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Door open for Park to join Classic Suburban?

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sports Woodbury, 55125

Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel said, at this point, he's taking a "wait-and-see" approach to the idea of leaving the Suburban East Conference for the Classic Suburban Conference.

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In March, Richfield High School chose to leave the Classic Suburban in order to be part of the new Metro West Conference, starting the 2014-15 school year. Last week, the Classic Suburban also voted to kick St. Thomas Academy out. The vote was reportedly held up by a conference bylaw, however, the CSC is now voting to change the bylaw and it seems likely St. Thomas will eventually get the boot - or the conference may choose to disband completely.

"We're definitely in a holding pattern and waiting to see what the Classic is going to do - and if they're interested in Park," Kuemmel said. "Last time, they weren't necessarily interested. We'll need to find out if that's changed. All that will come into play after they finish what they're doing."

Back in February 2012, Park moved toward leaving the Suburban East when the results of the school's Community Input Night showed community members at the meeting favored a conference change by a 2-to-1 margin. Kuemmel said the Classic Suburban was the school's first choice if it was to leave the SEC. The second option was to form a new conference. However, the idea of Park joining the Classic Suburban was dealt a blow last year when the league unofficially communicated it was not looking to expand at that time. However, with the likelihood of two teams leaving the Classic Suburban, it appears the door could be open for Park to join.

"A lot of people may think it's a slam dunk now, a no-brainer, but we don't know for sure whether it's what those schools want," Kuemmel said. "If either of those things happen, it's a matter of what do they want to do then? Do they want to keep their conference as is or are they willing to explore other possibilities."

Kuemmel said he recently had informal talks with representatives from schools in the Classic Suburban.

"No one really said one way or the other what way they want to go," he said. "I think it's a possibility, but I don't think they even know what direction they want to go."

Because of decreasing enrollment and shifting demographics, Park has discussed the topic of leaving the Suburban East Conference since 2009. Kuemmel said the final step would be to gain school board approval to leave the Suburban East and it would likely take over a year to completely join a different conference or form a new conference after that decision was made, so nothing can change the 2013-14 school year.

Since last year's community meeting, Park has a new Principal and District 833 has a new Superintendent. However, Kuemmel said they are up-to-date on the concept. He also said he feels, if Park were to choose to leave the Suburban East, it could pass the school board.

"I believe that's getting too far ahead of ourselves, but I would feel that we did show there was community support for it last year and that the school board and district administration would take that into consideration," Kuemmel said. "If I didn't feel at least somewhat comfortable that it couldn't happen, I wouldn't probably keep moving forward. I feel fairly confident that we would be able to move if there was an opportunity for us."

In 2009 Park first floated the idea of joining the Classic Suburban or forming a new conference when Kuemmel, along with representatives from East Ridge, Hastings and met with administrators from three Classic Suburban schools -- Tartan, North St. Paul and Mahtomedi. According to Kuemmel, prompting the idea of a possible change was a decrease in the amount of kids playing sports at Park High School and in some Cottage Grove Athletic Association youth programs, not just the number of wins and losses.

All three District 833 high schools - East Ridge, Park and Woodbury - are in the Suburban East, but Park teams generally have fared worse among conference opponents overall. Schools in the same district, but in different conferences, is not without precedent. Irondale and Mounds View high schools are each in School District 621, but in different conferences.

Park has a higher percentage of students from low-income families, and Kuemmel has said Park's "socioeconomic demographics" are a factor in student-athlete participation.

An identifier used by state agencies to project participation in activities is the percentage of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch programs at schools. The free and reduced lunch program numbers are used in the Minnesota State High School League's enrollment calculations when assigning schools to different classes. Based on its formula, a student on free or reduced lunch program counts for only six-tenths of a student towards that school's enrollment due to the lower amount of recorded participation in activities by those students.

According to the 2012-13 Minnesota State High School League Directory of Member Schools, Park has an adjusted enrollment of 1,656, which is over 1,000 fewer students than the largest school in the SEC - Stillwater, which has 2,670 students. Park does have very similar enrollments to SEC schools like Woodbury (1,715), Mounds View (1,671), East Ridge (1,543) and Hastings (1,452) however. But, Park also has similar demographics to Classic Suburban schools like North St. Paul (1,671), Tartan (1,581) and

Henry Sibley (1,201). The smallest public school in the CSC, South St. Paul, has an enrollment of 768.

Park isn't likely the only school monitoring what happens with the Classic Suburban. Irondale, which has an enrollment of 1,355 and Spring Lake Park, with an enrollment of 1,135, could also be looking at the CSC. Both schools are part of the North Suburban Conference, which will dissolve after the 2013-14 school year.

"I got the feeling last year some of those schools maybe thought Park was too big for them," Kuemmel said. "But, if you look at North and Tartan were not bigger at all. But, I get where some of those smaller schools are coming from as well. Just because there's an opening it doesn't mean they're sitting there with open arms saying come on, we've been waiting for you."

2012-13 ENROLLMENT*

SUBURBAN EAST CONFERENCE SCHOOLS

Stillwater - 2,670

White Bear Lake - 2,257

Forest Lake - 1,952

Roseville - 1,840

Woodbury - 1,715

Mounds View - 1,671

Park - 1,656

East Ridge - 1,543

Hastings 1,452

Cretin-Derham Hall - 1,328

CLASSIC SUBURBAN CONFERENCE SCHOOLS

North - 1,671

Tartan - 1,581

Henry Sibley - 1,201

Mahtomedi - 1,149

Simley - 973

South St. Paul - 768

Hill-Murray - 705

OTHER SCHOOLS POSSIBLY INTERESTED IN CLASSIC SUBURBAN

Irondale - 1,355

Spring Lake Park 1,135

*According to the 2012-13 Minnesota State High School League Directory of Member Schools

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