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LP-A takes first steps to join Pine to Prairie Conference

Familiar names such as Frazee, Breckenridge, Pelican Rapids and Barnesville may soon disappear off the Lake Park-Audubon sports schedules.

Such schools as Climax-Fisher, Ada-Borup and Fosston could replace those teams by the 2007-08 season, if the Raider Nation has its wish.

Preliminary steps have been taken by the LP-A school board to withdraw from the Heart O'Lakes Conference and join the Pine to Prairie Conference, ending an association with the HOL that has existed since the 1989-90 season.

The LP-A school board recently approved the submission of a letter requesting admission into the Pine to Prairie Conference for all sports except for football, wrestling and cross country. The Pine to Prairie doesn't have a conference for wrestling and cross country, while LP-A football is currently part of the Valley Plains Conference.

The main piston in the engine to move LP-A from the HOL to the Pine to Prairie is competition, according to Superintendent Dale Hogie.

"We are competing against schools in the HOL that are three times the enrollment (of LP-A)," Hogie said. "People have questioned why we are playing Class 2A schools when we are a Class 1A school. In the Pine to Prairie Conference, we will be playing schools more our size, and more against Class 1A schools."

The Raiders have the second-lowest enrollment in the 10-team Heart O'Lakes Conference, only ahead of Ulen-Hitterdal. LP-A in 2005-06 had 145 students, compared to Ulen-Hitterdal's 79. The school with the largest enrollment size -- Perham -- has 469 students.

Only LP-A and Ulen-Hitterdal have Class 1A status, the rest are Class 2A in most of its sports.

The second largest in the conference is Pelican Rapids with 316 students.

If LP-A is admitted into the Pine to Prairie, the conference would expand to 11 teams and LP-A would be in the middle ranking, as the fifth-largest school district enrollment-wise.

The largest school in the Pine to Prairie is Bagley, with 262 students, and Mahnomen is second at 200. Only those two districts are Class 2A, while the others in the conference are Class 1A.

Teams currently in the Pine to Prairie include (ranked by enrollment size) Bagley, Mahnomen, Fertile-Beltrami (165), Fosston (152), Waubun (139), Ada-Borup (139), Win-E-Mac (121), Climax-Fisher (116), Norman County East (90) and Norman County West (83).

The reason LP-A football isn't included in the conference move is because the majority of Valley Plains' teams are Class 1A.

Another issue which will be discussed and considered is travel. Distance-wise, the HOL teams are closer for LP-A to travel to than Pine to Prairie schools. But it's not a significant change, Hogie said.

"It would be, on average, a 20-minute longer trip," Hogie said.

The LP-A superintendent said he has had communication with the Pine to Prairie chairman, Mike Kolness, the principal of Ada-Borup.

"There is interest (in LP-A joining) the Pine to Prairie," Hogie said. "But Mike (Kolness) is the only one I have talked to about the move."

Kolness said some issues which will be brought up concerning adding LP-A to the Pine to Prairie will be addressed in a conference meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, March 8.

"Travel will be an issue, and we'll have to see if it's (LP-A) compatible with our schools," Kolness said. "We'll have the discussion (on adding LP-A), and what probably will happen is each member will bring back the request to their school boards to decide."

Expanding to 11 teams isn't an issue with the conference, Kolness added, since the Pine to Prairie just added Climax-Fisher this past season.

Scheduling will be another hurdle, but not as crucial. In the HOL, home-and-home series are scheduled, with each team playing at the other's school. That makes it easy to schedule, with the remaining dates filled by non-conference opponents.

The Pine to Prairie doesn't employ the home and home schedule, but that could change in the near future, Hogie said.

"With teams like Bagley, which is Class 2A, they usually want to play other 2A schools and will play the (Class 1A) Pine to Prairie schools once," Hogie stated. "What could happen, too, is the closer teams in the conference could play twice and the others once."

There was, Hogie added, some concern among some of the LP-A head coaches about such things as travel, but the majority were in favor of the move.

"Before we made the proposal to the school board, I did contact each head coach of each sport to get their opinion," Hogie said. "Most were in favor of it, but there were some concerns brought up, as well."

The move to the Pine to Prairie could start evening the playing field for the Raider sports teams, but for now, it will be a wait-and-see proposition.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.