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Prep football: MACCRAY looking into switch to 9-man

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton MACCRAY’s Dylan Abraham runs with the ball against Murray County Central in a September 2013 file photo. MACCRAY is considering a move to 9-man football once state team’s switch to a district alignment rather than competing in conferences in 2015.

Changes in high school football’s alignments and an expected dip in enrollment has MACCRAY exploring a move to 9-man football, at least temporarily.

The school district’s board of education earlier this month was informed about the plan, which, if approved, would be effective for the 2015 season.

The move is an attempt to keep the team competitive in prep football’s upcoming new environment, said Mike Dammann, MACCRAY’s athletic director and head football coach.

In 2015, football conferences, as currently comprised, won’t exist under a “district” plan approved by the Minnesota State High School League. The state’s teams will be grouped into geographic districts and play other teams within those districts.

That means MACCRAY’s Little Sioux football conference will disband. The new alignments, coupled with a drop in enrollment in coming years, led Dammann to consider 9-man.

“If we stayed in the Little Sioux Conference, we would have stayed 11-man,” Dammann said. “We wouldn’t want to hurt the conference. But now that they’re doing this district thing, I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to stay as competitive as we can at whatever level.”

Every two years, the state aligns football teams into one of seven classes, from 9-man to Class AAAAAA, based on an adjusted enrollment numbers from the Minnesota Department of Education, Dammann said.

MACCRAY’s previous adjusted enrollment figure was 172, placing the program in Class A. But MACCRAY’s new adjusted enrollment for 2015-2016 fell to 150, and actual enrollments for the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes range in the upper 30s to lower 40s per class, Dammann said.

MACCRAY’s pre-sixth-grade class enrollments are in the 60s, meaning that the move to 9-man would be “a temporary thing,” with the program likely moving back to 11-man ball and Class A in several years, Dammann said.

“Our enrollment was never this low,” he said. “Our enrollment always put us in Class A. There are other schools at our level that could go 9-man if they wanted but that would be up to the individual school. I was looking at wanting our football to be as successful as possible. Why not go there? There’s no guarantee that we would be successful (in 9-man) but at least we would be playing at the right level.”

Compared to the other 10 Little Sioux teams, MACCRAY ranks as the seventh-largest school in adjusted enrollment, ahead of only Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (149), Dawson-Boyd (142) and Canby (144).

Compared to the 9-man Southern Confederacy Conference — which Renville County West joined two years ago — MACCRAY’s adjusted enrollment ranks behind only Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton (175) and in the vicinity of Randolph (137), Mountain Lake Area (140) and Edgerton/Ellsworth (137).

However, geographically, all but RCW are a considerable distance from MACCRAY. How the state finalizes its football districts plan will factor into the Wolverines’ future. The MSHSL is expected to release a framework in early June, Dammann said.

“It’ll be interesting to see,” he said, “when it comes out, what the districts are and who’s in them.”

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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