Last spring, the St. Michael-Albertville school board met with St. Michael-Albertville athletic/activities coaches and advisers. The meeting confirmed what everyone had been thinking. St. Michael-Albertville had outgrown the Mississippi 8 Conference, and it was time to do something about it.
Over a five-year span, STMA teams had won 70 percent of the Mississippi 8’s conference titles. It had also become the conference’s largest school. At 1,800 students, it was nearly twice the size of conference foes Princeton, Big Lake and North Branch.
What to do?
The conference STMA officials said it most aligned with is the 14-school Northwest Suburban Conference. In terms of competitiveness, STMA would be among the conference elite. In terms of size, STMA would be middle of the pack. Blaine, at 2,600 students, is the largest school in the conference. Champlin Park, Maple Grove and Anoka also have enrollments over 2,000. Centennial, Armstrong, Coon Rapids, Andover and Osseo have enrollments between 1,600 and 1,800.
STMA applied to join the Northwest Suburban Conference, and the Northwest Suburban Conference said no.
STMA’s Plan B was to join the Lake Conference. While STMA would be the smallest school in the Lake, certainly smaller than Wayzata (3,100), Minnetonka (3,050) Eden Prairie (2,800) and Edina (2,600), its community makeup is similar.
STMA applied to join the Lake Conference, and the Lake Conference said no.
“Lake Conference executives voted St. Michael-Albertville’s application down,” said Eden Prairie High School Activities Director Mike Grant. “They didn’t release the vote.”
Grant wouldn’t speculate, at least not on record.
“Consider the pros and cons,” he said. “On the pro side, you’re adding a quality school with quality athletic programs. Cons include distance and the logistics of traveling on 494.”
The distance between Edina High School and St. Michael-Albertville High School is 37 miles; the distance between Eden Prairie High School and St. Michael-Albertville is 36 miles.
Without traffic, these distances would be acceptable. With traffic, the distance becomes problematic.
“Have you been on 494 at 4 p.m.?” asks Grant.
Look south, or west
While Grant didn’t say it, the Lake’s no vote could be a nod to the possibility of future expansion.
If Prior Lake or Shakopee, two of the 10 largest schools in the state, wanted to join the Lake Conference, would they want to join if St. Michael-Albertville was a member?
Prior Lake to St. Michael-Alberville, after all, is 48 miles.
It is also possible that, at some point, Chaska and Chanhassen high schools rejoin the Lake Conference. Would they still want to join if St. Michael-Albertville were in the mix?
The Lake has agreed to schedule baseball and softball games with Chaska and Chanhassen over the next two years.
“Our schedules are always evolving,” said Grant.
He then added there’s nothing preventing Lake schools from scheduling St. Michael-Albertville.
“We’re already doing it,” he said.
Because St. Michael-Albertville didn’t leave the Mississippi 8, they still belong to a conference.
As for the Lake, it’s still open to expansion, or not.
“We like our five schools,” said Grant. “We all have full schedules, and we all get along.”