Following a well-attended public meeting Sunday evening, the Lake Preston School Board voted unanimously to dissolve their football and comp cheer co-ops with Arlington and team up with Iroquois for all sports and other extra-curricular activities, except for wrestling. Lake Preston will remain part of the Kingsbury Knights, a 3-way co-op with Arlington and De Smet. Decisions regarding football co-ops must be submitted to the South Dakota High School Sports Association by their January meeting.
Lake Preston Superintendent Dana Felderman presented enrollment numbers and future enrollment projections to support his position that Lake Preston needs to co-op with another school if they want to continue to provide opportunities for students to participate in many of these activities.
Lake Preston representatives have been in meetings with other area school districts for several months regarding this need, and Felderman said it has been discussed for at least a few years.
Earlier this year, it was established that Arlington wished to continue with the football and comp cheer co-ops as the Arlington-Lake Preston Badgers, but they voted to not co-op with Lake Preston for other sports, including girls and boys basketball, track, cross country and volleyball.
The De Smet district agreed to allow a limited number of Lake Preston girls to play basketball as part of the De Smet Bulldogs, and this option was being considered. This proved not necessary as 11 Lake Preston girls, twice the number anticipated, signed up to play basketball this year. However, they only have a varsity team, with not enough players for a junior varsity team. Last year, Lake Preston girls had a JV team only and no varsity team. Felderman said two of the current girls basketball players have had knee surgeries, and another player, a senior, is playing for the first time this year.
There are 16 athletes out for boys basketball this year, but six are seniors. Next year, it is projected there will be fewer boys going out for basketball. Football numbers would also be low, with 11 players expected between 9-12 grade to take the field. There was a concern that if they must put eighth graders out on the field with bigger, older players, there is a bigger risk of injury to smaller, less experienced athletes.
There are not enough track and field participants to have relay teams.
Safety was brought up several times. A former cheerleader for the Lake Preston Divers stated that when she was in school, she saw many athletes continue to play when they were injured because there were not enough players. She said she understands that Lake Preston people wish to remain the Divers, but, she said, “This is reality.”
Tricia McCloud, a teacher, parent and grade school coach, said she is excited about kids being able to play other kids their own age and getting help from other coaches. She was in favor of a co-op with Iroquois.
Someone else pointed out that by co-oping with the same school for all sports, the students would not be divided up with different sports teams going in different directions.
School board member Brett Anderson stated that he has attended all of the discussions with the other towns and was impressed by the fact that with Iroquois, fourth graders would have the opportunity to play against other fourth graders, fifth graders against other fifth graders, and so on, and he believed it would provide opportunities for kids in both towns. He said that when the Iroquois students were presented with different options, 82 percent wanted to co-op with Lake Preston.
One point brought up was Gevo, a new industry coming to Lake Preston, that may bring more students to Lake Preston, thus eliminating the need to co-op with another town soon. A counterpoint was that there is no guarantee that Gevo will cause a significant boost in Lake Preston’s student population, as many of the workers and their families may reside in other towns.
Another point expressed was that Iroquois has been in sports co-ops with other schools before and not stuck with them. Iroquois Superintendent Mike Ruth said a past co-op with Willow Lake was before his time at Iroquois and a football co-op with De Smet came about at the beginning of his time there. He said the current co-op with Doland was good for both schools but pointed out that the distance, more than 50 miles, was a factor.
“I know it’s not always been roses and daffodils,” he admitted, “but we have made it work.
Iroquois has been in a sports co-op with Doland for the past few years, and Ruth said they have been forthcoming with Doland about the possibility of dissolving the co-op.
Ruth also said that many of the Iroquois parents are excited about the possibility of their children being able to participate in the fine arts activities that Lake Preston offers, but Iroquois does not. Some of the students would like to join a competitive cheer team with Lake Preston.
At the end of the meeting, some Lake Preston board members expressed to the Arlington representatives that there may be an opportunity for them to join the Lake Preston-Iroquois football team next season. If the three schools were to join, the football team would be bumped up to 11-man, rather than 9-man. It was stated earlier that at one time, the Arlington board had expressed they would not want to be bumped up to 11-man.
People from both Iroquois and Lake Preston expressed that no matter what the sports teams are, neither school is losing its identity. Lake Preston students will still graduate from Lake Preston, and Iroquois students will graduate from Iroquois.
The pairing between Lake Preston and Iroquois will be a 50-50 collaboration. One of the next orders of business will be for the two schools to come together and decide on a mascot and team colors.
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