Football: New district scheduling looks good to Elks, Royals, Thunder

Elk River and Rogers have battled in the playoffs the last two years. Under the new district scheduling, they'll likely meet in the regular season. (Photo by Erik Jacobson)
Elk River and Rogers have battled in the playoffs the last two years. Under the new district scheduling, they’ll likely meet in the regular season. (Photo by Erik Jacobson)


by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Minnesota football teams should no longer have to travel far out of state to find opponents, or play less than an eight-game regular season, as a result of Minnesota State High School League action on Monday.

“The League Board of Directors unanimously adopted a plan that places all member schools with football programs into districts,” a press release stated. “Members of each district will divide the district into sub-districts, and then create a full schedule for each team. In nearly all cases, the placement of schools will not negatively affect traditional rivalries or preferred opponents.”

These changes take effect in 2015.

The action worked out well for all three District 728 schools. Elk River and Rogers were placed in the same district and will likely have all eight games against schools close by such as St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo. Zimmerman was placed in a district where its schedule probably won’t change much from its Granite Ridge Conference setup.

For several years, MSHSL staff, school administrators and football coaches have sought a solution for schools that have had difficulty filling their rschedule, especially the huge suburban powers like Eden Prairie and Minnetonka, and teams that are isolated from schools their size such as Moorhead and the Duluth schools.

A committee of coaches, athletic administrators and MSHSL members developed a District Football Scheduling System that was approved by the Board in January. A separate District Placement Committee of coaches and administrators grouped schools into districts based on enrollment, geography and like schools, while also considering each school’s preferences.

Elk River and Rogers are placed in the North Central district with Alexandria, Bemidji, Big Lake, Brainerd, Buffalo, Cambridge-Isanti, Chisago Lakes Area, Duluth East, Monticello, Moorhead, North Branch, Princeton, Rocori, St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Tech, Sartell-Saint Stephen, Sauk Rapids-Rice, St. Francis, St. Michael-Albertville, and Willmar.

“It’s not a significant difference for us,” said Marc Franz, Rogers coach. “It likes like we’ll have the Central Lakes and Mississippi 8 schools with Elk River added to that.”

For Elk River, its section probably won’t be much different, but its conference schedule will be. No longer will the Elks face longtime rivals such as Anoka, Coon Rapids, Andover and Blaine.

“We didn’t know if we would be with the Anoka (district) schools (to the east) or the Rogers and St. Michael group (to the west),” said Elk coach Steve Hamilton. “We got where we wanted to be. It’s a good fit for us. We enjoy playing schools like Rogers and St. Michael and Monticello. In the smaller towns, the farther away from the cities you get, the more important the high school team is.”

Zimmerman is placed in the East Central with Albany, Annandale, Becker, Dassel-Cokato, Delano, Foley, Glencoe-Silver Lake, Holy Family Catholic, Hutchinson, Litchfield, Little Falls, Milaca, New London-Spicer, St. Cloud Cathedral, and Watertown-Mayer.

“It’s not a big deal for us,” said Thunder coach Tom Kish. “It looks like we’ll play the Granite Ridge teams except Mora, and we’ll still have (section rival) Annandale.”

Kish said the 10-person committee did a good job keeping everyone happy as much as possible.

“A lot of us were apprehensive at first about the changes,” he said, “but we’e fine with this and I’ve been hearing good feedback.”

Spectrum, meanwhile, was placed in the Twin Cities district with 28 smaller metro-area schools.