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Board signals support for Park High School joining new conference

School District 833

It won't happen this year, but in 2014-15 Park High School student athletes may no longer be playing in the Suburban East Conference.

Park's move to an as-yet-unnamed conference could be approved by the South Washington County School Board at its Aug. 22 meeting. No board members spoke against the move when they discussed it at a workshop last week.

Woodbury and East Ridge high schools will stay in the Suburban East, but that doesn't mean Park's familiar rivalries with the other district teams will go away.

In all sports, except football, Park can arrange to play the two schools in non-conference games, according to Phil Kuemmel, Park activities director, and Principal Kerry Timmerman, who brought the proposal to the school board last week.

In addition to Park, Woodbury and East Ridge, teams in the Suburban East include Cretin-Derham Hall, Forest Lake, Hastings, Mounds View, Roseville, Stillwater and White Bear Lake.

The new conference of nine teams, if approved by school boards, includes some familiar school names in the conference Park played in before joining Suburban East. The teams include Hastings, Henry Sibley, Hill-Murray, Mahtomedi, North St. Paul, Simley, South St. Paul and Tartan high schools.

A year ago, some Park community members and coaches discussed leaving the SEC but support was mixed. Coaches said Park has more students receiving free or reduced-price lunches -- the federal education definition of poverty -- than the other SEC schools. Some disadvantaged students don't have money to participate, they said.

Only Roseville has a higher percentage than Park, according to information given to the school board.

Timmerman and Kuemmel hope being in a new conference will increase participation and improve the culture at Park.

The school population feels good about its academic progress in the past six years, Timmerman said.

Part of the pride students have in their school, however, is rooted in the performance of athletic teams, both said, adding that Park can be more competitive in the new conference they've been invited to join.

Students can feel that every time they go out on the field, they can compete, Kuemmel said.

Of benefit to the district will be shorter driving distances for games and meets in the new conference because the median distance between schools is shorter. Those shorter trips mean less bus and personal car mileage, and students can spend more time in class before being released for competitions.

The longest trip in the new conference is less than the average mileage in the SEC, Timmerman said.

Some female athletes on teams that have competitive records were opposed to the change, Kuemmel said, because they're afraid they won't have a high level of experience to compete in section playoffs.

There is room in the basketball and soccer schedules for non-conference games with rated teams, he said.

There is a perception that the new conference will be easier, Timmerman said, but he doubts that will be true, especially against highly rated Hastings and Simley wrestling teams.

There will be no change in section play, Kuemmel said, because matchups are set by the Minnesota State High School League.

Board members asked how theater, music and other arts would be affected.

They will not be affected, Kuemmel said. Speech competes in invitational tournaments as does robotics. The One-Act Play competes in section performances only.

There is one coach for all three district schools for Nordic and alpine skiing, so those teams have been given permission to stay in the SEC, he said, because not all schools in the new conference offer skiing.

Board Chairman Ron Kath applauded the process Kuemmel and Timmerman used for conducting meetings and gathering opinions from the community, coaches and student athletes. The most recent community meeting was held last month.

Kath said he is looking forward to less travel and renewing old rivalries with south suburban schools.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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