High school: More moves in the Wright County affect New London-Spicer, Litchfield
NLS, Litchfield will see scheduling challenges, especially for hockey, when 3 schools leave after the 2020-21 season
Just when everything looked normal and balanced in the Wright County Conference, three league members decided to drop out.
That was the news Wednesday when New Prague, Orono and Waconia accepted offers to join the Metro West Conference for the 2021-22 school year.
The Metro West is currently made up of seven teams: Benilde-St. Margaret’s; Bloomington Jefferson; Bloomington Kennedy; Chanhassen; Chaska; Robbinsdale Cooper; and St. Louis Park
Their decision means that a 16-team Wright County Conference, with two divisions of eight, will exist for exactly one season, 2020-21.
“We’d been going with 14 schools for a while, so with Howard Lake and Jordan coming on board next year we were finally balanced,” said New London-Spicer activities director John Vraa. ”I’d have loved to have kept the three schools, but I understand their positions.”
New Prague, Orono and Waconia are the conference’s three largest schools based on enrollment. All also are in close proximity to Metro West schools, which made sense to them geographically, Vraa said.
Litchfield activities director Justin Brown said hockey will be most affected by the departure of three schools. All sponsor boys and girls hockey teams. That leaves the Wright County with five schools including Holy Family Catholic, which plays each Wright County team once so it can play more of an independent schedule.
Brown said it will be a challenge for the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato co-op to add six additional non-conference games.
“It affects our hockey schedule,” Brown said. “And it’s going to affect our middle school schedules.
“While they were bigger schools, we scheduled them at the middle school level in a lot of things.”
Vraa suggested that the Wright County likely would move one of the eight teams in the smaller-enrollment West Division into the East after 2020-21 to make scheduling easier for the five remaining East schools.
“As much as I’d like to see us stay with eight schools, it makes sense to switch it that way,” he said.
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted and Jordan moved into the Wright County for the 2020-21 school year. HLWW, with 292 students listed as its enrollment by the Minnesota State High School League, becomes the smallest school in the Wright County. But enrollment in that district is expected to increase dramatically in the next five years.
Holy Family Catholic in Victoria, with 400 students, is the next smallest. NLS, with 405 students, is the third smallest of the remaining schools. Litchfield is at 426.
NLS and Litchfield joined the Wright County in 2012.
New Prague (1,260), Waconia (1,228) and Orono (936) were the three largest by enrollment. With their departure, Hutchinson (867), Delano (772) and Mound Westonka (714) become the big three.
There is talk among the remaining members of extending invitations to other schools, but it’s preliminary and speculative.
Both Vraa and Brown wish the departing members well.
“The three ADs involved are three of the best ADs you’ll find,” said Brown, listing off Orono’s Bucky Meiras, New Prague’s Brad Skogerboe and Waconia’s Jill Johnson.
Brown said he considers Meiras a mentor. He’ll still be one, but in a different conference in 2021-22.
The Northwoods League announced that six teams in Wisconsin and Illinois will begin play July 1. That could be good tidings for the Willmar Stingers, who have yet to receive the go-ahead from state officials to begin play for the 2021 season.
The six teams are the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders, the Green Bay Booyah, the La Crosse Loggers, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters and the Wisconsin Woodchucks along with the Rockford (Illinois) Rivets.
The league’s press release says the six, “working in consultation with state and local officials, … have each developed a plan for safe operation in their respective locations.”
“Patience, creativity, and a focus on safety have paid off for Northwoods League fans and players,” said Northwoods League President and Commissioner Gary Hoover in a statement. “This next phase represents tremendous effort by our Affiliates to safely bring baseball back into their communities, and to provide their fans with a timeless way to spend quality time.”
There are three Northwoods teams scheduled to play in Bismarck, N.D.: the Bismarck Larks, the Bismarck Flickertails and the Bismarck Bull Moose. The Larks and Thunder Bay (Ontario) Border Cats have supplied the players for the three teams. Canada and the United States are restricting who can cross their borders because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The league has divided its teams into pods this season, based on geography. Willmar is in a pod with the Mankato MoonDogs, St. Cloud Rox, Duluth Huskies, Rochester Honkers and Waterloo (Iowa) Hawks.
Wright County Conference
Here is the alignment of the conference for the 2020-21 school year with enrollments, according to Minnesota State High School League numbers. New Prague, Orono and Waconia leave for the Metro West Conference in 2021-22.
Annandale Cardinals (497)
Dassel-Cokato Chargers (568)
Glencoe-Silver Lake Panthers (479)
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Lakers (292)
Litchfield Dragons (426)
New London-Spicer Wildcats (405)
Rockford Rockets (462)
Watertown-Mayer Royals (435)
Delano Tigers (772)
Holy Family Catholic Fire (400)
Hutchinson Tigers (867)
Jordan Hubmen (570)
Mound Westonka White Hawks (714)
New Prague Trojans (1,260)
Orono Spartans (936)
Waconia Wildcats (1,228)