Park High School AD says switching conference not 'a dead issue'The idea of Park High School joining the Classic Suburban Conference was dealt a blow when the league unofficially communicated it was not looking to expand, but the concept of Park finding a home outside the Suburban East Conference “isn’t a dead issue,” according to Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, South Washington County Bulletin
The idea of Park High School joining the Classic Suburban Conference was dealt a blow when the league unofficially communicated it was not looking to expand, but the concept of Park finding a home outside the Suburban East Conference “isn’t a dead issue,” according to Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel.
In February, Park moved toward leaving the Suburban East when the results of the school’s Community Input Night showed community members at the meeting favored a conference change by a 2-to-1 margin. Kuemmel said the Classic Suburban Conference was the school’s first choice if it left the SEC. The second option was to form a new conference.
Kuemmel said he had multiple conversations with Classic Suburban Conference Executive Secretary Pete Veldman throughout March and Veldman ultimately informed him the CSC didn’t want to add another team right now.
“We truly did not ever officially apply to their conference,” Kuemmel said. “We had some conversations with a couple people over there. Pete Veldman brought our interest to them. Their conference, at this point, said they aren’t looking to expand by any schools.”
Based on Veldman’s feedback, Kuemmel said Park is not going to apply to the Classic Suburban Conference at this time.
“Maybe there is hope down the road,” Kuemmel said. “There is still talk of some possible movement with teams on the west side of town. Maybe someone leaves their conference and they’re then open to it, because it wouldn’t be expanding, it would be taking someone else’s spot. There seems to be more talk about conference movement. If that happens, it could affect things.”
With the possibility of joining the Classic Suburban Conference in a holding pattern, Kuemmel said he is poking around to gauge interest in starting a new conference.
“That involves a lot more than joining an existing conference would be. It’s much more difficult because you’d need a base of six to eight schools to start a new conference,” Kuemmel said. “Obviously, if you want to start a new conference you’d need other people on board. We’re putting some feelers out there to see if there is any interest in starting a new conference. At this time it’s in the preliminary stage to see if there is any interest out there.”
Because of decreasing enrollment and shifting demographics, Park has discussed leaving the Suburban East Conference since 2009. Kuemmel said the final step would be to gain District 833 School Board approval to leave the Suburban East and it would likely take over a year to join a different conference or form a new conference after that decision was made.
Park first floated the idea of joining the Classic Suburban or forming a new conference in 2009 when Kuemmel, along with representatives from East Ridge and Hastings met with administrators from three Classic Suburban schools — Tartan, North St. Paul and Mahtomedi. According to Kuemmel, prompting the idea of a possible change was a decrease in the number of kids playing sports at Park High School and in some Cottage Grove Athletic Association youth programs, not just the number of wins and losses.
All three District 833 high schools – East Ridge, Park and Woodbury – are in the Suburban East, but Park teams generally have fared worse among conference opponents overall. It’s not without precedent to have schools in the same district compete in different conferences. Irondale and Mounds View high schools are each in School District 621, but in different conferences.
Park has a higher percentage of students from low-income families, and Kuemmel has said Park’s “socioeconomic demographics” are a factor in student-athlete participation.
An identifier used by state agencies to project participation in activities is the percentage of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch programs at schools.
The free and reduced lunch program numbers are used in the Minnesota State High School League’s enrollment calculations when assigning schools to different classes. Based on its formula, a student on free or reduced lunch program counts for only six-tenths of a student towards that school’s enrollment due to the lower amount of recorded participation in activities by those students.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education’s Fall of 2010 Minnesota Automated Reporting Student System (MARSS) list, 20.8 percent of Park’s 1,806 students are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, compared to 12.7 percent of the 1,807 kids at Woodbury and 9.2 percent of the 1,602 students at East Ridge.
Kuemmel said the demographics between Park and, not only East Ridge and Woodbury but, fellow SEC schools like Mounds View (10.5 percent, 1,744 enrollment), Stillwater (11.7 percent, 2,104 enrollment) are different and may be more similar to schools in the Classic Suburban Conference, for example, like Tartan (31.8 percent, 1,811 enrollment) and North St. Paul (37.7 percent, 1,967 enrollment).
A smaller pool of participants can make it harder to compete against larger schools, Kuemmel has said.