North Suburban Conference to dissolve after 2013-14 school year

Spring Lake Park’s last season in the North Suburban Conference will be the 2013-14 school year.

Spring Lake Park will look for a new conference home for the 2014-15 season. Photo by Jason Olson

Spring Lake Park will look for a new conference home for the 2014-15 season. Photo by Jason Olson

Spring Lake Park, along with five remaining North Suburban Conference schools, voted to dissolve the conference as of June 30, 2014. The move came after the three northern-most schools in the conference, St. Francis, North Branch and Chisago Lakes Area voted to move to the Mississippi 8 Conference starting with the 2013-14 school year.

The vote by the remaining schools, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Columbia Heights, Fridley, Irondale, Totino-Grace and Spring Lake Park, to dissolve the North Suburban Conference was accepted by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), which allowed each of the schools to start looking for a new conference home as of March 21, with hopes to begin play in that new conference for the 2014-15 school year.

The announcement of the conference-member vote was released Monday afternoon through an email from North Suburban Conference Executive Secretary Don Meyers after a March 13 meeting to amend the NSC constitution and a unanimous vote to dissolve the conference. The result of the vote triggered a 90-day search period in order to open play for the 2014-15 school year.

The member schools gave four main reasons for the move – enrollment, competitive balance, program offerings and level of play within programs.

Spring Lake Park Activities Director Matt St. Martin said the district is open to many options ranging from joining an existing conference or forming a new one.

The decision will come down to finding the proper fit for the Panthers in three areas of focus: geography, enrollment data and programs offered.

The best situation would be a conference relatively close to Spring Lake Park, while the number of students in free and reduced lunches would be relatively similar in addition to the type and number of extra curricular programs offered including sports, arts and academics.

Look for a formal application to join the Northwest Suburban Conference in the near future, according to St. Martin.

The Suburban East Conference or Classic Suburban are also options, St. Martin said.

“We have many irons in the fire in terms of options including talking with other member schools to create a new conference,” he said.

At a minimum Spring Lake Park would need five more schools to partner with in order to form an all new conference, St. Martin said.

“We’ll take it bit by bit to see what makes the most sense for Spring Lake Park,” he said.

The prospect of switching conferences has been in the works for about a year and he’s aggressively searching for a new conference home so the school is not at the mercy of the state high school league to determine the next step, according to St. Martin.

“I’ve been aggressive and open about it because I didn’t want to be standing out on Highway 65 without a [conference] home,” St. Martin said.

St. Martin has been given the green light to report back to the school board and Dr. Jeff Ronnenberg as the process continues but right now the ultimate decision comes down to him and the school administration, he said.

Forming an all-new conference is something St. Martin feels would create more stability for Spring Lake Park instead of joining an existing conference because it could tailor the parameters from the start instead of adjusting to an existing conference.

A new conference would most likely mean more transportation costs because they would need to travel farther to reach those schools but not as far as the northern schools in the existing North Suburban Conference, St. Martin said.

A new conference would include St. Paul suburbs either south or southeast of St. Paul, he said.

“I’ve talked with other AD’s about forming a new conference and they’ve been very receptive to it,” St. Martin said. “The time line is very realistic now since the conference is dissolved and we need to see what new legs a new conference has.”

Competitive balance in the Northwest Suburban Conference would be the trade-off to be geographically closer to conference schools.

St. Martin said he’s heard a little feedback from the Spring Lake Park community which has known the North Suburban Conference in one form or another for several decades. “And things just change, not for the good or bad,” he said. “What we’re going to try to do is find the best opportunity for our students to participate in extra-curricular activities.”

The existing partnership with St. Anthony Village is uncertain. St. Martin said that the cooperating with another school is a school-board decision and something it would look at continuing past the 2013-14 school year if possible. As the host school, Spring Lake Park has the option to dissolve the partnership at anytime.

The Northwest Suburban Conference has an April 1 deadline to apply and it meets soon after to discus the applicants. The NWSC would have 30 days to make a decision after a school applies to join the conference.

Jason Olson is at jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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