Colby K-12 keeps boys co-op team
Girls cross-country to be for Colby only
Colby boys will continue to run with teammates from Abbotsford in a crosscountry co-op for the next two years, while their female counterparts will compete as a standalone team.
That was the decision of the Colby School Board, which voted 7-0 Monday to renew the boys cross-country co-op team with Abbotsford for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. The motion did not mention the girls co-op team, so going forward, it will only be open to runners from Colby.
As a result, the boys will continue to compete against larger schools in Division 2 while the girls will drop to Division 3 and face off against smaller schools.
Monday’s decision was the culmination of three months of debate about the future of the country-cross co-op.
On one side were Colby parents who wanted their kids to have a better chance of making it to state in a lower division. On the other side were the parents of two Abbotsford boys who asked the board to keep the co-op going so their kids didn’t lose the opportunity to participate.
Parents and students from both sides of the issue filled the seats at Monday’s board meeting, which featured detailed, numbers-based arguments for ending the co-op and emotional pleas to keep it going.
Cross-country coach Bryon Graun began Monday’s discussion by expressing his desire to look out for the best interests of all the runners on his team. He said competing as a co-op against larger Division 2 school puts his runners at a competitive disadvantage.
“As a co-op, we are keeping them from competing in a fair way,” he said.
To drive home this point, Graun noted that two other teams in their conference, along with 15 individual runners, have gone to state in Division 3 over the past few years. The Colby-Abby team beat all these teams during the regular season.
“Having a better chance of going to state is a factor and being more competitive is a factor, but going to state is not just about winning,” he said.
Graun recounted his own experience as a student going to state with Colby’s cross-country team in 1995. Even though the team came in last, he said he’ll never forget his fellow runners and the memories they shared.
When it comes to the two Abbotsford runners, Braun said their families have the option of open-enrolling them into the Colby School District next year.
“The WIAA has told us that because they are part of a co-op, they would not have to sit out of varsity competition next year,” he said. “The Abby students can still be part of this cross-country team.”
The parents of the two Abbotsford boys, however, said it would not be workable for them to transfer their sons to Colby just so they can continue running for the team.
Amber Nelson, the mother of runner Ryan Nelson, said she has six kids at home, and it would not work for her family to transfer him to Colby while the rest continue going to Abbotsford schools.
She urged the board to keep the co-op intact so her son and others can continue participating in a sport they love.
“To take this opportunity from these boys would just be devastating,” she said.
Pat Mateer, the father of runner Matt Mateer, said the school districts should be working to recruit more students from Abbotsford to keep the team more competitive, instead of disbanding the co-op.
“We should be offering everyone the opportunity to compete,” he said. “It shouldn’t matter about school size or anything like that.”
Matthew briefly addressed the board about what cross-country means to him.
“When we stand in a huddle before a meet, in a circle, and we break it down to ‘family on three,’ I don’t want to be anywhere else,” he said. Terry Halopka, the mother of a runner on the girls team, said she would support keeping both co-ops intact if open enrollment wasn’t an option.
“If they do want it bad enough, they can come to Colby and still run varsity,” she said.
Athletic director Jim Hagen said, basedoncommunicationwiththeWIAA, the Abbotsford students have until the end of the school year to open enroll into Colby and still be able to compete.
Colby parent Wade Oehmichen presented school board members with detailed comparisons of the Colby-Abby co-op versus other teams in Division 2. He used LaCrosse Logan, which has 244 more students than Abbotsford and Colby high schools combined, as an example of how much student numbers matter.
“On average, 1 percent of runners can run a 16-minute 5-K,” he said. “When we apply this to our population size, this will leave one runner for the Colby-Abbotsford cooperative and three for LaCrosse Logan.”
Because of this three-to-one ratio, Oehmichen said the boys team is “statistically eliminated” from ever winning a Division 2 meet, which has yet to happen.
Cross-country may get more community support, more spectators and more students participating if the team could be more competitive, he said.
“You’re not going to get more kids if you’re just getting your butt kicked all the time,” he said.
Oehmichen urged board members to think about the impact of their decision on those inside the school district.
“Remember who you are representing in this position,” he said. “Do you have the best interest of Colby students, Colby parents and Colby taxpayers?”
Board member Eric Elmhorst, who made the motion to renew the boys co-op team, used multiple arguments to support his position.
First, he pointed out that one part of the district’s strategic plan is “to build relationships with neighboring school districts,” including Abbotsford, which co-ops with Colby on multiple sports.
Elmhorst also talked about the importance of runners pushing themselves to be more competitive in Division 2, instead of dropping to Division 3.
“I don’t like the idea that we’re going to go to a smaller division so that we can compete at a higher level,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”
When it comes to the girls team, Elmhorst said he talked with Abbotsford’s athletic director to see if there is any interest, but there were no takers, so he’s fine with discontinuing that co-op.
Graun pointed out to the board that whenever Colby’s track team is at the same meet as Abbotsford in the spring, he begs those students to consider running cross-country in the fall.
“It’s not that I haven’t tried,” he said.
Before the vote was taken, board president Bill Tesmer thanked audience members for providing feedback on an issue the board has struggled with for three months.
“Your passion is noted,” he said. “It’s not going to be an easy decision.”
_ Wade Oehmichen spoke to the board about the problem of buckthorn, an invasive brush species, spreading through the school forest. He said the plant can be removed with herbicides, and he suggested that FFA students should be involved in the effort as a learning experience.
Oehmichen said thinning the forest would also help with the buckthorn, in addition to setting it up for better biodiversity and more valuable wood production in the future.
Superintendent Steve Kolden said he would speak to ag teacher Taylor Ensign about getting her students involved.
_ Parent Dan Krause asked the board to review the policy of weighted grades for the class of 2020. He said 18 students did not get extra credit on their gradepoint average for advanced math classes they took as freshmen. Superintendent Steve Kolden said the weighted grade policy went into effect in June of 2017, and he’s wary about retroactively applying it to advanced classes taken before that. No action was taken.
_ The board accepted the retirement of special education aide Sharon Archambo and the resignations of special ed teacher’s aide Marion Wehrman, accounts payable/purchasing secretary Alexis Kruger and Kris Woik, as advisor for Educators Rising.
_ The board approved the hiring of Patrick Nelson as a special education teacher’s aide and the transfer of Kathy Polzin to the district office, where she will handle district purchasing, accounts payable and special ed secretarial duties.