The St. Michael-Albertville school district has had a difficult go at finding a conference for its athletes and fine arts participants to compete in. District leadership consulted with coaches and advisors last school year and found consensus that STMA has outgrown its current conference, the Mississippi 8. The school board voted last winter to pursue membership in the Northwest Suburban Conference, and current M8 conference teams Rogers and Buffalo joined them in applying. But the NWSC rejected STMA’s application, and Buffalo’s too, with the explanation that STMA doesn’t look like their current member schools.
At that point STMA moved on to their next choice, the Lake Conference. This small, five-member conference was reportedly looking to add additional schools. But STMA’s activities director, Keith Cornell, said he found out at the end of June that the Lake Conference decided against adding STMA.
“I would say it took some of us by surprise,” Cornell said. “I think the biggest reason for it was just distance. For us, I don’t think we view it as a long drive, because I think we’re used to taking some of those long drives. But for them, they’re all kind of centrally located within probably 10 miles of each other. Then you start talking about a school who’s 35-40 miles away, and it starts to feel a little big for them, driving-wise.”
Another factor that Cornell feels played a role is the current growth rate of many southern suburbs like Prior Lake, Chaska and Chanhassan.
“I think there’s some thought that maybe [these schools] might look at going to the Lake,” Cornell said. “If the Lake Conference is going to be expanding, it might make more sense for them to be expanding closer to them geographically than what St. Michael-Albertville would be.”
What’s Next for STMA?
At this point, Cornell said the most likely scenario for STMA is to seek the placement assistance of the Minnesota State High School League. If a school district has a hard time finding a conference, the MSHSL must step in to find a place for them. He said the school district could inform the league which conference they would like to join and give their rationale for why they believe that conference would be the best fit.
Cornell said the other conference schools involved would have the chance to express their point of view, whether it’s a concern or a vote of confidence. Cornell pointed out that neither their rejection from the Northwest Suburban Conference nor the Lake Conference were unanimous decisions.
The Lake Conference’s decision came just before the July 4th holiday and a vacation for Cornell, so he said the next few weeks will be busy as he meets with principals, the superintendent, coaches and the school board to determine a path forward.
“That’s not a decision I will make on my own,” Cornell said. “We have not had those conversations yet as to what our approach will be going before the [MSHSL] committee. We’re still in the process of connecting all the dots and figuring out the process of all the steps we have to do next.”
When asked one year ago, Cornell said the majority of STMA coaches felt that the Northwest Suburban Conference would be the best fit. He said he has heard some speculation about the possibility of a 16-team NWSC that splits into two divisions, if STMA and Buffalo were accepted.
“It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next couple months,” Cornell said.