Against the recommendations of Menahga Superintendent Kevin Wellen, Athletic Director Don Donarski and High School Principal Mark Frank, the Menahga School Board voted 3-2 to remain paired with Sebeka High School for one more school year.
In April, the Sebeka School Board voted to dissolve the UNC partnership and go to a nine-man football team for the 2019-20 season, but it was contingent upon Menahga agreeing to end the pairing agreement.
Monday's special meeting was called to consider a football pairing with Park Rapids. The Park Rapids School Board was expected to make a decision at their June 3 meeting as well, but Wellen called to inform them of the Menahga School Board's vote.
According to the pairing proposal, a co-op with Park Rapids would have placed them in the middle of Class AAA. Menahga would have paid for one coach's salary, plus 30 percent of annual necessary equipment and $900 toward Panther Booster Club finances. All home games were to be played in Park Rapids. The Menahga School District would cover student participation fees so there was no charge for Menahga players.
"Size-wise, for them, it makes sense. For us, if we're going to split with Sebeka sooner or later then this is the opportunity we've talked about," Wellen said.
Board chair Andrea Haverinen asked if any negotiable items had been discussed with Park Rapids. Donarski replied that he expected details could be worked out through the pairing committees.
"Because of the lack of information and the urgency to push this through with this, I'm just not comfortable going through with this," said board member Julie Kicker.
It came up fast, Wellen reminded the board, because Sebeka voted to dissolve UNC. Frank agreed, saying the UNC pairing committee met last spring and seemingly had a plan, yet four days later they read about Sebeka's dissolution in the newspaper.
Board member Durwin Tomperi asked about pairing with Frazee or if any other options had been explored.
"Just looking geographically, Park Rapids is closer," Haverinen said.
"And we're already paired with Park Rapids with gymnastics and hockey. To us, it makes the most sense," Frank added.
He referred the board to an email from Sebeka Athletic Director Jon Lillquist to Donarski which said, "I don't think there is any way we sign a six-year agreement. There are issues besides coaching. Our district and AAA football are huge concerns."
Board member Brad Goehrig noted that Sebeka has given its one-year notice to the Minnesota State High School League, so at the end of next year, Menahga will be left to either field a football team on its own or pair with Park Rapids.
"I don't see how, physically, with our numbers, we could go by ourselves," Goehrig said. "I still say the best chance for our kids to play is to go to Park Rapids."
Tomperi expressed concern about the amount of misinformation and "sabotage" circulating around the public.
Frank reported that two Menahga student surveys were conducted. On May 15, 20 football players were in favor of a co-op with Park Rapids, while seven wanted to continue with Sebeka. After the resignation of head football coach Cody Stevenson, effective May 20, 17 favored Park Rapids and 10 voted to stay with Sebeka.
Donarski noted that Northwest and Midwest districts have already drafted a cross-district 2019-20 schedule without a UNC football team. Sebeka has also released its own nine-man football team schedule without UNC.
Wellen said, "In my opinion, pairing with Park Rapids is the best opportunity for our kids." Frank and Donarski concurred.
Kicker said she didn't think the Park Rapids School Board would "hold it against us" to wait one more year.
Tomperi made the motion to not dissolve UNC for the upcoming school year. Kicker seconded, and it passed 3-2, with Goehrig and Howard opposed. Board member Bob White was absent.