With a self-imposed deadline of Oct. 31 to decide whether or not to take an offer from ISD #238 to share six sports programs, the Spring Grove School Board met in a work session one last time on Oct. 10 to discuss the issue. The regular school board meeting Oct.15 offered an opportunity to vote on the matter.

Besides board members, staff and school administrators, 17 members of the community turned out to weigh in on the subject. Of those, none spoke in favor of the idea.

Mabel-Canton did not send any representatives to last Wednesday's meeting, but athletic director Lonnie Morken confirmed later that the offer was to co-op on football, volleyball, boys and girls basketball, softball and baseball.

The neighboring districts would not begin co-op play until the 2014-15 school year.

"We did not approach Mabel-Canton," Superintendent Rachel Udstuen said. "They approached us."

Members have been looking into the offer since they held a joint work session with M-C in March with follow-up discussions in April and May, she reported.

In May, M-C asked for a decision by the end of summer, Udstuen said, but later agreed to give ISD #297 until the end of October to consider the issue.

Chairman Aaron Solum that the 165-student threshold (for grades 9-12) that qualifies the district for 9-man versus 11-man football has been a major concern.

Board member Kristy Folz added that the "revised" enrollment used to calculate the 165 allows the district to subtract 40 percent of those who utilize the free and reduced lunch program from the total.

That was originally set up to reflect a disproportionate number of students who weren't participating in sports because of financial need. Now the policy is up for review and could either be altered or done away with entirely.

When enrollment figures are combined, a Spring Grove/Mabel-Canton alliance would have to play 11-man football and would be one of the smallest schools to try and compete at that level in the region, board members noted.

"As a school, we've been able to offer that whole (sports) package," board member Shannon Schuttemeier said.

"Our community backs us wholeheartedly in everything we do. If we were to lose our home games, that would be huge. It's beyond just looking at helping out M-C."

"This is a tough decision," board member Eric Bjerke noted. "Having any kind of co-op can have a negative as well as a positive impact. We have a great situation here right now, but the pros and cons of this (offer) kind of balance out.

"Our enrollment over the last 30 years has declined, but has now leveled off. On the other hand, we don't want to be the shortsighted school board that people will say missed an opportunity. It's a very emotional issue."

"Our Caledonia co-ops are working very well," Bjerke added. "We wouldn't necessarily lose those. We have to do what's best for our kids."

The board acknowledged that Morken said that the issue is negotiable, and an "all or nothing" decision on shared sports isn't necessary.

Board member Michelle Borreson said, "I worry that if we say 'no' that it will close a door that we want in the future. There are just so many what-ifs.

"The issue of having to move to a different class, and whether 9-man is (available) is a concern. I agree that our community has always been very supportive, and I think that's wonderful, but is it a community issue or is it really focusing on the kids?

"I'm all about a well-rounded school. That's why we brought our kids here. I'm taking this very seriously, and I'm still not sure."

Folz said that she did not favor an all-sports co-op with M-C. "Everyone I've talked to in town has said they are opposed to this," she reported. "My role is to look after Spring Grove kids. That's what I was elected to do.

"The costs of a co-op are really a wash. I don't believe in making a decision out of fear. We shouldn't go co-op because we're afraid of the what-ifs."

Board member Christian Myrah said, "The question is going all-or-nothing. I don't necessarily think that's beneficial for us at this point.

"Just because we decide today not to join with them, it doesn't mean we wouldn't decide to do something different in the future. We could vote no on all-or nothing, but a part of that offer could be mutually beneficial in the future."

"I'm sorry there are so many what-ifs, but there really are at this point," Spring Grove athletic director Michelle Anderson said. "The timing of this worries me."

Anderson said that potential changes at other schools in the region could make scheduling a nightmare, since SEC schools need to find others within the conference to play, at least to a certain extent.

Resident Tom Bjerke said, "One of the reasons why their sports is down is they're losing people. It's tough to look at our neighbor and then shut the door. It's tough, but we're here, and we've got to look at Spring Grove.

"We've got a very vibrant community here that's growing, and I'd hate to see you guys jeopardize that just because we want to be neighborly. We've got to think of this as a business decision. We have nothing to gain and everything to lose on it."

"Our feeder programs help out (our sports)," resident JC Nerstad said. "M-C has elected not to do that."

"Go to a game and see how many people they have there from Spring Grove," Ron Nerstad said. "It's kind of amazing. You can go to a game a hundred miles away, and we'll have five times more people there than the hometown team. That's probably the reason the school has been successful. People are interested in it."

"Alums sometimes move back to town," JC Nerstad said. "This is one of the things that weigh on me when I think of this. I couldn't tell you how many people have not moved back to town because of talk about consolidation.

"People want to know that there is a school here. I'm talking about academics, but even of the athletics side, it waters you down. To some people, it wouldn't matter, but if I was moving back, it would."

"I think we want to send a signal that we're here, we're strong, we're growing, and this is where we want people to come," Folz said.

The school board was scheduled to hold its regular meeting on Oct. 15, at which time a formal vote on the matter was expected.