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This coming football season's change to district scheduling has long-time rivalries, like Perham vs. Pelican Rapids, in jeopardy. Photos by Robert Williams/FOCUS

Football: Minnesota district scheduling puts rivalries on shaky ground

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Fargo - The high school football game between Breckenridge (Minn.) and Wahpeton (N.D.) is more than just a football game.

“The furthest I can date the game back is 1920. It is a bigger deal now than it ever has been,” Breckenridge coach Chad Fredericksen said. “We call it the Harvest Bowl now and it’s sponsored by Cargill, who gives each school a healthy check for the sponsorship. It has become a carnival-like atmosphere with local banks and business being involved serving food and advertising.”

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The Breckenridge-Wahpeton rivalry, separated by less than five miles, is in jeopardy, along with many other high school football rivalries in Minnesota.

There is an uneasy feeling among Minnesota high school football teams, as they await district scheduling to take effect for the first time in 2015.

“At this time, we’re all dealing with a little of the fear of the unknown,” Pelican Rapids football coach Dave Haugen said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to keep a schedule that’s primarily local schools where the kids grow up competing against each other.”

Schools had until Tuesday to hand in a form that may decide the fate of many longtime rivalries. The Minnesota State High School League will take into consideration the information provided by high schools regarding what teams each school would like to face in putting teams into districts.

According to MSHSL Associate Director Kevin Merkle, committees will be meeting several times in April and May to put schools into districts.

“Every school has been asked to fill out an information form, which includes their current conference, current section, 2014 schedule, up to three teams that they consider to be natural rivals that are important to keep on their schedule,” Merkle said.

The MSHSL hopes to approve districts for the 2015 and 2016 seasons at the June 2 board meeting. Districts will be looked at every two years for possible changes.

Fredericksen has been on both sides of the Breckenridge-Wahpeton rivalry. He’s 5-2 against Wahpeton as the Breckenridge coach and graduated from Wahpeton in the 1980s.

“I know firsthand that the game is still as big now as it ever has been,” Fredericksen said. “We make three times the gate on the Wahpeton game as we do against our rivals in the Heart O’ Lakes. We are very concerned about Wahpeton, but we are also concerned with losing our conference rivals as well.”

When Haugen had his assistant coaches list the top three rivals for Pelican Rapids, he ended up with five different schools and no coach having the same three schools listed. They ended with Barnesville, Breckenridge and Hawley, but couldn’t imagine a season without other schools that have been on the Vikings’ schedule for decades.

“It’s hard to think about not playing Perham or listing them as we’ve played them real close to every year for over 30 years,” Haugen said. “It will be real interesting to see how things get sorted out.”

Perham wants to play Pelican Rapids and every team in the Heart O’ Lakes Conference, but they don’t want to miss out on games against Detroit Lakes or Thief River Falls.

“The rivalries I’d like to see kept that may be in jeopardy because of enrollment size would be Detroit Lakes and TRF,” Perham coach Mike Jordahl said. “We really would like to continue to play these bigger schools.”

According to the MSHSL, Detroit Lakes has an enlisted enrollment of 744, with TRF at 564 and Perham at 398. One part of district scheduling stated teams in a district could not have an enrollment difference larger than a 2-to-1 ratio.

Barnesville is back in the Heart O’ Lakes Classic in 2014, so Hawley gets the Barnesville rivalry for the regular season, but the Nuggets also want to keep Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Pelican Rapids and Breckenridge after 2014.

“D-G-F is a must game for us,” Hawley football coach Peder Naatz said. “It’s a great draw and it does a lot for both of us in the (Quality Results Formula rankings). Pelican Rapids and Breckenridge are also games we would not want to lose no matter what happens.”

Mahnomen, which has won 28 straight games and back-to-back Class 1A state titles, welcomes the possibility of playing Class 2A Hawley. The Indians and Nuggets have not met since 2010.

“Geography will be the driving factor in determining districts,” Mahnomen football coach John Clark Jr. said. “I’ve heard through the grapevine the MSHSL might give districts some flexibility in allowing teams to tinker with the schedule in order to keep rivalry games. Our biggest rivalry used to be against Hawley. We haven’t played them for a few years now, but it would be fun to butt heads with them again.”

Right now it’s about what teams want, but in the end district scheduling is about getting every team a schedule, regardless of what rivalries may fall by the wayside.

“The basic concept is that everyone will receive a full schedule from the teams within their district, but there may be some flexibility for what we call ‘crossover’ games,” Merkle said. “Our intent will be to keep the natural rivals in the same districts as much as possible.”

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Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy is the Minnesota preps and Fargo Force beat reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota for the last five years and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so. If reading him in the paper and online isn't enough, you can read more of him at the Forum Preps Blog: http://forumpreps.areavoices.com/  
(701) 241-5548
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