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To pair or not to pair? Menahga discusses football options

The Menahga High School media center was unusually packed with audience members Monday as the school board discussed the potential pairing of football teams with Park Rapids.

Three people voiced their opposition to the idea, urging the board to stay joined with Sebeka School.

Superintendent Kevin Wellen reported that Sebeka School Board has already voted to dissolve the partnership, contingent on Menahga agreeing to it, and going to a nine-man football team.

Board chair Andrea Haverinen explained, "The way our contract reads, both schools have to agree to it, otherwise the program continues."

Board member Durwin Tomperi said he spoke to Sebeka Superintendent David Fjeldheim, who expressed interest in pairing with Menahga for one more year, but there were challenges due to the number of participants and the dynamics of the coaching.

If the board entertained pairing with Park Rapids, all of the football games would be played on the Panther field. "So you're going to be losing a tradition that's been in this community for 60, 70 years. I think we need to consider that as well and what's in the best interests of the students," Tomperi said.

On Monday, the Menahga School Board accepted the resignation of head football coach Cody Stevenson, effective May 20.

Board member Katie Howard said she was reluctant to pair with Park Rapids and wondered if a new football coach would make a difference in participation.

Board member Brad Goehrig said "no one worked any harder than Bob (White) and I to get the pairing going. We were the first two coaches.... It was a lot of building team unity. It was a great time. But not once have we ever had the support we should've had from the former Sebeka football coaches."

He recalled that the Sebeka coaches wore purple to football games. "It burned my butt a little," Goehrig said. Sebeka has repeatedly said they would drop the pairing if the schools qualify for Class AAA.

"When's Sebeka going to step up to the plate and furnish a head coach?" Goehrig asked. "That would've solved a lot of problems, yet they sit there and badmouth the program, which they've done. We have proof of that. I'm not sure staying with Sebeka is going to last more than a year, if you do it."

Goehrig said he was in favor of pairing with Park Rapids and suggested negotiating with them for a homecoming football game in Menahga.

"The bottom line to me is the kids deserve to have an opportunity to compete. If we go by ourselves and still play AA and go against Barnesville and Hawley, we can't compete with them," Goehrig said.

Nowadays, participation is down in football because parents are concerned about concussions, he continued, plus 20 percent of Menahga students can't play sports due to religious reasons.

Mathematically, said Activities/Athletic Director Don Donarski, Menahga is moving toward a Class AAA football team in three years, "but our participation numbers are not supporting that."

A change at the helm has not necessarily increased the numbers, he added, and Sebeka School seems unlikely to continue pairing in Class AAA.

"Our numbers aren't healthy for AA football on any given night," Donarski said, adding other teams don't play their freshmen, whereas Menahga relies on them.

"As an AD and someone who has coached football for 22 years, freshmen should not be playing varsity football, unless they are a special athlete," Donarski said.

Next fall, if Menahga did not pair with any other school, Donarski said there would three seniors, one junior and seven sophomores on the team.

Wellen noted the Minnesota State High School League will not allow Menahga to field a nine-man football team, but pairing with Park Rapids will allow a full freshman team, a junior varsity team and a varsity team, all playing "at appropriate levels."

The board set a special meeting for 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 4 to discuss the matter further. The Park Rapids School Board is expected to make a decision at their June 3 meeting.

Bond sale

The school district received an exceptional interest rate on its $1,710,000 general obligation bond sale for long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) projects.

Matthew Hammer, a municipal advisor with Ehlers, provided the sales day report. "We got outstanding results," he said, noting the 1.7746 percent interest rate, which was a full percent below projections.

Rates below 2 percent haven't been seen "in many, many years," he continued. "You guys had impeccable timing on your bond sale."

The low bidder was BNY Mellon Capital Markets, LLC from Pittsburgh, Penn.

The district received a large premium on the bonds — $301,364 — which reduced the overall bond size from $1,955,000 to $1,710,000, "which, in turn, frees up money in the LTFM program to the tune of about $109,000 over the bond's 10-year term," explained Hammer.

In addition, the school district maintained its "AAA stable" rating. Third-party evaluators also upgraded the district's financial management practices from "standard" to "good," citing the "favorable enrollment trend," "history of strong financial performance" and "very strong available fund balances."

In other business, the board did as follows:

• Renewed auto, property and liability insurance at a cost of $49,947 and workers' compensation insurance at $19,500 with Weizenegger Engel Insurance.

• Accepted a cyber liability insurance quote of $3,387 from Hausmann-Johnson.

• Recognized Nichole Weston, Adele Esala and Tim Wurdock for their Sourcewell Teacher of Excellence Awards.

• Recognized Ashley Walvatne and Jeremy Rach as Menahga Teachers of the Year.

• Due to a 3-3 tie vote, took no action on a medical leave of absence request by Kristina Scheidecker for the 2019-20 school year.

• Approved Wellen's request to attend the American Association of School Administrators Leadership Academy from July 8-9 in Alexandria, Va. Sourcewell is paying the $2,000 registration fee.

• Accepted an $875 donation from Gateway Lions Club to the Menahga High School girls' basketball state trip.

The next regular board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 17 at the high school media center.