities and this allows that to happen," Ulrich said.
It was not immediately known how this decision would affect the teams that were scheduled to play Lincoln HI this season. The Rebels were scheduled to play Verndale (Sept. 2), Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley, Brandon-Evansville, Eagle Valley (Sept. 23), Ortonville, Hancock, ECHO Charter and Wheaton/Herman-Norcross.
Two main factors weighed into the decision to approve the co-op. In order to stay in Class A, the combined enrollment of Minneota and Lincoln HI had to remain under 220 students to prevent the Vikings from being bumped up into Class AA. During the process, Minneota and Ivanhoe came to the agreement that if the football team was bumped to Class AA, the co-op would not happen. According to Ulrich, the combined enrollment was 218 students, sneaking under the Class AA threshold.
Complicating matters further were the High School League's transfer rules. In the MSHSL bylaws, a student-athlete transferring from one school to another, without changing residence, loses a year of eligibility. While none of the Lincoln HI football players are from Hendricks, the rule affected the rest of Lincoln HI's sports.
"We weren't worried about anyone being ineligible, but they wouldn't officially call us a co-op until this other issue was settled," Midtaune said.
Because the Ivanhoe-Hendricks split occurred in late June, Minneota, Lincoln HI and the MSHSL were working under a rushed schedule.
With a tight time frame and a unique situation, Midtaune said the MSHSL came up with a ruling which gave parents and students an opportunity to have their kids at Lincoln HI without losing a year of eligibility.
The merger of the football teams is the latest co-op between Minneota and Lincoln HI, who combined for baseball this spring. Both schools also join with Canby for softball, track and field and cross country. Midtaune said Lincoln HI players have been practicing with Minneota both before school and after school.
This story was written by Joe Brown, Sports Editor at the Marshall Independent. It was used by permission. You may read the complete story here.